Every family has tragedies. This is the story of one of our family’s tragedies. I hope that you will respect the tenderness of this account for all those involved.
Despite some mental and emotional disabilities, my younger brother, Calvin, married and had three children. He worked hard and held down three low-paying jobs to support his family and purchase a small home. However, he was difficult to live with, so when he traveled to California to attend our sister’s wedding, his wife changed the locks on the house and filed for divorce.
The divorce was hard on everyone―Calvin, his ex-wife, and their children. Their oldest son moved out on his own shortly after high school. At around twenty years old, their middle child came out as transgender. The youngest boy developed social anxiety and basically did not work or go to school after high school. Instead, he spent most of his time playing video games in their basement.
Sadly, a few years after the middle child came out as transgender, the depressed young adult committed suicide. Calvin’s ex-wife excluded my brother and our side of the family from the funeral and even refused to let us know where Calvin’s child was buried. She told my sister, “Calvin can go through the rest of his life not knowing where his son is buried.” Still, throughout this ordeal, Calvin refused to let anyone say anything negative about his ex-wife in his presence.
The youngest boy blamed his father for the loss of his sibling and only confidant, so six months later he contacted my brother under the guise of reconciliation. Calvin was ecstatic. He told our mother, “My counselor was right! She said I needed to let my boys go but keep the door open, and someday they would come back to me.” Calvin drove his car over to take his boy to dinner, and after they met and embraced, his son stabbed him to death.
As soon as I received the news, I booked a flight to be with my mom, who lived with Calvin. While driving from the airport to her home, I got the distinct impression that Calvin was with me, that he still loved the son who had just murdered him, and that he wanted me to tell everyone that we needed to forgive one another. This experience made it easier for me to embrace his ex-wife when she contacted me, sobbing, expressing her grief for our loss and her sorrow for excluding us from the funeral six months earlier. It was just something that she could not deal with at the time. We shared tears as I felt her pain from the double loss she had suffered.
Below, I share some of my comments at Calvin’s funeral in an effort to honor this charge from my deceased brother to tell everyone that we need to forgive one another so we can find the love and healing that we all desperately seek. I hope that my effort in some small way helps you along the difficult path of forgiveness so that you, too, can enjoy the peace, comfort, and security that forgiving and being forgiven brings. You can listen to this message on YouTube: Calvin Hallstrom Funeral.
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My comments at Calvin’s funeral:
Calvin’s death is a tragedy for all of us, but I want to recognize that for his ex-wife and son, this has been a double tragedy, and I want them to know that we feel for their loss and struggles at this trying time. I want to share with you what I mentioned to them a few days ago. As I was driving up to Logan from the Salt Lake City airport, I had the very distinct and strong impression that Calvin loves his son Shane, has forgiven him, and wants all of us to do likewise.
Forgiveness does not mean we pretend that something bad did not happen or that it really didn’t matter that much. Forgiveness is not sweeping evil under the rug and pretending that it does not exist. Forgiveness is not allowing abuse and other inappropriate behavior to continue. Forgiveness is not absolving someone from responsibility under the law. No. Forgiveness is based in truth. In order to truly forgive, one needs to fully recognize the wrong done but then not ascribe blame. One is only able to completely forgive by recognizing the reality that we cannot fully understand everything in order to properly judge others. Instead, we trust in God, who knows all things, including the intents of our hearts, our background, our misunderstandings and disabilities, to make the correct judgment. If we refuse to recognize the reality of the negative consequences associated with wrongs, then we are holding back some of our claim for justice and not giving it to the Lord, so full forgiveness is not possible. Forgiveness consists of turning all judgment over to God. Forgiveness is relying wholly on the wisdom, justice, and mercy of God so that we can be free to love others and move on with our lives without the burden of harboring ill will and bad feelings that destroy our opportunity to enjoy the blessings of this life.
Calvin always looked up to his older brothers and felt that he did not measure up. He felt that he was a failure in life. If Calvin is allowed to witness this proceeding, which I believe is possible and even likely, I want to say something to Calvin. When Tyrel died, I said that I looked up to you. I meant it then, and I mean it even more so today. We all can learn a lot from Calvin.
After Calvin’s death, I went up to his room and saw two posters taped onto the mirror doors to his closet. Here is the first poster. It has three columns: one lists the negative things we tell ourselves, the second is God’s positive response, and the third is the scriptural reference for God’s response. For example, you say, “Nobody really loves me.” God says, “I love you.” You say, “I can’t forgive myself.” God says, “I forgive you.” You say, “I feel alone.” God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” We have printed out copies of Calvin’s handy little chart for each of you to take home with you so that you can continue to benefit from some of Calvin’s wisdom.
Here is the second poster. As you can see, a rainbow divides the poster. Below the rainbow are dark clouds, some shedding tears of rain upon the earth. Inside these dark clouds are the thoughts that made Calvin sad: divorce, unhappy children, brokenhearted, no money, all alone. But above the rainbow, the sun is shining, and he has written thoughts that helped him overcome his discouragement: I love myself, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Heavenly Father; Faith, Hope, Courage. We may feel that darkness reigns with his death, but just as light conquered darkness on the third day when Christ arose, Calvin’s poster assures us that light always conquers darkness over the rainbow. I am going to ask Eric to play the tune to composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg’s treasured song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. While I read its lyrics, I ask each of you to think of your own dark clouds and the light that helps you overcome your challenges.
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
there’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,
where troubles melt like lemon drops
way above the chimney tops,
that’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow,
why, then, oh why can’t I?
Why, then, or why, can’t I?
Calvin has left his dark clouds far behind him, and his troubles now melt like lemon drops. Light has conquered darkness; over the rainbow, that’s where you’ll find him now.
Yes, we all can learn a lot from Calvin. He instinctively knew that the purpose of life is to increase our capacity to love. We often complicate our understanding regarding the purpose of life, when it simply is to learn how to love more abundantly in order to become like God. We often say that the purpose of life is a test to see if we will keep the commandments, yet if we keep the two great commandments to love God and our neighbor then everything else falls into place (Matt 22:36–40). We teach that we came to earth to develop faith, but as Paul taught, faith will be replaced by knowledge; however, charity, the pure love of Christ, never faileth and endureth forever (1 Cor 13). Just as Christ’s love never fails, so has Calvin’s love for his family. I am convinced as I stand here before you today that if given the opportunity, Calvin would hug his son Shane today with the same amount of love and tenderness that he embraced him with last week. We all can learn a lot from Calvin.
We demonstrate love in two ways: through sacrifice and through forgiveness.
Sacrifice is the essence of love. If some action is not a sacrifice, then it is likely done for a selfish motive, not out of love. Too often we think that we are making a sacrifice when we really aren’t. Sometimes the good works we perform are just that, a performance, and as the Savior said, we have our reward. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior informs us that on judgment day, many members of his church will stand before him and say, “‘Have we not done . . . many wonderful works in thy name?’ Then he will profess unto them, ‘I never knew you, depart’” (Matt 7:22–23). The key to unlocking our understanding of this scripture is 1 Corinthians 8:3, which states, “If any man love God, he is known of him.” Do we do good works because we love God and others? Calvin continually looked for opportunities to serve others because he loved God and other people. I want to give you one little example.
Calvin loved children. When he worked as a bagger at Smith’s Marketplace, he wanted to brighten children’s day and make them happy, so he thought: What do children like? Stickers. So he asked if he could give stickers to children as they came through the checker’s line. He had to go all the way up through the whole management bureaucracy of the company to finally get approval. But he got it and then started giving stickers to the children. They loved it, but I’m not so sure the parents were pleased because the children wanted to go to the checker line where Calvin was bagging regardless of how long the line was. All of the talks I have given, all of the lessons I have taught, all of the service I have rendered in various administrative and leadership callings pale in comparison to this simple, selfless act of love that Calvin offered these children, smile after smile, day after day. That service was true greatness. We all can learn a lot from Calvin.
Calvin loved children, and children loved Calvin. They recognized his sweet, almost childlike innocence. I am reminded of the Savior’s teaching that “Except [we] be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” and that “Whoso shall receive one such little child . . . receiveth me” (Matt 18:3–5). Calvin epitomized this scripture in his love and connection with children.
However, as children grow up, their hearts become hardened by disappointments and their own inappropriate behavior, and they lose their ability to recognize and value Calvin’s innocence. Due to Calvin’s disabilities, he was continually misjudged and mistreated by adults. He suffered great heartache his whole life. Occasionally, he would express his frustration with the way he was treated because even though he had mental disabilities, he was fully aware of how he was being mistreated, which made it hurt all the more. I am amazed at his patience and forgiveness. When I compare his behavior to mine on the rare occasions when I feel rejected, abandoned, misjudged, disrespected, not appreciated, or when others try to control my life like they did him, my reactions have not been very admirable. Yet Calvin suffered this treatment day in and day out, year after year, without becoming bitter. He lived a life of forgiveness, the ultimate expression of love. Now you can see why I look up to him. Yes, we all can learn a lot from Calvin.
Learning to forgive is one of the most important life lessons we need to learn. It is how we learn to love as Christ loves us. I know that the Lord loves me, a very imperfect person, so I need to learn how to love other imperfect people in order to become like God and realize the Savior’s prayer that we become one with others and with God through love (John 17: 22, 26).
As the quote on the back of your program states, Christ forgave his crucifiers while their hands still dripped with his lifeblood. I believe Calvin did the same. Beyond forgiving his crucifiers while they were in the very act of killing him, the Savior also forgave you and me at the same time. The pain he felt for his personal injuries during his atonement were only tokens of the infinite pain he felt from all of the sorrow we cause each other as he literally bore our grief (Isa. 53). He was able to look down through the ages of history and see all of the hurt and injustice we inflict on each other, and because he was all loving, he literally felt our pain. He was able to bear this sorrow because he was an all-powerful God. His love transcends his compassion for us as victims of wrongdoing and extends to us as perpetrators of sin. When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Christ also felt the pain when a spouse is betrayed by his or her mate. When the disciples scattered and left the Savior alone, he also felt our pain when we are abandoned by loved ones. When witnesses bore false witness against him, he also felt the hurt we feel when friends tell falsehoods behind our back. When Christ was struck across the check in the presence of the High Priest, he also felt our pain of abuse from those who should care for us. When Pilate stated that he found no fault in Jesus but sentenced him to death, he also felt our pain when we suffer injustice. His atonement was infinite because he truly took upon him all of our sins and the pain we cause each other, yet he still offers us forgiveness while he bore all of our sorrows so that through his stripes we can be healed (Isaiah 53).
The Savior fulfilled the promise he made to us in the premortal realm to take upon him all of our sins, not just our guilt, but to fulfill the law of justice, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He satisfied justice by fully feeling our sorrows, and he promises to heal our soul if we turn to him. When we accepted the gospel plan in our premortal existence, we covenanted with God to accept Christ’s atonement in exchange for our forgiveness and his healing grace. Consequently, we have no right to demand justice and to deny forgiveness to others. We already sold our claim to Christ. He has purchased our claim with his blood. It is as if I loan you $100, and when you can’t pay me back on time, the bishop here offers to pay me the debt on your behalf, which I gratefully accept. Then, if I come knocking on your door and demand that you still pay me the $100, what am I? I am a thief. That is what we are when we don’t forgive others. We already sold our claim to God. It is not ours to keep. No wonder the Lord requires us to forgive all men.
Yet we all seem to hold on to our grievances, petty or large, and nurse our hurt feelings until they fester, grow, and infect others. Why do we refuse to let go? Because we are guilty, and we do not like looking in the mirror and seeing how ugly our actions are, so we build a façade of pride to hide our sins not only from others but primarily from ourselves. But because we are children of the Great Lawgiver, we each have an acute sense of justice, that no matter how deep we try to bury our guilt in the recesses of our mind, we still sense it lurking there, and occasionally it reaches up and grabs our attention. We realize that it is as useless hiding from our guilt as it is sewing clothes out of fig leaves. It simply does not work, so we follow Adam’s example when God called upon him to explain his behavior: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree” (Gen 3:12). It is her fault. We try to pass the blame onto others. We take our guilt and project it on others and attack it there in a vain attempt to satisfy the sense of justice that haunts us. We say to justice, “Ignore my faults. Instead focus on the injustice over there. Leave me alone.”
We create a fantasy world made up of good guys and bad guys, when in reality we are all mixed bags of good and bad. We are all imperfect. As John declared, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). No one is in any position to judge another. Sin is simply another name we give to dysfunctional behavior that springs from a lack of love, and we all suffer sorrow that others don’t see.
As much as we want to be perfect parents, we all fall short. We each grow up in an imperfect world where we are disappointed by the lack of love. This creates an emotional vacuum that sucks us in to become self-absorbed. This void becomes an emotional black hole at the center of our personal universe that we vainly try to fill with Satan’s empty counterfeits. Some people try to fill the emptiness with drugs, alcohol, and sex, while others try to fill it with good or even necessary things like work or food. But because this void was created by a lack of love, God, who has infinite love, is the only being great enough to fill this emptiness. Consequently, the very thing that pulls us down also acts as the impetus for our personal quest to find God.
This lack of love creates the subconscious fears we previously mentioned: a fear of rejection and abandonment, a fear of not being valued or appreciated, and a fear of not controlling our environment. These fears covertly control our lives. When someone triggers these fears, we react. We even say that someone has pushed our buttons as if we were robots. “But perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). As we open our heart to God, he fills it with his love so that it fills our emotional black holes and ejects these innate fears, thus freeing us to love others more deeply and openly. As we internalize the reality that God’s love and grace satisfy justice on our behalf, we feel his forgiveness, and we no longer have a need to project our guilt onto others. We become free to forgive others and enjoy life more fully and realize our true potential. We become free to build close relationships with others in this lonely world.
Even though Calvin suffered from much heartache and had many challenges, he continually turned to God for strength. This enabled him to love others. He did not judge other people. He cared as much for the homeless man burdened with addictions as he did for his church leader. He realized that none of us are so great that we cannot learn something from every person we meet and that none of us are so insignificant that we cannot contribute something to every person we interact with each day. Calvin realized that we are all imperfect and that we all need each other. Here is a quick story to demonstrate this point.
He was instrumental in helping a family return to activity in their church after years of absence. Over the years, many parishioners and ministers had visited this family and invited them to return to activity. But, like Nathaniel of old, without guile, when Calvin sincerely asked the father why he didn’t attend church, his wife listening from the kitchen could tell that this visitor was different. He really did care. So she told her husband to tell him. The husband said that he didn’t attend church because he wasn’t keeping all of God’s commandments and was afraid that people would notice and criticize him. Calvin said, “That’s no problem. We all have challenges that we are trying to overcome. If we had to be perfect to attend church, no one would go. Church is like a hospital where we each take turns being the patient, the doctor, and the nurse. We all need each other to help one another with our challenges.” The man and his family attended church the next Sunday and returned to full activity because Calvin was sincerely nonjudgmental. Unlike most of us who need a lifetime to learn this principle, he learned it at a very young age. Calvin lived a life of not judging others. We all can learn a lot from Calvin.
When God assembles his jewels, Calvin will be among them, shining brightly. Calvin did not hold on to grudges. He let go of offenses and freely forgave others. He lived a life of forgiveness. We all can truly learn a lot from Calvin. I hope that everyone can look past his disabilities and recognize what a great man he really was and benefit from our association with him by following his wonderful example as he followed the Savior. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.