Easter, Hope, and the Death of Our Daughter

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White baby casket
Image via Clarke & Strong

April 18 is a date engraved in our hearts. It is also engraved in stone.

My wife, Janeal, and I would soon celebrate our second wedding anniversary. The afternoon of April 17th , at the obstetrician’s office, we heard the strong heartbeat of our daughter, a week overdue. We were overjoyed. Very soon we would hold her in our arms and welcome her to the world. That evening, Janeal started into labor. We excitedly hurried to the hospital.

Just hours after hearing our baby’s strong heart, the nurse searched to hear it again. Another nurse tried, moving to every position. Then they placed a scalp lead. Nothing. The doctor arrived. More searching. Solemn faces announced the news before words were spoken. No heartbeat.

In the early hours of April 18th, our daughter was born. We named her April Marie Hatch.  Holding her limp body in my arms, I could see through my tears that she was beautiful, fully developed, perfect in every way. Except her spirit was no longer in her body.

Morning dawned and it was my duty to call family. Every call went the same. Parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws answered, heard my voice, and excitedly anticipated “Oh, Janeal had the baby!!!” I answered yes. Then I had to voice the sad news. It was with them as it was with us. Joy turned into deep sorrow. The rest of the time in the hospital was especially hard. The distant sound of other newborn babies crying only intensified the silence in our room, the hole in our hearts. Many tears were shed.

We held a small service, family and friends giving love and support. April’s casket was a little smaller than her bassinet, which sat home, empty. At the cemetery, I carried her in her casket from hearse to grave and gently set it down.

It was a beautiful spring morning full of sunshine, singing birds, blossoms … and mourning. My arm around Janeal, I looked up to the east, the mountains, the blue sky, and to the faces of family and friends gathered around. Then a powerful thought filled my heart: This very place – this cemetery – will one day hold spectacular joy. Resurrection is real. We will raise our April in the millennium!

Years, decades, flew by. Family photos taken at April’s grave each April show our other children grow year by year. This evoked many family lessons about life, death, the Savior, the Gospel, the Plan of Salvation, resurrection – and Eternal Life and the joy of the saints (see Enos verse 3). “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we [testify (see Revelation 19:10)] of Christ” (2 Nephi 25:26).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal;

“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,” Was not spoken of the soul.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.

Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.

So, here in mortality we both labor and wait. Hymn 124 expresses poignantly: “Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heavenly Friend thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end … Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”

Between the Savior’s crucifixion and resurrection, He went to the world of spirits where “he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance” (D&C 138:19). Moroni wrote “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4).

Jesus Christ is truly our Redeemer. The Apostle Paul wrote: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive … for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible … O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19, 52, 55, 57 ).

Janeal and I own a little real estate in that cemetery, in the family plot, where we along with our April and generations of family will one day be resurrected. We look forward to that time when “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

So, the day April 18 is engraved in our hearts, and on her tombstone. But even more brilliantly engraved in our hearts are the assuring words of Christ: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Though mortality can turn joy into sorrow, Jesus Christ turns sorrow into joy.

This is the springtime of Eternity. We “look to God and live” (Alma 37:47). This is Easter’s gift to each of us, our Savior’s gift to all: Because He lives, so shall we.

Robert Hatch has narrated programs daily on KBYU-FM and weekly on the ABC radio network. His real career is directing films -- 7 for the BBC, 56 for the Vision Sattelite Network, and a series of films in Israel, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. As a director, he has received some 300 film festival honors in competitions worldwide. His film, Infinite Gift, is a drama about understanding the Savior and His atonement.