I’ve known this day would come for a long time.  I thought I would be prepared. I thought I had watched my sweet son suffer so much that I would be ready to let him go home.  But I’m not.  Since he took his last breath, on Sunday, at 3:35 pm, I have been completely overwhelmed and bombarded with tasks to be completed for the funeral…. It’s like planning a wedding in four days, with hundreds of people showing their love through stopping by, calling and texting, feeling you need to console not only your family and your spouse, but friends and loved ones, …. All while experiencing your heart shatter into a million pieces.   

As I stepped into my brown high-top Nike’s Riley gave me for Christmas on Monday morning, in a rush to get to the mortuary with the family to make plans to honor him, I felt my spirit conversing with his and I knew he was just as overwhelmed as I was as he was stepping into his new mission, but he was happy and he lifted me as he said, “here we go Mom, you’ve got this, we are free… it’s time to get to work”.  

I’ve realized more than ever, the importance of scheduling time in our daily lives to BE STILL.  It is when I am still, when I am not dwelling on the thoughts or distractions in my mind or around me, that my spirit is able to connect with Riley’s and we simply commune, without words…. Just feelings…. And it is sacred.  Riley is not dead.  Riley is more alive than he has ever been.  Riley knows Christ and is being taught by Him.  Riley has so much love for his Savior and Redeemer and understands that it is because of Him, that we will all be together again, with our bodies, and live for eternity.

About a week before Riley knew he had cancer in his body, he went on a typical “Riley adventure” in his little blue mustang that barely held his six foot two frame. He was the “get away car” for his friends who borrowed some things from Walmart without asking.  

We had a nice visit with the cops in our family room that night.  I’ve never seen a big burly officer become emotional before, but this seasoned cop, who had worked with gangs in down town Chicago, shed a few tears and said to Riley, “I don’t know why, but for some reason, God was looking out for you tonight, I got called in last minute and if the officer who was supposed to be here had come, you would be headed to detention, you would have lost your football scholarship, and your car would be impounded”.  He spent nearly two hours with Riley and he again got emotional when he grabbed his radio and said, “It’s Saturday night. I have NEVER gone two hours without a call on a Saturday night.”  He must have felt the same thing all of us have felt from Riley.  Riley is special, he is different, he has a mission and that night was a lesson Riley needed, to gain experience, in order to learn, grow, and to teach others from.  As Riley and I sat knee to knee late that night, Riley wept and said, “Mom, I’m supposed to learn these things so I can teach others”.  I wanted to smack him upside the head…… but I knew he was right.

The following day Riley went to church and bore his testimony.  He said, “God works in mysterious ways, I witnessed God moving mountains for me last night.  I love Jesus Christ and I want him to be my constant companion.”   

A week later Riley announced to his friends and family that he would be putting his football scholarship on hold and serving a mission. 

Well…. Serve a mission he did…. The following afternoon, Riley found out he had cancer.

Riley and I were at Lone Peak Hospital for blood work and scans that day.  I was sitting in the car, waiting for Riley to finish up while I awaited a call from his Doctor.  We were expecting to be told he had kidney stones, but instead received the news that Riley had bone cancer. 

Up until that time I had always struggled to know if God was real.  I hadn’t learned how to feel His love for me.  I didn’t know His Son, Jesus Christ.  I hadn’t figured out how to trust myself and believe the feelings I had.  But I want to testify to you that as I sat in the car that day, I was not by myself.  God Himself sat with me, and he said…. “This is where you’ll learn of me, PAY ATTENTION”, and so I have, and I always will. 

I am honored to be Riley’s earthly mother, it has been a sacred calling to walk by his side through his journey on earth.  Many mothers would not be inclined to speak at their son’s funeral…. But I would not miss this opportunity to honor my son and share with the world who I know, he truly is.   Riley is my most difficult child, and he knows it….. but ironically, he has taught me the most.  

Just a few weeks ago, Riley cried, as we sat on his bed.  He knew very well of the suffering the cancer in his body had caused his entire family.  He knew very well that his sister had been tormented as she served the Lord in Brazil, blessing her family as Riley fought round one of cancer.  He knew that his little brother had sacrificed finishing his life long dream of serving his mission in Honduras.  He hated to see his Dad working so hard at home after hours of work at the office to pay for and care for his family and the additional expenses cancer brings.  Riley frequently checked on me….. he would search me out in the home, look into my eyes and say, “how are you mamma?”  …  if I said “fine, or I’m good”, he would say, “are you sure?  Is there anything you want to talk about?”    Riley hated for me to miss teaching classes, chances to meet friends for lunch or cancel yoga workshops because of him…. But in time, he grew to accept it because there was nothing else he could do.  He learned to accept service, which is not easy for anyone.  

Riley also understood that as his family sacrificed and served him, we were all learning the most valuable life lessons we would ever learn.  As we sat on his bed that day, through tears, he said, “mom, do you know what it feels like to be the one who causes others so much pain and suffering in order to teach them?”  

I pray you will not think me to be sacrilegious or disrespectful, but as I have watched my son suffer the unimaginable with grace, dignity, patience, long-suffering and so much gratitude, I cannot help but see how much he emulates the Savior.  I have watched him forgive others and tell me they don’t know any better.  I have watched him experience a refiners fire hotter than humanly possible to withstand.  I have sat with him countless times as he was told he had cancer, cancer had returned, cancer had grown, cancer had spread, the treatment had not worked.  I listened as my 18 year old son was told that even after a year of chemo, nine months of radiation, and a radical surgery, he would have a 30% chance to live, I watched him patiently lay in hospital beds for days and even weeks on end, and I watched him drive straight to the gym from the hospital as he fought his guts out to carry on.  I watched him work long hard hours to climb his way to the top at Nike.  I listened to him on the phone with his employees while in his sickest hour, answering questions, patiently teaching how something should be done and why, or telling them how to make a spread sheet or try a new method and then explain to them that after they show it to the boss,…     “ if the boss likes it, tell them it was your idea, if he doesn’t, tell him it was mine.”   

Throughout this cancer journey I have had some very sacred experiences, one of which I shared at Riley’s life celebration.  Through these experiences I came to know Riley through God’s eyes.  I understood that Riley agreed to come here, knowing his journey would not be easy, but eager to teach, serve and love us, he valiantly agreed to the mission.  Riley is a great and powerful leader and teacher.  He will teach those great and small on the other side of the veil, as well as those of us here.  

Several years ago, as I was scrolling through facebook, I came across a song…. The song we just heard…. “Son of God” by Paul Cardall, and ever since hearing it the first time, I knew… I KNEW…. That Riley’s life has been exactly the way Heavenly Father intended it to be.  I do not believe that God causes cancer, not one bit, in fact, I believe quite the opposite… I believe it is the adversary who causes any and all pain and suffering in this life.  However, I know that a wise Father in Heaven has the ability to help us use this suffering to learn, to grow, and to become more like him.  It is our choice, and Riley would tell me this all the time, “it’s a choice mom, you can choose to have a good day, or you can choose to have a bad day.  You can do anything you choose, it’s all up here.”   

Riley accepted his mission here on earth.  He used it to make him… rather than break him.  It was not a smooth or easy ride and Riley was not perfect, but I will tell you this…. HE DID THE VERY BEST HE COULD…. And honestly, I don’t know of a single person who could have done it better.  

From the beginning of this journey, when interviewed about the clothing drive fundraiser and 5k put on by Coach Peck, Bingham High School and many of our close friends and family, Riley stated that “he would take cancer a million times if it meant someone else didn’t have to”.  

Riley also said from the very beginning that “everything happens for a reason”.  

In the song, Son of God, it says    “you’ve been born to us this sacred night … rest your head in my hands … the angels said you’d be a son …who would save us from the fall … my baby boy will save us all … prophets said the world will hurt you and bruise you … sweet child, …my child … son of God…. You were born because you love us … you save us from the fall… you were born to heal us … first born son … from Gods presence you have come … to heal and rescue one by one… and no matter how they try to hurt you … and bruise you… I’m here… God’s here … our son.”  

I am not the same person I was six years ago.  No one who knows Riley is the same person they were before meeting him.  Riley is not our Savior, but he did come here to teach us, because he loves us.  

Riley was born one sacred night … Riley did rest his head in my hands, both at his birth, throughout his life, and in death.  Riley is my first-born son, Riley was hurt and bruised.  Riley did help to save me from the fall, through all I have learned from him.   Riley has healed many of our hearts with his courageous and tender love.  Riley did come from Gods presence to rescue us as he fulfilled his mission here, leading the way through example and as Riley suffered and died, I was there … and God was there…. And now, Riley is in God’s presence again, and he is teaching and serving many…..

I want to testify to you…. Because this is something I know…. Not something I believe…. Something I KNOW….. YOU, are all Riley’s people… WE, are all Riley’s people.  Heavenly Father knew he could touch our lives and teach us.  Riley is here.  Going forward we will be blessed to feel Riley close to us if we will focus on the Savior and live in a manner that is pleasing unto Him.  It is up to us to not do things that will drive his presence away.  Righteous angels can only reside where there is peace and light…. They do not reside in darkness… and so my plea…. To myself and to everyone present, is to please, live in a manner that will invite the Savior and Riley into your life.   As Riley stated, he wanted to have Jesus Christ as his constant companion, and he does.  Slow down and be still so that you can feel Him.  Pause before you speak, giving yourself time to seek the words Jesus Christ would speak.  I know our Savior is present…. I pray you can feel His love for each and every one of you. 

There is a talk I have studied recently by Neal A. Maxwell, it is titled “But for a Small Moment”.  It is incredible and the timing of it coming into my life was impeccable… it was given to me by Patriarch Shamo just a few weeks ago. 

It states, “God loves us and has placed us here to cope with challenges which he will place before us.   His love will call us at times to do things we may wonder about, and we may be confronted with circumstances we would rather not face.  I believe with all my heart that because God loves us there are some particular challenges he will deliver to each of us.  He will customize the curriculum for each of us in order to teach us the things we most need to know.  He will set before us in life what we need, not always what we like. This will require us to accept with all our hearts the truth that there is divine design in each of our lives.”

Elder Maxwell also states, “the tests that we face are real.  They are not going to be things we can do with one hand tied behind our backs.  We may at times wonder if we have been forgotten and forsaken.  Hopefully, we will do as the Master did and acknowledge that God is still there and never doubt.  It is because he loves us that at times he will not intercede as we may wish him to.”

And this is my favorite part….

“It is interesting to me, brothers and sisters, to note that among the qualities of a saint is the capacity to develop patience and to cope with the things that life inflicts upon us.  That capacity brings together two prime attributes – – Patience and endurance.  These are qualities, in the process of giving service to mankind that most people reject or undervalue.  Most would gladly serve mankind if somehow they could get it over with once, preferably with applause and recognition.  But, for the sake of righteousness, to endure, to be patient, in the midst of affliction, in the midst of being misunderstood, and in the midst of suffering – – THAT IS SAINTHOOD.”

And so my dear friends, who love my sweet son…. I will tell you, that you have been blessed to know a Saint.  Our sweet Riley is a perfect example of a Saint.

As we have witnessed in Riley’s life, it is our greatest trials that teach and refine us the most.  It is our moments of greatest despair that our hearts break wide open…  enough to let the Savior in.  

We are all human and when faced with adversity we do our best to not only survive, but to thrive.  We learn and we grow and Riley was a perfect example of this.  There were times of anger, rebellion and selfishness, but as the intense heat molded and shaped my dear son, I watched him become his very best self.  I watched him surrender EVERYTHING and accept the will of the Lord.  

Near the end of Riley’s life on earth he let go of anger, he stopped asking why, he accepted, embraced and was grateful for the life he was given.  He turned his heart to our Lord and Savior.  He sought Him in prayer and expressed his love for Him.  Riley had some very sacred experiences in his last days.  He refused the prescribed doses of medication because having a clear mind became extremely important to him.  Riley loves his friends so much and always has, but in his final days the only thing he wanted was to be with his family.  Family was everything to Riley and he did, and will continue, to do all he can to keep his family close.

Riley was so ready to go home.  He was EXCITED to be free from the pain his body has been wracked with for so long.  He longed to live a life where death wasn’t looming at every corner.  Riley is free.  Have you ever seen a butterfly try to walk?  It just doesn’t work.  When one has developed wings as large as his, the only thing left to do is to fly.  

Saturday evening Riley had a long and tender conversation with Paul and I and one of the last bits of wisdom he shared with us was “Never Doubt Yourself.”  I have framed this and hung it above my bed to remind me.

A few days ago, my incredible son Levi said to me, “Mom… wanna see what I did this morning?  I’ve already been super productive”, and he showed me a photo of the truck his brother drove, which now belongs to him… and on the back window there was a sticker that said… LIVE LIKE RILEY.   And so I will.

 I have tried to portray to you a perfect example of the very reason we come to earth.  We come here to experience life and to learn.  We learn through mistakes, through picking our selves up over and over again and never giving up.  We learn by facing and feeling our trials and learning to do it without numbing out.  We come here to learn to love unconditionally and to become a constant conduit, which allows our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His light, to move through us to others.  We come here to learn, in a sometimes very painful way, to surrender our will to the will of the Father and to do it with patience, long suffering and love.  We come here to learn and understand the atonement of Jesus Christ and to know that through His sacrifice we can be washed clean of our earthly frailties and become like him, in a resurrected and perfect body, to live with Him forever. 

I want to share a very sacred experience with you.  The reason I brought this painting right here, which was painted by Riley’s sister Mallory several years ago.  It is my favorite and everyone who comes in my home tries to steal it, and so I hung it in my bathroom and I get to look at it while I am in my tub, which is my favorite place in this whole world.  Last Sunday, the Sunday before Riley passed, I was sitting in my tub, looking at that painting.  At different times in my life that painting has meant different things to me, on that day, as I pondered on that painting, I saw Riley sitting up on the front of that boat, leading the way for his family, looking out over the horizon and saying this is the way we have to go.  I saw his younger, athletic brother, leaning up against the pole, ready to do whatever it is that his brother told him to do, and his sweet sister sitting at the back of the boat, trusting her brothers, and as I pondered on that painting, which has nothing to do with what I’m going to tell you, but I wanted you to see where my thoughts originated.  The thought came to me that I needed to contact the stake patriarch, who I had never met.  I had seen him from clear back there when he was clear up here at a stake conference or something, and I knew what his face looked like but I wasn’t even sure what his name was.  I got dressed and looked in my LDS Tools and looked up patriarch and it said Lyle Shamo and I thought he’s not Asian and I think that’s an Asian name… I don’t know.  Haha.. I’m just not that smart.  Then I looked on Facebook, I put in the name, Lyle Shamo and I thought, “yeah, that’s the face I just saw in my mind”.  I went back to LDS Tools, I looked up his address, and I drove to his home right then because that’s what I do, when I get inspiration, I go for it right then before I scare myself out of it.  I knocked on his door and I was thinking the whole time, because we always doubt ourselves right?, “Jackie, you’re an idiot”.  No body answered and I thought, “yip, you’re an idiot”.  So I walked back to my car and got in and thought, “you’ve got to try one more time, I mean I don’t know if you’re an idiot… that was a powerful feeling you had”, so I called the number on the LDS Tools and no body answered.  I thought to myself, “yeah, you’re crazy”! Then…. My phone rang…I answered and the voice said, “this is Lyle Shamo, did you call me?” and I said, “I did”.  I then explained to him that I was in his stake and that he would most likely think I was crazy, but that I had a son who was dying from cancer and that I needed some reassurance that what I believed was true, and that God had told me that morning to come and see him, and then some words came out of my mouth that I don’t know where they came from…. Well, I do know where they came from, they came from Heavenly Father, but the next thing I said to him was, “I know it’s to late for Riley to have a Patriarchal Blessing, but would you be willing to meet and visit with Riley and perhaps give him a blessing?  I think he might like a blessing”.  Lyle said back to me, “I would be honored to do that but I just want you to know that it is never to late to get a patriarchal blessing”.  Later that evening I met with him and his wife and the next day they came to our home and visited with Riley.  When Lyle walked into Riley’s room, I don’t know why, but him and Riley just hit it off.  To listen to them speak to each other was like two old souls having a conversation.  Riley was so honored.  Patriarch Shamo read some scriptures out of the Bible and Riley said “that is so beautiful”.  Patriarch Shamo gave Riley a blessing right there and throughout the week we had to get some paperwork signed, but later that week on Thursday evening, we got the required paperwork completed.  I didn’t know this but Patriarch Shamo wasn’t technically the Patriarch over our ward, there are two patriarch’s in our stake and so both of them came to our house, two Patriarchs came to our house and both of them laid their hands on Riley’s head on the Thursday before he passed, just four days.  I have wondered many times why Riley was still here when he could have gone in October, November, December, and those Patriarchs laid their hands on Riley’s head and they gave him the most beautiful blessing.  Our Patriarchal blessings are something we only receive once, they are a guideline and a road map for us to look to as we live our life here on earth, but also in the life hereafter and the eternities.  To hear the things promised to Riley that he will do and to hear what he will become was an incredible gift and a blessing to Riley and to his family.  After Riley’s blessing he said, “I think I need to get my temple recommend”, my mouth dropped open and I thought, “okay, miracles definitely do happen”.  We didn’t get that far, but I’m not one bit worried about Riley because I know that Heavenly Father has a perfect plan for all of us.  I know Riley is right where he needs to be and that I will see him again.  

I am so grateful for all of you, being a part of Riley’s life.  I am so grateful for the love you have shown him and to our family.  I want you to know that I love the Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ and I have felt Him with me more this week than I ever have.  I have always struggled to feel the love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior.  It is not easy when we live in a world with such distractions but having a son die has taught me a powerful lesson.  As I have sought to keep Riley with me this week, as I have not wanted to lose his presence, I have realized that I can’t do anything to drive that spirit away.  When I’m with loud music or if I were to go into a place where it was chaotic and noisy and where the spirit cannot be, I lose Riley, and so as I have strived this week to keep Riley with me, I finally realized what it is we have to do to always have the Savior with us and to always feel His love for us, it is the same thing I’ve had to do to have Riley with me.  We’ve got to slow down and be still.  We’ve got to seek that soft spirit, and put ourselves in a place and in a frame of mind that allows us to feel that and I pray that each of you will be blessed with that, forever.  

I want to bare this testimony to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen