I still vividly remember the night that I found out. I can tell you where I was, what I was doing, what I was wearing.
(New apartment, on the living room couch, old EFY T-shirt and pink cotton pants. I had just finished saying a prayer.)
I vividly remember the looks on my "mission parents'" faces. When I think about President's tight hug, I remember how crushing it felt, him not wanting to let me go, not wanting to be the one to tell me that my parents and brothers were gone. I remember it took him a little while to say it, and how it crushed him, and his wife. I remember my companion and the Hermanas were also in the living room sitting on the floor in their pajamas, shocked, speechless, not knowing if they should say anything. I remember that the only light in the room was the bright light coming from the open kitchen.
I remember saying, "Give me a minute," and running into my room, falling on my knees at my bed, crying, saying "Why, God? What did I do wrong?" My companion came into my room, knelt beside me, and called me by my real name.
Jensen, you didn't do anything wrong.
Everything after that is a blur to me. I have flashbulb memories, like how the next morning, the other two ASL sisters, one of which is my best friend, came to the mission home and hugged me so tight, I couldn't breathe. I remember my mission "baby" (who I trained) bought my a pillow pet to have and to hold and to cuddle, because she didn't know what else she could do.
I still have that pillow, by the way. It's a brown puppy. I cuddled and held that pillow for months afterwards.
I remember FaceBook had photos and images of my parents and brothers messages galore, FaceBook posts galore, emails galore.
One email was from Mom from the week before. I had missed it before I signed off.
That hurt the most.
I remember seeing Ian at the airport, for the first time in 18 months. I remember sitting on the plane, and all the eyes that glanced at us, some of them knowing exactly who we were, some of them thinking that they knew. The woman sitting behind us asked, "Are you the missionaries who..." then started to cry and couldn't finish. Some people looked at us from time to time all the way back to Pocatello.
And when I say all the way back, it was only 45 minutes; the longest 45 minutes of my life.
I remember landing. I remember my brother putting his arm around me. No words were needed. We stood up, arm around each other, and walked side by side off the plane. I remember seeing my extended family, all who were close. I remember seeing my bishop, my stake president. And tears.
Not Mom, or Dad, or Keegan or Liam.
But most of all, I remember feeling
I remember thinking...
I can't do this.
I just can't.
It's been 20 months.
Overtime, I've learned a truth. Seeing them when I got home is not the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Shutting the caskets is not the hardest thing I've done in my life. Even burying them is not the hardest thing I've done in my life.
The hardest thing I've ever had to do even up until now, and quite possibly will be for the rest of my life is living without them. That is the hard part.
The hardest part isn't necessarily that I don't see them everyday. Even if they were still here, I probably wouldn't. The hardest part is that I can't see them here, and oh, how I want to see them.
The hardest part is not knowing. Even if I could have a time frame, like Heavenly Father saying, "Hey Jens, I need them now, I have a work for them to do. But when you are 83 years old, your time will come and it will all be ok." Even that would be better than not knowing.
The hardest part is learning to accept things exactly as they are. The hardest part is still feeling even slightly out of place at family "get togethers." The hardest part is dealing with the anxiety and nervous breakdowns, and retraining my brain to be happy. The hardest part... is subconscious mourning.
I'm not talking about just mourning as in wearing black all the time and crying out loud and publicly. I think mourning is deeper than that.
Mourning is hurting.
Mourning is feeling.
To all of you that are fighting your battles, whatever they are...
To all of you hurting...
To all of you struggling, not knowing what to do, where to go, who to trust...
You are strong. You are created to do hard things. And you strengthen me everyday.
Look how far you've come. You're still here, aren't you? You're still breathing, aren't you? You're still standing, aren't you? You're still trying, aren't you?
You are a fighter. A conqueror. No matter how low you feel or how insecure you are.
You conquer by being a mother, a father, a friend, a teacher. You conquer mourning by loving, accepting, trying. You conquer by standing along with someone, anyone.
Just by stepping forward, you conquer.
Keep going. Don't quit.
I remember thinking I can't do this. I just can't.
But I did, and I'm still doing it. Still learning, still growing. And there has been help along the way.
I'm absolutely am not perfect. I hope this doesn't come across that way. I have days when I am just plain mad, or sad, or lazy, or forgetful, or ignorant.
And then, sometimes I become overwhelmed, wanting to be progressing, comparing myself to others, wishing I was as patient, or caring, or selfless as them.
But I'm stepping forward.
During my mission, one of my leaders once said, "I may not be perfect, and I may not know exactly where I stand, but I'm moving up. And that's all that really matters."
It's so true.
Keep it up.