On the morning of February 26th of this year I was sitting in the pews of Saint Francis Xavier Church. I wasn’t there alone, many of my family members were there with me, but for quite a few moments during the service I felt lonely. It was a tragic day for my family. Our dear cousin, nephew, brother, grandson, and son had passed away after just a few short years on this earth. The pain from losing Landon seems like the worst kind of pain, except for the fact that this was the second death of a young child in the Caputo family, which somehow makes the pain so much deeper and difficult to describe.
As I looked around, I saw my grief stricken family and many others mourning this tragic moment in our lives. I tried to imagine how my cousin and his wife must be feeling in losing their son. I tried to imagine how Joseph’s parents might be feeling having lost their second grandchild at such a young age. The horror and loneliness I felt in that moment is hard to describe. It has affected my life deeply. I have privately wept a number of times wishing I could help them feel some comfort, some hope.
A few days later while thinking about what I could do, I felt like I wanted to share an essay that gives my witness, built over time, of the Savior Jesus Christ. I wanted to share three special experiences with my family and a few of my thoughts on Easter and what it means to me. I hope it brings some comfort to those I love.
The first time I really experienced the pain and grief of death was when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I remember coming home from somewhere and sitting in my kitchen. Our phone rang, my mom answered, and a few seconds later she burst into tears. My cousin Stephanie had passed away tragically. She was recently married and expecting her first child. Stephanie and her baby had both died. I fell to the ground and lost it.
Stephanie had been one of my favorite cousins. We had played cards so many times together. She had the best smile and so kind and funny. Even now, the memories of that grief seem so raw. I was in a daze for days. It was the first time I can remember praying with any sort of passion. I had been a good kid, I went to church and participated, I knew many of the stories, but my faith was being challenged for the first time. I prayed to know if Stephanie was in heaven, for peace for our family, and I began to ask God if He was even real.
The days leading up to and most parts of the funeral are a blur to me nearly a quarter century later. I could never forget, however, that my sister sang at the funeral. I was in the pews again, feeling that same grief and loneliness, and when my sister sang something happened to me. It was more than the emotions of her angelic voice and powerful lyrics, it was God Almighty speaking into my heart telling me that He was real, that Stephanie lived on, and that everything would be fine. I wept again, but this time my tears of grief were mixed with tears of relief and hope. My faith in Jesus Christ was born in that moment, but it was still so small at that time, and I was still innocent and young.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years and I was doing my best to serve the Lord as a missionary in California. I was spending every day of my life trying to help people feel hope and comfort through Jesus Christ. I had seen some amazing things, but my faith was challenged just as much as I saw the heartache and difficulty that people were feeling. I, for the first time, began to see just how hard life was. My parents, and my life, had been so wonderful and easy compared to so many of the people I was trying to help. Each day my eyes were being opened to the reality that life can suck, things can be hard and even unbearable. My prayers morphed during this time from the things I was wanting, to praying for so many other people to feel the Savior’s love and hope.
At one point I remember feeling like I wasn’t making any difference at all. I thought to myself on multiple occasions, “What am I doing? Am I making any difference?” I felt the currents of the world around me seeking to damage my faith in Jesus Christ and what I was doing to serve Him. I felt like I needed to start praying and seeking to know the Savior better. For some reason in this place, beautiful Santa Barbara with all the most wonderful distractions you can think of, all I wanted in my whole life was to know that Jesus loved me and that what I was trying to do was what He wanted me to do.
One night after praying I felt a strange peace that my prayer would be answered. I went to bed feeling some peace, and shortly after I had a dream. Luckily I recorded my dream in my journal when I woke up. This is one of the most sacred experiences of my life and I debated whether to share it, but it is fundamental to my relationship with Jesus so I decided to share it.
“[My] dream started off as me walking in a park in Santa Barbara. There were trees everywhere, but no people. I felt inclined to turn toward the sunlight and in the distance I saw someone waving me over. I began walking in that direction and as I did I started to feel the warmth of the light grow as I walked closer. The light became almost unbearable. I continued to walk and my body was drenching with sweat, and as the person came more into view I realized that is was the Savior. I couldn’t see him in detail yet, but I knew without question it was him. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of humility and awe. It is hard to describe, but it is like no other feeling I have ever had. I was afraid, but in a way that made me weep with joy and feeling of being unworthy. I continued to walk as He continued to beckon me. I was overwhelmed and as I came close to Him I was crying and I looked into his face and he had the most perfect smile and without saying anything to me he told me that he loved me and that if I kept walking we would be together. I wept and expressed my gratitude without speaking all the while our eyes were locked on each other. I finally blinked and the dream was over.”
When I woke from the dream my body and sheets were drenched from perspiration. I was shaking both from the shear intensity of the experience, and the overwhelming gratitude I felt that God would hear my prayers and most importantly the revelation that Jesus loved me, loved Jared Lucero, and He wanted me to keep doing my best to help people. I also discovered there is something meaningful that happens when we set our hearts on being Jesus’s eyes, ears, and hands for all of His sheep.
Nearly a year after my dream I got really sick in Thousand Oaks California. I was a changed missionary and felt like I was truly helping people when a sickness like I had never experienced overtook me (I was a sickly child so this is saying something.). On top of the sickness, I was hit with the news of the second family member that I was close to had passed away. My Great Grandma Snow was very old, into her 90’s, but she was an important person in our family, and being away from my family while they grieved brought back those lonely feelings again.
Unfortunately my illness escalated, and I was hospitalized. I had real fear that I would have to go home early from my mission. That would have been the worst thing I could think of, as we were helping so many people, and I finally felt like I was making a difference. None of my companions were able to stay with me in the hospital and so for the first time as a missionary I was alone. As I sat there, I couldn’t remember a time being alone like that.
I had always spent so much time with friends and family prior to my mission, and then was constantly with my companion as a missionary but there was no one around me. I had been in hospitals many times before, but my mother had always been with me when I was in the hospital. Faced with the thoughts of my family grieving at home, being unable to talk to anyone, see anyone, and afraid I was going to be sent home, it was probably the loneliest time of my life.
On the second night in the hospital, after receiving a blessing from my mission president, I began to read the Gospel of Luke. The moment of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane was on my mind, so I went there. For the first time it hit me that Jesus had begged his friends to be with him in the Garden. He was afraid, lonely, desperate for someone to be there as He suffered. Yet they fell asleep, not once but three times. I started to feel a little guilty about my own sense of loneliness. Not only did Jesus beg His friends to be with him, but He asks God if there is some other way to make this eternal sacrifice, yet the answer was no. In Jesus’s most lonely moment God sent an angel to His Son to strengthen Him.
As I was lost in that moment, I had an impression that this angel who visited our Lord in His darkest moment, was there to represent all of us. To represent the reason He was suffering. The angel must have told the Lord that we loved Him and that He loved us and that our eternal reunion would be worth it. In that moment, as if God was speaking to me personally, special knowledge came to my mind and heart. “Jesus loves us all and because of Him we are never truly alone in our life, and death is not the end.”
My three experiences impressed upon me the truth that Jesus Christ is real, that Christ wants us to keep trying and helping each other, and that the Savior loves us all and provided the assurance that we are not alone and that we will ALL live again. Today, we celebrate Easter. The morning when Jesus broke the bonds of death and was resurrected. Not only that, but the promise that we ALL will be resurrected. The declaration of the angels to the Messiah’s closest friends is so powerful, “He is not here but is Risen.” The part of this promise that is so overwhelming is reuniting with those who have passed before us. I believe that great reunion is where we will feel the fullness of Joy and that because of Jesus we will experience that joy with those we love that have passed.
When my cousin Michael spoke to me after Landon’s passing he said something I will never forget. He said, “Jared, I will never be the same.” When he said it I felt his pain. I wanted then, and now, for my cousins and my family to know I will do anything to help them. I love them and I know Jesus loves them. I believe that Christ’s grace can bring some peace to them in time and pray for it all the time. I am also aware that when we lose people we love, we are never the same. Nothing in this life can fully heal us from those kind of wounds. The only thing that can fully heal those wounds is the glorious reunion we will have with those we love after this life. I believe in Jesus’s glorious gift of living again. The experiences have shared and many others tell me that my family will be reunited with those we have lost. We will see Stephanie, Irma, and Landon again. We will reunite with them in joy we cannot understand.
There is one final witness that has settled into my heart over the years from these experiences and others. My witness is this: We must be Jesus’s hands while we are on this earth. We can love more, reach out to others in need more, understand each other more, forgive each other more, pray for ways to lighten others’ burdens more. Death can be a bittersweet reminder that life is about our relationships. It can remind us how important our relationships are. When we seek to bring Christ’s love to our relationships we feel Christ’s love for us more, His hope and grace fills us and fills those we are loving. I believe in those moments when we truly share and express comfort, love, and hope with each other is when God is most able to speak to our souls and heal our wounds. It is then that He will tell us in our hearts and minds the most glorious truth in all of eternity…
He Is Risen