Timmy died in 1965, and I left on my mission in 1971. The second year I was in Africa I had the opportunity to attend a regional conference in that area. They opened up the Stake Center which had an odd, L-shaped configuration. From where I sat, I could not see the pulpit. The meeting was in Afrikaans, which required me to think to understand and I began to daydream. A few minutes later I noticed someone walking toward me – above the heads of the people. It was a young man in a dark blue business suit. He was freckle-faced with red hair and blue-green eyes. He looked very much like some of my cousins. When he got a few feet away I realized it was my little brother, Timmy.
Timmy smiled and this thought entered my mind, “Tell Dad I love him.” That was all. He vanished and I was left with this amazing experience and cryptic message. It didn’t make any sense because I was very certain my Dad already knew Timmy loved him.
Nevertheless, in my next letter I rehearsed this experience and added the message. In those days it took at least three months for an answer to a letter. Many months later my father wrote back and told me how very grateful he was for the message. He told me something I did not know.
Timmy was a very intelligent child. He walked and talked early. His diction and vocabulary were more like a five-year-old than two. The morning he died my father had corrected him before he left for work and swatted his bottom. Timmy cried “I hate you!”
My dad left for work, with “I hate you” as the last words he had heard from his two-year-old son who died a couple hours later. This had left an emotional scar in my dad’s heart, which Timmy came back to heal.
There’s more to Timmy’s life even still.
My parents were at a family reunion in about 1984 when over in the corner of the room one of my cousin’s began telling a story about their youngest son. The story caught my parent’s ear, and they went over to listen.
I seems that their youngest son had an imaginary playmate, which isn’t that uncommon. This little guy was quiet and withdrawn, and spent a lot of time talking to his invisible friend. As the little fellow grew up this imaginary playmate became a nuisance to the family. He insisted his family set a place at the table for him, leave him a seat in the car, at church, and anyplace else they happened to be. He would ask his playmate questions, and then announce to his family what his friend wanted to do, then insist that they all do it.
One day they went to visit their grandma, who still lived near my old home. When the dad was helping their son out of the car, the little boy pointed at the ditch in front our house and said, “that’s where Timmy died.”
My cousin had never heard his son call his playmate Timmy, but the mother had. My cousin of course knew about my little brother, but his wife had never heard the story of Timmy. When my cousin heard this he asked how he could know that. The little guy said, “Timmy told me – just now.”
They asked him many more questions. This four-year-old child knew that Timmy had once been a real boy, and that he had died in that ditch. When they asked him to describe his imaginary playmate, he said that he was a little boy with red hair, just as Timmy was when he died. There were other details about Timmy’s life that their son knew.
Not long after that my cousin’s son forgot about his imaginary playmate so completely, that he couldn’t remember ever having had one.
Families really are forever.