Editor’s note: The following is a talk given by Dan Pearce, delivered at the funeral of his sister, Carissa (above left), on April 20, 2008, who died at the age of 22 of pneumonia, a rare fungal infection of the lungs, and complications of Down’s syndrome.
by Dan Pearce
Carissa’s shining life and example really cannot be expressed over a pulpit. It had to be felt, experienced, and witnessed, as you all know.
Carissa understood love probably more than I or most of us will ever be able. She could feel inside a person’s soul and somehow, could even feel the pains of a person’s heart. If that person’s heart was hurting more than usual, she could sense it, and she would do what she did best, which was to help start the healing. It usually started with a question of concern, then a big smile, then one of her big Carissa Bear Hugs. Then, the verbal praises would start and not let up until she sensed that your heart was at peace again, even if it took weeks or months. She would laugh, and tell you repeatedly over the course of days, “You’re my favorite.” “I love you this much.” “Hello my beautiful.” “Hello my handsome.” And other wonderful things. Then, when you would leave, she’d get out a notebook and her big bag of colorful pens, and write you a letter or two, telling you how much she loved you, how much she loved her brother Jesus Christ, how much she loved God, and how much They both loved you. You see, Carissa understood God’s love for us, and she never hesitated to share it.
Carissa loved to make people smile. In fact, she loved to make whole congregations smile. Anyone who’s ever been to any ward that Carissa was in on Fast Sunday, has heard her bear her testimony. She was always first to head to the front, and she never missed an opportunity to tell the world of her love for the Savior or the Gospel. Her testimony was simple, and was worded something like this, “I’d love to bear my testimony, I love my mommy. I love my daddy.” And then she’d start looking around, and whoever she made eye contact with, “I love my brother Danny. I love my sister Amy so much. I love Jesus Christ. And I love the scriptures. And I love Joseph Smith. And I love President S. Monson. And I love my daddy.” (Dad always seemed to be mentioned two or three times). And sometimes she’d throw out a plug for the family business or let a few of her frustrations out between those statements of love, “And I love my brother Andy on his mission. And Amy stole the fish crackers and took them to her apartment. And I love Jesus Christ, my brother. And I love Mr. Pool.” Then, after closing, and effectively bringing the spirit strongly into the meeting, she would shake hands or hug each member of the bishopric, as well as anyone else on the stand. As she made her way to her seat, she would shake hands with members of the ward all the way down, waving to people, smiling, and feeling on top of the world. There are a lot of people who are going to miss that.
Carissa was not bound by pride, ego, time, or selfishness, a few of the struggles that many of us so naturally have. She was never too busy to visit or care for the sick. She never received a church calling that she didn’t complete with 100% vigor. She never thought herself better than another human being, ever. Think about that. She never thought herself better than another human being. How many of us can say that? She never hid her talents from the world. She never withheld her praise from anyone. She never compromised her values. She never believed that there was a reason to not show her love to others, and certainly never believed there was a reason for others not to love her. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that since the fall, man by nature became carnal, sensual, and devilish. Perhaps because Satan could have no hold on Carissa’s heart, she was never any of these things, and this is the reason she has so many people who loved her as is evidenced here today.
Carissa had a pure heart, purer than any person I’ve ever met. I am brought to ponder, reminiscing on her perfect testimony and unworldly love for the Savior if Christ’s words weren’t fulfilled while she was still here on the earth, “And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Whether then or now, I am confident that Carissa has seen her Maker and that He has welcomed her back with open arms.
Lastly, I want to talk about Carissa the missionary. I believe with all my heart that Carissa was put into this family, into this community, into this world, to bring souls to Christ and to lighten people’s lives. Jesus taught that the handicap are here for this very purpose. When his apostles saw a disabled man and asked the savior if that handicap was because of his sins or the sins of his parents, Jesus responded, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Carissa was given an extra chromosome so that the works of God could be made manifest in her.
One week before Carissa died, my parents were out of town, and I was summoned to the hospital (where Carissa had just been admitted) to give her a blessing. As I laid my hands on her head, the spiritual pathways between God and man opened and I could not deny that the words coming from my mouth were not my own. It was a very interesting blessing for me. During the blessing, I saw Carissa on the edge of death, hooked to tubes and monitors, surrounded by doctors and family. At that point, none of us had any reason to believe she would ever get to this point, and as I saw this happening, the words of her blessing that came were something like this:
“Carissa, we bless you that your sickness will be a means of bringing many souls to their knees and ultimately to our savior Jesus Christ, for God’s work and glory is the immortality and eternal life of man, and sometimes He uses people like you to carry forth his purposes. Christ will carry you through the hardships you are about to face, so don’t be afraid. Only after those souls have turned to Christ, will things get better for you.”
Then, in her final hours, when her body had given up on her, and we knew that death was upon her, I stood alone in that room holding her hand and pleading with God to please make things better like he had promised in the blessing; it was time to heal her. She had reached the point of her blessing that I knew would arrive, and now it was time for God to do his part as promised. Then, while in my deepest pleadings, the spirit rushed into my soul and my eyes were opened for a few moments. I can’t describe what I saw or felt, I only can tell you that a true look at what Carissa had accomplished on this earth was shown to me, and I also knew right then that her work was done and that things would indeed get better for her, just not here. I stood in tears, stroking her face, and whispered over and over, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to be like you.”
I encourage all of you to spend the rest of your lives trying to be more like Carissa. Promptly forgive those who have wronged you. Sing with all of your heart, even when you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Stop caring so much what you look like. Stop caring so much what people will think of what you say and do. Fulfill your religious duties with excitement and vigor. Love attending church. Love sharing your testimony and be one of the first ones to the front. Serve your neighbor and buoy those who are down. Stop worrying about what others will think! Worry about what God will think and act in such a way. Forget about your job for awhile. Forget about your sports games and time-wasting habits. Look around you and find someone who could use a “Carissa Bear Hug” or maybe just a warm plate of cookies. Don’t judge others. Smile and introduce yourself to strangers. Express your love for all in all times and all places. For truly, these are lessons that Carissa taught all of us.
Carissa was my hero and role model, and I have a testimony that her time here was done, and that her mission has been fulfilled. Just before her death, as Carissa was completely sedated, unable to hear or respond, I found myself alone with her once again, pleading with God for comfort as I held Carissa’s flaccid hand. Christ said, “Blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I leaned over and whispered through choked back tears, “Carissa, are you okay to go? It’s okay if you need to go.” Suddenly her hand squeezed mine with the same love and strength of one of her famous Carissa Bear Hugs and a warm comfort rushed over my entire body. Even in her final moments she made sure to comfort someone else. I know that many others had similar experiences that day.
Brothers and Sisters, Carissa was okay to go. She had no regrets and no reason to fear. She left this world as perfect as when she came into it. She was okay to go.
Let’s all consider our lives and live in a way that will make it okay for us to go when the time comes. Let’s all try to be a little more like Carissa.