During a demanding time recently, I listened to the book "Our Greatest Gift," by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's feeling is that our dying may be sad, but if we live well and love well, our passing can also be a gift to our family and friends. It can give others the chance to connect with each other, to share the feelings of their hearts and grow closer.

That thought struck home last week when I learned that Pamela Carranza, a sweet, smart, talented and shy young woman in the Brigham City Sycamore Branch, had died after two years of all-out war against cancer.

Today, as I write this, hundreds of people who knew and loved her are gathering together. Old codgers are sharing bench space with young hipsters. Millionaires and paupers are pulling together, as are people from many races and a dozen nations.

Pamela's life — not her death — has called to them and brought them together.

And people are uniting not only for her, but out of their love for her family.

The Carranzas are one of those rare families that not only see good times and prosperity as a reason to deepen their belief in a caring God, but they see trials and tragedies as reasons to the same.

Their faith is not only carved in granite, it is made of granite.

The father, Francisco, stood up for the working people in El Salvador against the government goons and death squads. Threats against his life grew so harsh that the U.S. State Department granted him a political visa and put him on a diplomatic fast track to citizenship.

He moved to California, where he joined the LDS Church and met the love of his life, Maribel. That's where they started their remarkable family.

Brother Carranza is not a large man. In fact, he might not be able to look eye-to-eye with Napoleon. But whenever I picture him in my mind, I am the one who must look up to see him.

His character and integrity set the tone for his family.

And his daughter Pamela inherited all that was best in him and his wife.

I know, after the viewing, the funeral and the burial, Pamela's influence will grow. Her smile and sweet nature will continue to send ripples out over the lake of many lives.

Her passing is indeed a tragedy.

But, in a strange and spiritual way, Nouwen is right. Her death has already been her great parting gift to us.

In death, she opened us up and brought us together.

And that legacy that will not only stand — but will continue to grow as the years go by.

Jerry Earl Johnston shares his take on the Mormon experience in his column “New Harmony,” which appears on MormonTimes.com on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com