The fact that her husband, John Jones, died after getting trapped in a Utah cave in 2009 is not the first thing Emily Jones-Sanchez brings up when she meets new friends.
It usually does come up, she says. Her new acquaintances typically tell her they remember hearing her story. They imagine what they would’ve done and how they would’ve felt had they been placed in her position.
Perhaps that's why it's not uncommon for stories about the tragic accident to suddenly appear on the most-read list online at DeseretNews.com from time to time, even seven years later.
But maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's because as people learned more about the life of John Jones and his response to a life or death situation, they wanted to be better.
“I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, ‘Nobody knows this but we’ve been really struggling in our marriage,’” Jones-Sanchez said. “And some people even said, ‘We’ve been considering divorce and after hearing about your loss and everything you’ve been through, it’s really just put life in perspective for us and we’ve recommitted to loving each other better and to our marriage and to our family.’ And I think tragedy does often put life into perspective for us.”
It is the opportunity to share this perspective that motivated Jones-Sanchez and her late husband’s family, despite their initial hesitance, to allow his story to be told in a film that will open in theaters this weekend titled, “The Last Descent."
“We all were afraid that this movie would just be a sad story,” Jones-Sanchez said. “And I think that would be the worst-case scenario … but best-case scenario would be that people come away from this movie remembering what they felt when they first heard about the story, remembering how much they wanted to treasure their loved ones and to put everything they had into their relationships and into making the most of this time that we have together.
“We weighed the pros and cons and we finally decided that if this movie could help people, if it could be a good thing, if people can learn to treasure their relationships and be reminded about how fragile life is, then maybe it’s worth it.”
Still, the family knew that giving the film’s director, Isaac Halasima, their blessing also meant they were subjecting themselves to a potentially difficult experience.
“We were aware that it would be really challenging to have to open back up that part of our lives and also expose our family to the public eye and criticism and the painful experiences, rehashing everything,” Jones-Sanchez said.
Jones-Sanchez currently lives in Peoria, Illinois, where she and her current husband, Donovan Sanchez, moved to be closer to her parents. She is the mother of Lizzie (7) and John (6), as well as Emerson (2). And while time has passed and they lead a happy life together, Emily and Donovan have also retained John’s memory. Jones-Sanchez gives her husband a great deal of the credit for this.
“It’s never been hard to talk about John,” she said. “It’s never been hard to remember John. Ever since the very beginning, ever since I first met Donovan, he’s been really comfortable with John continuing to be a part of our family and our lives, especially because of our kids. … He just knows that the kids need to remember their dad so he’s good about wanting to stay in touch with the Joneses and he loves the Joneses.”
Jones-Sanchez, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says that some of the more powerful, faith-building experiences have come in the years since John passed away. These experiences are not shown in the film and Jones-Sanchez says they are not things she would share in detail in a movie or a newspaper article because they are special. However, she will say what she has learned from them.
“I can say that I know for sure, without a doubt, I know there is life after death,” Jones-Sanchez said. “I know John is still alive. I know because I’ve been able to talk to him since he died, and I’ve had several experiences where the veil has been thin, and I’ve had these sacred moments where I don’t understand everything and my faith is not perfect, but I know he’s out there, and I know there’s life after death, and I know our family will be together again so that perspective pretty much changes everything.
“It changes the way you live. I’ve often thought that John is busy doing important things and growing in important ways and living a great life so I need to continue living my life, too. Otherwise, he’d be so disappointed when he met me again if I just stopped living when he died.”