This One Red Rose

This One Red Rose

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

This One Red Rose

. . . The peace of God, which passeth all understanding.

Philippians 4:7

September 25, 1976: The day for Eagle Flight had finally arrived! This special scouting event was the culmination of months of planning, and it would be the highlight of my husband Keith’s career. He worked professionally for the Cache Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America— which meant he was paid a salary for doing what he loved most: working with boys and their scout leaders.

Keith and Leron Johnsen, a volunteer scouter, planned to honor those boys who had attained their Eagle rank that year. An experienced helicopter pilot, Leron offered to take each boy and his father on a helicopter ride over the south end of the valley. This would be followed by a hearty meal, prepared by Leron’s wife and children.

We overslept that beautiful autumn morning. Keith quickly gulped down some granola, and then we had family prayer with our three preschoolers. He promised to be home by early afternoon, because he wanted to attend a funeral for a fellow scouter’s daughter who had been killed in a car accident. Keith kissed each of us good-bye and dashed out the door. He hopped into the Jeep, waved and was gone.

I spent the day tending the children, shopping for groceries, canning vegetables and bottling grape juice. We depended on our garden produce and bottled fruit for our winter food supply. The day went by quickly.

By late afternoon, Keith still had not returned from Eagle Flight. I wondered if perhaps he had gone straight to the funeral. I was becoming worried, so I phoned Leron’s family to see if they might know what could be delaying Keith. They were concerned, too, because Leron was not home, either—but they had heard nothing. They said that Leron’s plan was to fly the helicopter from Eagle Flight to Tremonton, where he had left his car.

Shortly after 5 P.M., the doorbell rang. Through the open screen door, I saw our stake president, Garth Lee, dressed in his gardening overalls. Mike Stauffer, a county sheriff and friend in the ward, stood next to President Lee in his uniform. I noticed Mike’s official car parked in front of my house. A feeling of panic seized my heart as I noticed that their faces were etched in pain.

I invited them in and forced myself to ask the dread-filled questions: “What happened? Where is Keith?” They guided me to the sofa and made me sit down. They cried as they tried to tell me the awful news: “Keith was killed today in a helicopter accident. We don’t know very many details, except that he and Leron are both dead. We’re so very, very sorry. . . .”

I sat there, stunned and speechless. My mind whirled; my heart broke. We cried together. Yet, almost immediately, a sense of peace surrounded me. I marveled at the feeling of comfort and calmness.

After Mike left, President Lee walked with me through the backyard to Keith’s parents’ home. Instinctively, I took his hand in mine, feeling like a little child clinging to a father’s hand for courage. As we entered their home, I sensed that they already knew, somehow, what had happened. In fact, my four-year-old daughter, Ann, later related, “When that man asked Grandpa to come down off the roof so he could talk to us, someone said to me in my head, ‘Ann, your daddy has died.’”

President Lee told us what he knew of the accident: An eyewitness, a man from Brigham City, had been on Lookout Peak across from Mantua Lake. He heard an explosion, and as he glanced up, he saw a puff of smoke. He watched in horror as the helicopter spiraled downward to the ground. He immediately notified the sheriff and directed rescuers to the crash site, which was in a secluded and wooded area.

The report said that Keith and Leron had both died instantly. The other passenger, Bryce White, had survived. Bryce later related that they had heard a loud noise. Leron shouted, “Hang on, we’ve got trouble!” Then Bryce’s seat belt had somehow come loose. He remembered falling from the helicopter before it crashed, but then lost consciousness. After telling the news to Keith’s family, President Lee left. I walked back to my house with my sister-in-law, Lois. Suddenly she stopped and exclaimed, “Look!” I looked east to where she was pointing. A beautiful rainbow arched perfectly over the mountains. I then glanced west, where a few clouds hovered in the brilliant sunset.

Why a rainbow? I wondered.

Lois spoke reverently, “It’s a kind of promise, isn’t it? When my brother died, there was a rainbow like this on the day of his funeral.”

I was in awe of its beauty, and marveled at the peace I felt. Though I had just lost my eternal companion in death, I was not afraid. Truly the Comforter had enveloped me in “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I felt that this particular rainbow was a personal witness of God’s love for me.

Family and friends strengthened and sustained me through those first hours and days. Keith’s father, brothers and uncles gave me a blessing. My parents and sister arrived the next day from out of state. Ward members came with tears and services.

After the children were settled into bed that first night, I began to reminisce about our brief time on Earth together: We had met exactly six years before, to the very weekend. Keith’s cousin, Louise, introduced us at church on the first day of fall quarter at Utah State University. I was starting my senior year, and Keith was a newly returned missionary. Our romance began with a mutual feeling of familiarity that we had known one another in our pre-mortal existence. Within two months, Keith had asked me to marry him.

On my next birthday, Keith formalized our engagement with a diamond ring and a single, long-stemmed red rose. We were later married for time and eternity in the Oakland Temple.

Upon the birth of our first daughter, Ann, on Thanksgiving Day, 1971, Keith gave me a beautiful red rose. When Amy was born eighteen months later, another red rose appeared in my hospital room. Our son, Andrew, was born the next year. I again received from Keith a single red rose as a witness of his love.

I was brought back to reality by the phone ringing. A friend called to tell me that the accident was being reported on the late-night news. How unreal it seemed to hear about my husband’s accident and death on the television.

After watching the news, I began to write in my journal, because I couldn’t sleep. Into the night, my feelings and thoughts flowed onto paper. My head was struggling to comprehend what my heart did not wish to accept: I was a twenty-seven-year-old widow, with three tiny children to rear alone.

The next morning, the front page of Sunday’s newspaper covered the accident. Though I wanted to deny that my husband was dead, I could not. I had heard about it on TV, had read about it in the newspaper. It had really happened. There was nothing I could do to bring my husband back to life.

From Saturday to Tuesday, I moved through the blur of phoning family and friends, making funeral arrangements, providing a life sketch for the obituary, choosing a burial plot in the Hyrum cemetery, ordering flowers for the casket. This was my first experience dealing so closely with the death of a loved one. The numbing shock of grief cushioned me.

Then miracles began: One young friend, Lisa Summers, asked if she could sing a song, “Look Up to Him,” for the funeral. Kelly Liljenquist, a Boy Scout in the ward, offered to play taps on his trumpet for the burial. All twelve of Keith’s summer-camp staff agreed to be pallbearers and honorary pallbearers. The details seemed to fall into place as if Keith himself were planning his funeral.

The Boy Scouts in the ward washed all the family’s cars before the funeral. They mowed and trimmed the lawn. Then they set up tables and chairs in the shady backyard in preparation for the after-funeral dinner for family members and close friends.

The funeral itself became a testimonial tribute to a young man who had served others selflessly, giving his time and energy to his family, to the gospel and to his fellow men. The chapel, classrooms and basement of the old Hyrum 1st Ward building were overflowing with people who came to honor Keith.

That evening after the funeral, the doorbell rang. A new member of the ward, Penny, stood at the front door. Rather hesitantly, she said, “Even though I don’t know you very well, I wanted to do something for you. After the burial, I went to the cemetery and rearranged the flowers on the grave.”

She then handed me a flower she had plucked from an arrangement. “I don’t know what it means,” she said, “but your husband wanted me to bring you this one red rose.”

Valaree Brough

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