Creating a legacy of love and compassion


In less than two weeks, I’ll be graduating with my bachelor’s degree. This is something my older brother, Ben, could never do, so part of me is doing it for him.

Ben died a little over two years ago. He took his own life after a long, hard battle with many of the same illnesses I deal with: depression, anxiety and possibly bi-polar. This event fractured my life, the lives of our family members and the lives of his close friends.

My mom and I have discussed our similar feelings since it happened: we led one life before Ben died, and a completely different life after. I’ll never be able to forget how my heart felt in the weeks after he passed. My insides seemed to be freezing and thawing repeatedly—leaving me with a punctured, limp mess of a heart to process what I was going through.

Ben struggled with his faith in the years before he died. It seemed so insane to me that he would want to leave the Church. He was attending BYU-Idaho when he began to question the Church, and now that I’ve been here a while, I think I understand why it started here.

I’m gay. The social climate on campus has made it nearly impossible and downright painful for me to feel like I belong at times. I’ve heard in church and in class that people like me don’t have a place with God, that I’m just like a pedophile, and that I, along with the entire LBGTQA+ community, will burn. This kind of thing doesn’t really make me eager to stick around.

I stuck around to earn my degree, though, and because I know it isn’t all bad. Without the support from friends, family and faculty I’ve received, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I know I’m not the only one who has experienced these things, and I know gay people aren’t the only ones who get hurt by thoughtless words in today’s culture.

Ben was sensitive to this kind of thing, more than I probably realized. He was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a nurse for quite a while, and spent time caring for patients who couldn’t take care of themselves.

He was definitely also a punk with a smart mouth, just so you know. We were two of a kind, and I can only pray to bring as much light into the world as he did.

In the end, I think what made things hardest for him was that people couldn’t see how much he was struggling. He was alone, withdrawn too deeply into himself, and didn’t know where to turn. Of course, having dealt with similar feelings, I wish I could go back and point out all the signs to myself. Maybe I could have helped.

I didn’t, though. Not enough. So, I’d like to dedicate my degree to Ben and every other person who couldn’t make it this far. I’d like to dedicate my career to him, and hopefully this dedication will shine through in the people that I help in the future.

In the spirit of Christmas, charity, giving, light, etc., please remember to look out for those who are silently struggling. Remember to be sensitive to things that may be difficult to understand. Speak up for the people who can’t speak up for themselves. Give them your time and love. We need you.

'Creating a legacy of love and compassion' have 5 comments

  1. December 8, 2015 @ 3:42 pm Heidi

    Beautiful!! What a courageous, honest and beautiful article! I’m glad you finished something your brother could not. I’m sure there are cheers from heaven for you!


  2. December 8, 2015 @ 4:43 pm JL

    What a beautiful dedication! I was once in the midst of the battle to stay or go, and it was only through the help of my husband and amazing counselor that I was able to escape it. Your brother is a brave soul who fought a hard and courageous fight. To continue as long as he did in the struggle he was facing leaves me in awe. I am sorry his fight ended with his passing and that he didn’t get the rescue that I was so fortunate to receive. I’m sorry that the Y-I has been such a hard experience for you but applaud your determination to continue on and graduate with that degree! Congratulations! There are loving souls in and out of the church, even if they are sometimes hard to find. Some of us are your allies, and we wish nothing more than love and happiness for you. Go get ’em in that career of yours! And do so with courage, strength, and the knowledge that you matter – you are important – and you are loved.


  3. December 8, 2015 @ 4:48 pm Claudette Lampley

    Willy, I’m so glad you’re graduating! I looked up to you the whole time I was at the Scroll. You helped me so often (you don’t even know) and I loved hearing your comments and thoughts in class. You’re also one of the best dressed people I know. I’m sorry now that I didn’t know your brother Ben, but I promise that I will do as you ask at the end of your article as much as I can for the rest of my life. I feel bad when people don’t understand the church or the gospel well enough to know better than to be so unkind and say such evil things. I’m sorry you lost Ben, and I want you to know that I know he must have been awesome if he was anything like you. I’m so excited to see where you go from here. Congratulations!


  4. December 8, 2015 @ 6:29 pm Sandee Spencer

    Really beautifully written. Congratulations on your great accomplishment in graduating but more so for having such a kind heart.


  5. December 9, 2015 @ 11:43 am Kayelee

    What a beautiful post. You sound like a wonderful, understanding, and compassionate brother. Thank you for understanding that there are VALID reasons that people “struggle with faith” or leave the church. For him, leaving/struggling with faith was probably his way of trying to live a life of integrity. I believe people are not punished for doing what they believe is the right thing to do. As long as we are being honest, full of integrity, authentic, and caring we are doing the right thing. And it sounds like that is what your brother did- with faith and even in the way he ended his life. I hope you are able to continue to advocate for your brother, yourself, and people dealing with similar struggles. I try to be an advocate as well and examples like your own help me do that.
    An ex-Mormon trying to do the right thing too


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