In his October 2016 general conference address, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the tragic story of how Troy Russell lost his son Austen.
“On May 30 of last year, my friend Troy Russell pulled his pickup truck slowly out of his garage on his way to donate goods to the local Deseret Industries. He felt his back tire roll over a bump,” Elder Holland said. “Thinking some item had fallen off the truck, he got out only to find his precious 9-year-old son, Austen, lying face down on the pavement. The screams, the priesthood blessing, the paramedic crew, the hospital staff — they were, in this case, to no avail. Austen was gone.”
Elder Holland said that "unable to sleep, unable to find peace, Troy was inconsolable." He said it was more than Russell could bear and that he simply could not go on. But Elder Holland then spoke about of the "three redeeming forces" that brought Russell comfort in the wake of the horrific experience. He told of how the Holy Ghost, in addition to Russell’s wife’s love and a terrific home teacher, were instruments in helping Russell find much-needed peace.
Last night, on a Facebook page maintained in memory of Austen, Russell shared a letter he penned for his son.
“Exactly two years ago at about this exact time my heart was completely broken, and in my limited perspective at the time, never to be repaired,” Russell wrote. “All joy in life was gone and I had no idea what to do. All I wanted was to wake up from the nightmare of losing you, hold you in my arms, let you know how much I love you and never let you go.”
The father goes on to tell of tender mercies that have taken place since the accident in May 2015, including finding a note in his son’s church pants that said “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” He also shares the things he has learned in the last two years.
“I have truly learned that all the pain, sorrow, suffering and loss we experience in this life is to help us progress, if we can choose to be humble, drop to our knees, look up and trust our Lord, avoiding self-destructive behaviors,” Russell wrote. “The only thing we truly own is our agency. We can't choose what happens in our lives, but we can choose how we respond.”
He tells his son that he is still “a huge part” of their family.
“We take turns saying our family prayer for you when it is your turn. We call Cinnamon Life cereal ‘Austen's cereal.’ We call peanut better and honey sandwiches ‘Austen sandwich.’ We frequently ask Heavenly Father to let you know how much we love and miss you, and allow you to be involved in our lives on the other side of the veil."
Russell explains to Austen that a few days after the accident, he had a feeling that his son was well but was worrying about his father. Throughout the letter, Russell reassures his son that he is working to improve himself in an effort to ensure that they are one day able to be reunited.
“I want to let you know that I miss and love everything about you,” Russell said. “And I am striving to make sure our family is eternal.”