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Jeff Benedict

GRIEF

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Dave Checketts is not a professionally trained clergyman. The former chairman of Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks is currently CEO of Legends Hospitality, the concessions and merchandise company he jointly owns with the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. But he’s also a lay minister for the Mormon Church with oversight of ten Mormon congregations in Fairfield County Connecticut, including the one in Newtown.

On Friday morning Checketts had left his New Canaan Connecticut home and headed to his Park Avenue office to prepare for a weekend business trip to Dallas for Sunday's Cowboys-Steelers game. He and Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones planned to host a group of new investors. But late morning he got an email about a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. From his laptop he accessed the church records for Mormon families in Newtown. Five of them had children that attended the school.

A series of phone calls confirmed that all of those children were accounted for except one – six-year-old Emilie Parker, a first grader. Suddenly, it wasn't possible to focus on business. Checketts cleared his calender for the afternoon.

Robbie and Alyssa Parker had just moved to Connecticut from Ogden, Utah. Along with Emilie, they have daughters ages 2 and 4. Robbie, a health care professional, worked at Danbury Hospital. When Checketts reached him there, the facility was on lockdown due to the school shooting. Robbie was on his way to meet his wife at the fire station in Newtown. She was there with other parents awaiting word on the children.

Checketts emailed leaders of Mormon congregations throughout western Connecticut: “Pray for Emilie Parker.”


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He also organized a prayer service for that night. Then he headed back to Connecticut. He was almost to the Parker’s home when he got word that Emilie was among the 20 children who had died. “I didn’t know what to say,” Checketts said. “I go back and forth between tears and anger. It is just hard to comprehend.”

The business trip to Dallas got canceled. In an email, Checketts notified Jones and the investors. One by one, they expressed condolences and promised prayers.

When Checketts reached the Parker home, Robbie asked him to lead his family in prayer. While praying, Checketts felt impressed to say that Robbie would deal with his grief by speaking publicly about the tragedy, and that he would emerge as a powerful voice for compassion and peace.

After the prayer, the family's needs were discussed. Chief among them was finding a mortician. But funeral homes in the area were overwhelmed. Checketts promised to take care of everything, including all burial and funeral expenses.

He called a funeral home in a nearby town. Six years earlier Checketts had attended a service there for a young Mormon missionary who was killed by a drunk driver in Argentina.

“I had to go tell that boy’s parents that he wasn’t coming home alive,” Checketts said. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done as an ecclesiastical leader. However, that experience had introduced Checketts to an unusually empathetic funeral director.

Suddenly facing an even harder situation, Checketts reached out to him and asked if he would prepare Emilie’s body for burial. The church, Checketts explained, would cover all the expenses.

“There will be no expenses,” the funeral director said.

The following day, after authorities released the names of the victims, Parker was the first parent to speak to the national media. Without notes or a spokesman, Robbie choked back tears and expressed sympathy for the family of the man who killed 26 people and himself. "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you," he said.


Newtown Rob 16x9-web600wRobbie Parker speaks to the media.


Checketts was moved to tears.“What happened in Newtown is unthinkable,” Checketts said. “But little children are alive in Christ. Though the nature of the crime is the essence of evil, our faith tells us that these children burst into the presence of God and are safe in his arms.”

Grief, while heartbreaking, can also give rise to powerful acts of compassion. By the time Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, the American Civil War had claimed roughly 750,000 lives, resulting in 37,000 widows and 90,000 orphans.

 

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Why did God allow such devastation? It was a question Lincoln had pondered. Plus, there were many in Washington that wanted to punish the Confederates for all the carnage. Against that backdrop, Lincoln said:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

One month later Lincoln was assassinated. But those words – with malice toward none – live on. It reminds me of the story of Kenneth Brown, a U.S. Marine serving in Japan after the atomic bomb. It was just before Christmas when Brown encountered a Japanese professor of music who introduced himself as a Christian. He said he had a small children’s choir and asked if they could perform a concert for the American soldiers.

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Brown belonged to a unit of hardened fighters that had spent four years away from home, battling the Japanese from Saipan to Iwo Jima. The concert took place on Christmas Eve in a bombed out theater. The closing number was a solo from ‘The Messiah’ by a girl who sung with the conviction of one who knew that Jesus was indeed the Savior of mankind. The soldiers cried.

Afterward, Brown asked the Japanese music professor: “How did your group manage to survive the bomb?”

“This is only half my group,” he said softly.

“And what of the families of these?”

“They nearly all lost one or more members. Some are orphans.”

“What about the soloist? She must have the soul of an angel the way she sang.”

“Her mother, two of her brothers were taken. Yes, she did sing well. I am so proud of her. She is my daughter.”

Brown was moved to tears. “We had caused them the greatest grief,” Brown later wrote. “Yet we were their Christian brothers and as such they were willing to forget their grief and unite with us in singing ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.’ That day I knew there was a greater power on earth than the atomic bomb.”

 

Comments   

 
+3 #28 jaree 2012-12-23 21:31
This is perhaps the most important message to remember especially during the Christmas season where too many other things get in the way. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and needed message. There is so much wrong in the world as was evidenced by what happened at sandyhook; but there is also things even stronger and deeper than hate that ring forth through the tears. God bless!
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+1 #27 Nan 2012-12-20 23:45
Thanks for your beautifully worded post. It's been a very hard week, lots of tears, heart-ache and sadness. I'm grateful for the way the church works and for the gospel that reminds us all there is hope in an otherwise bleak world.
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+4 #26 catherine Gadsby 2012-12-20 17:02
Jeff,

The power of kindness from the funeral director, to Mr Checketts and all of the world stunned by this cruel act..watching Mr Parker speak from his heart and faith made you realise about forgiving!
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+3 #25 Tyrone Glanzer 2012-12-20 08:22
The miracle of forgiveness is alive and well.
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+4 #24 Bob Cisneros 2012-12-20 07:33
What a powerful story.God bless all those touched by this tragedy. Thank you Jeff for sharing this with us.
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+3 #23 Anita Ault 2012-12-20 00:28
Snowflakes for Sandy Hook
Please help the students of Sandy Hook have a winter wonderland at their new school! Get Creative!! No two snowflakes are alike. Make and send snowflakes to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514, by January 12, 2013.
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+6 #22 Julie C 2012-12-19 19:02
A school here in Southern Utah has written letters and collected stuffed animals for the children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Does anyone have contact information for someone we could send these to?
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+5 #21 Julie 2012-12-19 17:02
Thank you for your very moving article. As a young mother with 3 children in elementary school I have been searching the paper and praying every day for something to bring me comfort and healing. Your article has helped me to see God's hand in this sweet families life and has helped me to feel peace as well. Thank You!
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+7 #20 Rob Perry 2012-12-19 16:38
What great men are represented here! Dave Checketts and many like he, the funeral director and Br Parker along with Jeff Benedict show the goodness and empathy that makes America a land of freedom and light. Let's learn and emulate!

Shalom

rhp
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+4 #19 Kathryn James 2012-12-19 16:26
Thankyou for sharing this story, I am an assistant teacher in an early years facility and have treasured my little ones this week. It is at these times we see more prominently the angels that they are.
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Jeff Benedict is a special features writer for Sports Illustrated and a bestselling author of twelve books, including My Name Used to Be Muhammad and The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. The System is being made into a television drama.

Jabari-SI-Cover-200w     MyNameUsedtoBeMuhammad-200w     System-Cover-200w

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