RBDM: Table of Contents (Limited Time Only)

Below is a table of contents for all the chapters. If you haven’t finished yet, you should be able to find where you left off and pick it back up. I’ll leave all the chapters up for another week or so, but after that I think it’s better to take them down, including this post. If you’ve been reading along, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just a “hi.” I miss contact with the world!


Prologue – Ready: The funeral is over and it’s time to go to the cemetery, but before we get there my mother has a striking revelation to share.


Ch. 1 – Shooting: Eight years earlier, two men burst into my father’s store and immediately begin shooting.

Ch. 2 – The Call: Alone and dying, my father desperately dials 911 to get some help.

Ch. 3 – Bullets: While my brothers and I dance in the living room, oblivious, my mother receives a mysterious phone call telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

Ch. 4 – M&M’s: At the hospital, Mom crumbles and I get a whole bag of M&M’s all to myself.

Ch. 5 – Educated Guesses: My father is in critical condition and no one–not even the doctors–know if he’s going to survive. But I do.

Ch. 6 – Playing the Part: While dad struggles in the hospital, I head back to school to enjoy all the attention thrown my way.

Ch. 7 – A Suspicious Peace: Dad returns home from the hospital and I become a bullet wound cleaning expert.

Ch. 8 – Superdad: Months later, Dad is unstoppable, coaching little league, attending Sixth Grade Camp with me, and running down a guy who steals from him.


Ch. 9 – The Wrong Side of Town: On the night before 7th Grade begins, a FBI sting operation gone wrong in our neighborhood prompts Dad to grab his gun and head out on his own to track the criminals down. 

Ch. 10 – A Friend in Need: When helping one friend comes at the expense of my relationship with another, I’m at a loss for what to do.

Ch. 11 – Fight: A friend turned enemy wants nothing more than to beat me to a bloody pulp. A school yard confrontation leads to big changes.

Ch. 12 – Hollywood: A reality show comes calling and Dad leaps at the chance to reenact his shooting for national television.

Ch. 13 – Talking to a Dead Man: The shooting reenactment airs on television and my eyes are opened to what Dad really went through in a whole new way.

Ch. 14 – Edited for Television: Dad’s rush to the hospital is depicted, and he talks about the shooting and what he was really afraid of in his own words.

Ch. 15 – How It Ends: How Dad knew he was going die young. Plus: The reenactment concludes with my national (embarrassing) debut.


Ch. 16 – The Nerd Herd: A move across town means a new school and new friends. 

Ch. 17 – Breaching Brute Protocol: High School begins and I’m determined to make a new start, but the four bullies picking on me at once have other ideas.

Ch. 18 – Good Intentions: Sick of all the misinformation out there about my church, I’m determined to go to a friend’s church and correct her pastor. My parents have other ideas.

Ch. 19 – Sitting On a Chair with Wheels: Is God real? Is my church true? I honestly don’t know and it’s tearing me up inside. A caustic confrontation leads to Dad trying to talk me down.

Ch. 20 – Flood: Holed up in a church building late at night, my friends and I have no idea our entire town is flooding, threatening to trap us.

Ch. 21 – The Last Time: I finally get the answers I’ve been searching for, just in time for Dad and I to make peace and go on a road trip together.


Ch. 22 – Speaking in Tongues: My life as a missionary begins, but there’s a catch: I have to speak Spanish. I hate Spanish.

Ch. 23 – Bad News: Ten months into my mission, I receive a phone call from my grandfather with news I do not want. 

Ch. 24 – Faithless Prayers: While waiting for confirmation that I what I know in my gut is true, I pray.

Ch. 25 – Worse Than Death: How my father died and the devastating first few moments after I found out. 

Ch. 26 – To The Lord: The Mission President and his wife come to visit and console me. I’ve got a big decision to make about what to do next.

Ch. 27 – Being a Human Being: It’s the morning after and I want nothing more than to do the missionary work I’m supposed to do. But are my motives less than pure?

Ch. 28 – In the Absence of Kneeling Dragons: I return home from my mission many months early to a very different world.

Ch. 29 – The Shoulders: The house has been overrun with mourners, and I doubt very much all of them are there for the right reasons.

Ch. 30 – Speaker for the Dead: Mom has asked me to speak at Dad’s funeral, but I have no idea what to say. A forgotten recording reveals Dad’s feelings about the shooting in his own words and confuses me further as I wrestle with his contradictions.

Ch. 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man: The day of the funeral has arrived and it’s my turn to speak.

Ch. 32 – Grounded: It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m home. Should I stay home and not return to the mission?

Ch. 33 – Life After Death: It’s been a long week. Two moments stand out in particular, putting everything else into perspective.

Epilogue: Decades have passed. What happened to me? To my family? What’s the takeaway?

Why take it all down? Because:

I’m just going to do it. At the encouragement of my wife and a few of you, I’m changing the name of the book to The Other Side of Fear and I’m shopping it out…again. After 7 years.

RBDM CH 33E copy

The funny thing is that The Other Side of Fear is SUCH a better title and I don’t know why I never thought of it. That’s really what the book is about: what is on the other side of the worst thing thing you can imagine happening? This is such a theme in my life (and I’m sure many others). I have faced down my worst fears many times–literally the worst things I could think of–and you know what’s on other side of that? Peace. Quite honestly, it’s peace. The worst thing is never so bad as you imagine it to be, and you can never anticipate the ways you will grow and learn and change from those awful happenings. Calamity is how God operates on us. It’s how He fixes us into who we should be (but only if we allow it). And that’s a good thing. That’s what’s on the other side of fear: good things.

Maybe the syncing up of all this with the coronavirus is nothing, but it feels oddly right and clarifying. I’ve been in the house for two solid weeks now, and despite the occasional passing panic when I give into the temptation, I don’t really have any trouble centering myself. There’s a great freedom in knowing the universe will you up at any given moment and that you can take that beating and emerge victorious.

So, into the world this book goes once more. Maybe it will find a home, or maybe it won’t and I’ll get beat up again. Whatever happens, I’ve certainly got enough time on my hands to find out.

RBDM: Epilogue

My father was murdered in 1996. 17 years later, I wrote RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, a coming-of-age memoir about all the violence that lead up to that moment. Now, after sitting on the manuscript for 6 years, I feel compelled to share it, chapter-by-chapter, starting right here. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems wrong given the subject matter, but I honestly hope you do.

Because this is a story of hope.

RBDM CH 33E copy

It is one thing to move past grief, it is quite another to live with loss. It’s like a tick under the sleeve. It nibbles and bites imperceptibly, but you know it’s there. It’s always there.

I cried on my wedding day. I’d love to say my wife was so stunningly beautiful in her gown (which she was) that I couldn’t help myself, but my tears were not those of joy. Instead, I was a mess because of Dad. We lit a candle in his honor (her idea) as a way to make him part of our special day, but it wasn’t good enough. I wanted him there. Our backs mercifully to the audience, I managed to mutter “I miss him so much” and my bride held my hand tight and everyone waited. “I know,” she said. And I got why she said that and I knew she was doing her best to sympathize. But she didn’t know. Both of her parents were there.

Mom sat next to her new husband. That was okay with me in a way that Dad not being there was not. I knew Mom couldn’t stay a grieving widow forever and I didn’t want her to. It helped that he was a good man—a former cop—and the only kind of father-in-law my wife would ever know. In this life.

The candle glowed brightly. Logan, just weeks away from completing his mission, was still in the Phillipines. McKay and Tyler served admirably as part of the wedding party. 150 family and friends surrounded us, but one more would have been nice.

I wiped my tears and we turned around. The somber mood was interrupted by a loud RIIIIIIP and I looked down to see where the sound came from. Under my feet was the hem of my new wife’s dress, now with a big, fat, fraying hole in it. Scattered laughter rose up from the front rows. The pretty lady holding my hand looked up at me with initial horror and disbelief. Her beautiful, white, perfect dress was no longer that. I apologized with my eyes, but she turned her face to a smile and laughed. “What are you gonna do?” she said quietly.

What are you gonna do? That’s the question. That’s always the question.

It’s not an easy one to answer. Grief is such a swift punch in the gut. It takes us a little while to catch our breath and realize we can stand up again if we try. But loss is different. Loss remains and endures. It circles us. Hangs around and slaps us in the face when we least expect it. It can make life look like a series of calendar reminders. There’s always some holiday or some anniversary coming up to force us to recall what’s been lost.

I wish Dad had been around to see my brothers go off on their own missions and to see us all marry our wives. I think he would have liked them and I know my wife would have loved him. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that seeing Mom remarry wasn’t something he would have wanted to be around for, but I’m pretty sure his threats of haunting her if she did so after he died were a joke.

I wish he had been there for the birth of my three daughters and for the day we found out one of them has special needs. Every time I’ve been knocked down, I’ve wished he was there to help me back up. It’s not the most rational thought, I know. Dad threw his hands up at me as often as he was able to get through to me, but he’s gone now. It’s hard not to romanticize. It’s the express privilege of those left behind to do so.

I wish Dad had been around for the TV show Lost. I think he really would have dug it. Sometimes, I think about the world that went on without him and what he would have made of it.  I wonder if he’d have sold targets with Osama Bin Laden’s face on them at the Shop. Probably. He did that with Saddam.

But. What are you gonna do?

About a year after the wedding, I took a college class on Juvenile Delinquency and Crime, one of the more obscure classes that met the General Ed. requirements. One day, we broke off into groups to discuss the effects crime has on its victims and the retribution so many of them seek. One woman, quite vocal, proudly proclaimed that if anyone killed—or even hurt—her brother or sister, she’d do whatever she could to see them pay. She’d beat the hell out of them. Kill them? Sure. If someone touched her little sister, she wouldn’t even hesitate. The others in our group nodded their heads in agreement. I sat silently, waiting for my chance to speak. When it finally came, I tried to tread lightly.

“I think that’s a trap. I don’t think it’s healthy for the victims to go after the person who’s done them wrong. Honestly, that attitude really bothers me.”

Angry Girl looked at me skeptically. “You don’t think that would make you feel better? You don’t think they should be punished?”

“Punished, sure. But not to make me feel better. Revenge, vengeance—all of that, it doesn’t help. It makes your heart hard. People who cry for blood, they’re giving what the criminals did even greater reach. They’re extending their power. Why would I want to do that?”

“Oh, come on,” Angry Girl said. “If someone killed someone you love, you’d be glad to see them dead. Their ‘power’ or whatever would be done. Over.”

“No, honestly, that wouldn’t make me happy at all. It wouldn’t help me move on from what happened. That can only happen with forgiveness. Opposite of vengeance.”

Angry Girl looked at me like I was self-righteous idiot. The rest of our group looked uncomfortable. “That’s real easy for you to say,” she said. “Until someone you love has been murdered, you don’t know how you would react.”

I couldn’t help it. I smiled.

“Well, actually…”

I tried telling Angry Girl about Dad and how he died. I told her about his suspiciously peaceful attitude towards death and the first shooting—yes, there were two shootings. I talked about how my mission and my relationship with God enabled me to look at things like anger and vengeance in a different way. I told her I knew it was weird and not normal, but my circumstances had given me a different perspective and I’m grateful for that. I don’t think I changed her mind or anything, but she didn’t have much to say after that.

Even now, fifteen years later, when I think about Dad’s killers and what they took from me and my family, I don’t think badly of them. I don’t think of them much at all. I didn’t go to their trial because I couldn’t see the point and I couldn’t fathom taking pleasure in their sentencing and suffering. I have sometimes fantasized about visiting them in prison. I’d like to let them know, Hey, I’m okay.

It was pretty awful what you did, I would say. But me and my family are doing all right now. Even better, I’ve learned a lot. I reach out and empathize with others and I look to God in a way I never would have otherwise. I don’t want to say “thank you” or anything, but good things have come out of that particular bit of violence and death and I can’t deny that.

Death and dying and injury and loss are not necessarily cheery subjects. But, I think death is glorious. I think suffering is glorious.

Not that I enjoy either one. They’re heartbreaking. But, they work. If we let them, they can do wonderful things. Dad’s death, like every death, was a gift. It served as his jumping off point, but also as a clear line from which I could jump forward. It crystallized my perceptions and made my reflections more acute and my paths more straight.

Of course, given the choice, I’d have Dad back in a second. Given the reality I have instead, I laugh and I smile. I find the good.

There’s a lot of it.


Brock Heasley

November 23rd, 2011



As you can see, I wrote this book a while ago. Wrote it, rewrote it, and rewrote it again. Then, the book was picked up by an excellent literary agent. She shopped it to the top editors in the field. It was, unfortunately, the first book she never sold. You can read all the gory details here.

Needless to say, working five years on a thing and getting THAT close to the goal and failing was a devastating experience.

So, why, after all these years, would I just post the entire book in chapters for free here, on this blog that lost its 1000+ followers a year ago thanks to technical stuff I don’t understand? The short answer is: I’m not really sure.

Last year, on November 23rd, 2019, the 23rd anniversary of my father’s death (not even a significant anniversary!), I posted on Facebook three chapters from the book as a single post. Over 7,000 words. I honestly didn’t really expect anyone to read it, but they did. They were interested. Some even messaged me privately to say reading my story helped them with their own grief. After keeping this thing hidden for so many years, I was grateful to learn that.

And then a second wave of inspiration hit me, to post the whole thing. I knew that despite the attention attracted by the three chapters I had already shared, far less people would commit to reading a 300+ page serialized book, and certainly there was no monetary gain to be had. But, that’s what I felt compelled to do. And so, here we are. I shared it, you read it. And why? 

I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me. I would truly love to hear from you. 

A note about what you just read: This was actually a rewrite (one of the reasons it took four months to release). We can all be glad of that because, man, did I love passive voice in 2011. I also added a lot of oxford commas, filled in some more detail here and there, and overall deleted about 6,000 words that, trust me, you’re not missing. 

Would you believe the sequel to this failed book is already written? My agent encouraged me to write another one—to try again—so I did. It was another memoir, called The Impossible Girl. It starts on the last day of my mission, one of the most romantic and retrospectively embarrassing days of my life (you read that right) and then takes off into the story of how I met my wife, a Protestant who saw the Book of Mormon as this evil thing she could not touch. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story, a romance (RBDM is the rare coming-of-age story with no romantic entanglements–I make up for it in Impossible Girl), and my agent loved it and thought the writing was much stronger. But it had—has—the wrong ending. It doesn’t end with my wife and I leaving religion behind, and that’s the only narrative that really makes sense in mainstream publishing. My agent tried, but couldn’t shop it and we parted ways.

I wouldn’t count on seeing the book here. I don’t think the world is ready for it.

Still, even though my original ambitions for RBDM never bore fruit, I benefitted greatly from the experience of writing it and its sequel. After working as a graphic designer and art director for 15 years, my career took a wild left turn into storytelling and filmmaking. I wrote a YA novel called Paper Bag Mask that’s based on a true story from my high school days and that was published by Pen Name Publishing. Pen Name soon folded, but another publisher, Th3rd World Studios, has already snatched it up and will be releasing a new edition soon. Hopefully this year.

In June, Th3rd World Studios will also release my first graphic novel, The SuperFogeys Vol. 1: Inaction Heroes. You can get a prerelease copy right now if you’re interested, right here. I’ve also been heavily involved in filmmaking, directing a couple of short films, once of which, The Shift, you can watch for free and invest in to help make into a feature film, right here. The Shift is also currently streaming at VidAngel.com

So, I feel a sort of bittersweet gratitude towards RBDM. I wouldn’t be doing the things I’m currently doing without it. Plus, after these four months of going back through it, I even find myself wondering if maybe I should try putting it out there again. One of your comments suggested that The Other Side of Fear would be a better title for one of the chapters, and I’m actually thinking it might be a better title for the book overall. Maybe I need to narrow my focus to faith publishers. Maybe smaller publishers. Or, maybe the memoir market has changed and a new agent might find a good spot for it in mainstream publishing. Or, maybe not at all. I don’t really know. My wife is encouraging me to try again, but, man, that’s a heartache I do not want to revisit!

Right now, I’m 43 years old. Only 4 years younger than Dad when he died. Our oldest is 17, putting her right at the age when I struggled the most. I look at her and I see so much of myself, but of course she’s a lot smarter than me (mostly because of her mom’s influence). More even keeled. More sure of herself. I find myself wondering how she sees me, if I look flawed to her in the same way my dad did to me, and yet if she can also see that I’m trying my best and I’m not all that bad. And that’s such a vain thought and I put it away. I’ve gotten better at putting vain thoughts away over the years.

In the end, looking back on this book this one more time, I’m struck by how much it truly is a statement of faith. It wasn’t written to appeal only to believers and I hope it does more than that, but the arc of my life is towards God, not away from him, and there’s no sense pretending the book isn’t ultimately about that. I know God is real. I have seen Him with eyes that see more clearly than the ones that look out on the world. That’s my story.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

PREVIOUS: Chapter 33 – Life After Death


RBDM: Chapter 33 – Life After Death

My father was murdered in 1996. 17 years later, I wrote RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, a coming-of-age memoir about all the violence that lead up to that moment. Now, after sitting on the manuscript for 6 years, I feel compelled to share it, chapter-by-chapter, starting right here. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems wrong given the subject matter, but I honestly hope you do.

Because this is a story of hope.


There wasn’t much ceremony in my exit from California. McKay and Tyler stayed in their room, leaving only Logan and Mom to see me off at the curb in front of the house. Mom gave me a long hug, just as she did ten months ago before I left for the Training Center with Dad.

“We’ll be fine,” she said. “I don’t want you worrying.”

“I’ll be back in fourteen months,” I said. “And we’ll talk in a month, on Christmas.”

“I want you to call me when you get there.”

In my mind, I sighed. “I can’t do that. You know I can’t do that. If it’s important to you, I’ll ask somebody to give you a call to let you know I made it.”

“Ask him if you can call.”


“President Hedrick.”

I thought she was kidding at first, but one look at her face and I knew she wasn’t. Mom couldn’t see any reason why an exception couldn’t be made for her. Always for her. As if there hadn’t been enough exceptions made already. I decided not to argue with her.

I tossed my carry-on into the backseat of the car. Logan leaned in for a hug, saying only “See ya,” before going back into the house. I got into the car on the passenger side and Mom motioned at me to roll down the window. She gave me one more, insistent embrace before allowing the window back up and me to speed away out of her life once more. I turned to my driver and said, “Let’s go, Tom.”

Tom Mariner attended Dad’s funeral. I was honestly surprised. We’d spoken very little since going our separate ways, and not at all since high school ended. None of that mattered now. When he overheard that no one was exactly sure how I’d be getting to the airport on Friday, he volunteered immediately. I returned the favor by giving him an exclusive first look at my new missionary super zeal. By the time I’d boarded the plane, Tom had shared his feelings on God, heard the first of the missionary discussions, and committed to read a few highlighted passages of the Book of Mormon I gave him. He was cordial about it, but I could tell I’d freaked him out a little. Didn’t stop me from doing the same thing with the woman next to me on the flight from Fresno to Phoenix.

As we flew over the state border, a beautiful red landscape emerged, meeting up with the blue and purple sky. I reentered the dream completely at peace. My family remained very much on my mind, but I couldn’t doubt my heading was in the right direction.

Once back in Arizona, one of the first things I did, before we’d even left the terminal, was tell President and Sister Hedrick all about my new, full tilt, no-one-is-safe proselytizing attitude, and the battle with the news reporter over my nametag. I got big smiles and a hearty “Good job!” I grinned and, as they power walked ahead of me to baggage claim, I felt that never-ceasing twinge of shame. I reminded myself their approving reaction wasn’t the only reason I’d done it, and made a mental note to not be quite so vocally pleased with myself in the future.

During the car ride back to Gilbert, just to be able to say I’d done it, I asked President Hedrick if it would be all right to call California.

Mom won again.

“Of course,” he said. “You should talk to your mother whenever she needs it.”

“’Whenever?’ Like, today?”

“And tomorrow, if need be.”

Had Mom called him while I was in the air? What voodoo was at work here? A bigger breach of mission rules I could scarcely imagine as nothing distracts a missionary so much as voices from home. Letters are a different animal—there’s a distance with letters—but with a voice comes intimacy and immediacy. I got smart and kept such thoughts to myself, choosing instead to make a simple inquiry for clarification.

“How often?”

“Don’t ask me that, Elder Heasley,” President Hedrick said. “And I won’t have to tell you. That’s between you and your mother.”

This was the second time now President Hedrick had taken a basic law of missionary life, set it aside, and refused to tell me what to do. I did my best not to abuse the privilege. For the next two months, Mom and I talked nearly every day. After that, it was once-a-week, sometimes less, and it stayed that way for the rest of the mission. I felt a little guilty each time.

It wasn’t until we arrived at the apartment in Gilbert and I was greeted by a harried, grateful Elder Vaughn that Arizona stopped being the dream and my brief time in California turned into one. Everything in the apartment was exactly as before, as though I’d never left at all. Pamphlets and books all over the coffee table. Dishes I’d left in the sink still needing to be done. Vaughn nursing bruises from a bike accident just a couple days prior.

As soon as I was unpacked, Vaughn cited my trauma and suggested we stay home. I picked up my pack with books and pamphlets. We left immediately. Later that night, we ate dinner at the home of a generous church member and I recounted for the first of many times my extraordinary time away from the mission. For me, for the next fourteen months, that was the big change: I had a new story to tell. Dad had been mostly gone from my day-to-day life for a while now. I imagined that back in Clovis, with all the commotion and attention inevitably fading away, my family was having a much different experience.

I was lucky enough to have an impetus and a mechanism by which to move forward. President Hedrick later remarked that the visit home hadn’t affected me like he thought it would. If anything, I worked more diligently than ever, spurred on by what I’d gained after Dad left—peace and understanding. It was a gift. I wanted to share it with everyone.

Later that Friday night, Elder Vaughn and I returned home, called Elder Roberts, and reported our stats for the day. We ate a light snack and said our nightly joint prayer with Elders Suggs and Weldon. Then, each of us retired to our rooms. My first night back, and already it felt like I hadn’t left at all. I reached into my suitcase, pulled out four comic books, and settled into bed. After a quick explanation to Vaughn, I opened the first comic and began to read.

I brought the comics back with me from California at the request of a friend. Two days earlier, after the funeral and after the news crew had left, he stopped by the house and insisted I take them.

“Brother Jennings!” I said, grabbing his hand. “Hey, how’re you doing?”

“Good, Brock,” he said. “How’s your family?”

“They’re doing—y’know, they’re all right.”

Brother Jennings was fifteen years older than me, a veteran, and a family man. What we shared was a love for comic books and superheroes. He got a big kick out of introducing me to the characters from his favorite era of comics publication, the Golden Age of the 1940’s. His favorite was Billy Batson, the boy who could turn into the adult superhero Captain Marvel by uttering the magic word SHAZAM!

“That was a great talk you gave this morning,” he said. “One of the best I’ve ever heard at a funeral. Or ever, really. I saw a lot of people in tears.”

“Yeah, the church isn’t usually so dusty,” I said. You’d think I had given the Gettysburg Address of funeral talks. When I returned from my mission (again and permanently this time) a year and a half later, there were still people who wanted to talk to me about it. Before Brother Jennings had arrived, I was actually listening back to an audio recording, just to hear what the fuss was all about. My stumbling speech in the beginning and some unnecessary, overly dramatic flourishes made it obvious I’d received some invisible help no tape could ever record. “But thanks,” I continued. “I appreciate that. I don’t think I had much to do with it, but I thank you. What’s up?”

“I just… this is going to sound funny. You’ve heard of Kingdom Come?” I had. Anyone reading comics at the time had. It came out during the summer of 1996 while I was still in Mesa, but I’d been anticipating it for at least a year before that. Instead of the usual pen and ink, four-color serial drama, Kingdom Come was a beautifully painted, four-part miniseries about the complicated, difficult future of the DC Superheroes. I had, of course, entirely missed out. Brother Jennings told me he bought two copies each of all four issues. “One for me, and one for you. I was going to give them to you when you got off your mission, but I just…well, here.”

He reached into a small paper bag and pulled out the comics.

“Uh, thanks,” I said.

“I know that it’s against the rules for you to read comic books—”

“It is, yeah.”

“—but, truly, I felt like you should get these now. I know it sounds weird. Call it the Spirit inspiring me if you want. I mean, look at this. It’s beautiful.”

I flipped through some of the pages. The art by painter Alex Ross was a step above the work he’d done on the Marvels series a couple years prior. The beautiful, detailed books were filled with page-after-page of gorgeous, iconic images. They had a raw power and depth of realism that even the few good superhero movies had been unable to capture. I salivated like a thirsty man too long deprived of sweet, sweet water.

“It’s a really, really good story,” Brother Jennings said. “It’s about how Superman grows frustrated with the world and turns his back on it, only to return years later. He knows he’s needed because there’s no one else strong enough to do what needs to be done, but his time away has made him cynical. He makes a lot of mistakes when he gets back and, in some ways, makes things worse—but he ultimately figures it all out and does the right thing. I know you’re gonna like it and I just, like I said, I feel like it could…help you? Maybe. I just really, really felt like I needed to give them to you now.”

“Wow, thanks.” How was I supposed to argue with that? “Seriously, thank you so much. I’ll—I guess I’ll make an exception.”

“And wait until you see what they did with Captain Marvel. I don’t want to ruin it for you, it was like, yeah, somebody finally used him right. He and Superman fight a bit, but in the end he does what Superman can’t do. It’s awesome.”

“I’ll definitely read them.”

And I did. And he was right, the story and the books were exciting. That first night back in Arizona, I read the first book. Most of it concerned the younger generation of superheroes and how they’d lost their way. When I got to the last page and the big reveal of an older Superman back in action and ready to set things right, I wanted to cheer. Kingdom Come was the one contraband item I kept with me during the rest of my mission. I tried, but I never could quite manage to feel guilty about that.

As I turned out the lights, ready for the first real rest I’d had in a week, my mind stayed active. I wanted the feeling of that Thanksgiving week—that clarity—to last as long as possible. Over and over again I rolled over the events since last Saturday night in my mind, trying to process and remember everything I could. I thought about what I’d said at the funeral. Did I get it right? Did I represent Dad fairly? Did he approve?

Did it matter if he didn’t?

There was one, haunting moment, just before the funeral on Wednesday, I kept coming back to.

Stake President Tanner, a tall, thin, older man who made no unnecessary movements and used no uncalculated words, presided over the many congregations in the Clovis area. He invited myself, Mom, and my brothers into his office on the other side of the church, away from all the activities of preparation for the funeral. We entered the office quietly. He motioned for us to sit in the chairs that lined one of the walls, opting to not seat himself behind his large desk and choosing instead to move a folding chair out in front of it to sit directly across from us without any barrier. We respected him a great deal. If I had ever known anyone I considered a spiritual giant before President Hedrick, it was him.

He expressed his condolences, of course, prayed with us, and gave Mom a blessing. Before we walked back out the door, he paused for a moment, stopped us, and gathered his thoughts. He said he had one last thing to share and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. He paused again, then began:

“My hope is that you will not be offended by what I am about to say next and that you will receive it with the spirit with which it is intended. I know that feelings are delicate right now and it is not my desire to tread upon them.”

“Oh,” Mom said, slightly taken aback. We all were suddenly curious. “Of-of course.”

“But, I have a distinct impression and I feel that I must share it with you. There are so many things in this life we would rather not happen. But they do and we endure and if we are paying very close attention we might find that even the horrible things have something to offer. My feeling is this: my feeling is that Bill—your father—he needed to die in order for the boys to become the men they need to be.”

Not knowing what to say, we received President Tanner’s words in silence and proceeded out the door of his office to go join everyone else in the viewing room. I was with him up until the last part. I didn’t think he was necessarily wrong, but I could not imagine how Dad’s death was in any way necessary.

I wrestled with his statement that Friday night as I lay in my bed wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and for some time afterwards.

It would be many years before I fully understood what he meant.



This is the end of this section of the book, but not the last thing. I’ll be posting an epilogue later this week. If you’ve been reading along, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and I would love to hear from you. Stay safe out there.


NEXT: Epilogue

PREVIOUS: Chapter 32 – Grounded

START FROM THE BEGINNING: Chapter 1 – Shooting

RBDM: Chapter 32 – Grounded

My father was murdered in 1996. 17 years later, I wrote RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, a coming-of-age memoir about all the violence that lead up to that moment. Now, after sitting on the manuscript for 6 years, I feel compelled to share it, chapter-by-chapter, starting right here. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems wrong given the subject matter, but I honestly hope you do.

Because this is a story of hope.



The seven rifles fired three times each and half the crowd put fingers in their ears. There was something disconcerting and wrong about shots being fired at Dad’s graveside service. Are microscopes ever set up so those mourning can see the cancer cells up close? Does a parade of buses go by in honor of the dearly departed struck down in the crosswalk? Should a knife-thrower be hired to entertain the loved ones of those who are stabbed? Still, I had to admit, the Twenty One Gun Salute was pretty cool.

Everyone gathered around to witness Dad’s body going into the ground stood in a slight stair-step pattern. Setting the grave on a bit of an incline sloping away from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance made it easier to enjoy the skyline with a full, 360-degree view of the cemetery and everything else in the surrounding countryside. It made me feel small, and I liked that. It helped me think of Dad.

I felt only small stirrings of emotion as we carried the coffin from the hearse to the four-walled hole. With the vessel for Dad’s body closed and my talk still present in my mind, it was hard to think of the body as having much current significance. Dad wasn’t in there and hadn’t been for awhile. My chief concern was to not drop my end of the coffin as we walked it over. Sucker was heavy.

The military veterans presented an American flag to Mom and a prayer was offered to dedicate the grave, but very little was said otherwise, the ceremony mercifully brief. All were quiet until they were thanked for coming and dismissed.

We headed back to our cars, whispers floating between us. For some, it was one last opportunity to extend their condolences. I had been avoiding her all day, but now Sister Milligan finally caught up to me.

“You are wearing that suit!”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Yes, I am. These are my clothes.” This was basic stranger conversation. Statements of facts spoken as revelation in lieu of anything substantial to say.

“Being a missionary suits you, Brock. I was telling your mom that just a minute ago. I enjoyed your talk very much. You looked real good up there. Quite dashing.”

I had never been very good at cluing into this sort of thing, but I was fairly certain Sister Milligan was flirting with me. I tried to back away and join up with people who understood the significance of the nametag and age differences, but I was trapped. I thanked her for the compliment.

“You’ve been such a strength to your mom this week. Horrible, horrible that this happened to you all. But, you know, bad things happen to good people.”

“Yeah,” I said. “And sometimes they happen twice.”

Sister Milligan looked at me for a second. First with confusion, then shock. Then she burst out laughing. I couldn’t help myself and started laughing too. Those nearby looked at us in bewilderment. I realized who I was sharing a laugh with and laughed even harder.

Life, which had stopped so suddenly when Dad died, was about to resume. All was back to normal and yet not at all. Not ever again. Those that hadn’t had a chance yet came up to say “hi” and “welcome home” and ask, as most everyone did, “when are you heading back to Arizona?” Friday morning. Two days. Behind us, Dad was lowered into the ground.

After we left, a temporary, concrete marker was put in place to mark the grave with the simple inscription, “W. Heasley.” It would be a couple years more before the full, metal plaque was laid down with the quote selected by my mother:


“Tell my wife that I love her.

Tell my boys to be good.”


* * *


Several messages on the answering machine from the local media welcomed us back home after the family luncheon back at the church. One station in particular didn’t want to focus on the great story that was the symmetry between Dad’s death and the shooting years earlier. ABC 30 Magazine was a new news show with a recurring segment highlighting heroes in the community. They thought Dad would be perfect for it.

That very night, the news crew descended on the house to set up their lights and cameras. It felt familiar to have them there, even comfortable. Dad had been shot so of course the living room should be turned into a set for television. All that was missing was a bucket of fried chicken. Grandma and Grandpa Heasley and Dad’s brother, Jim, all agreed to be interviewed. Mom declined. They wanted to interview me as well, but they had one request.

“Do you think you could take off the nametag?”

“What? Why?” I was surprised. It didn’t occur to me that my nametag would be a problem at all. If anything, shouldn’t it be helpful? They could save whole minutes in post-production by not applying the footer graphic with my name.

The reporter, pretty and tiny with hair sculpted by hairspray into a hardened block, shifted uncomfortably. “It’s just that…” I was uncomfortable for her. “If you wear the tag then it becomes a thing.”

“Okay,” I said. Unhelpfully.

“It would just be a lot easier if we didn’t have to explain it.”

What was there to explain? The tag had my last name on top and below that was the Church’s Spanish logo, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias. Hispanics made up a large majority in the Central Valley. Besides, it wasn’t like people didn’t know what a clean-cut kid in a suit, tie and nametag meant anyway. Missionaries had been annoying people on Saturday mornings with their incessant knocking for too many years now for that to be the case. All I was missing was the bike.

I thought about it. Hesitated. That was fear. Fear that I’d make the reporter even more uncomfortable with a refusal. Fear that keeping the nametag on was a dealbreaker and they’d ask me to step away from the camera’s glare. But also, I was afraid of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. I liked being thought of as strong and dedicated. That was vanity. Would keeping the nametag on be no better than showing up to a Sunday morning meeting the night after your father was killed?

I set the fear and myself aside. I was tired of these thoughts. This was a chance to shine, but not with my light. How was my duty here any different than what it had been at the funeral? It wasn’t.

“No,” I said. “I think I’ll keep the tag on. Is that okay?”


The segment highlighted Dad’s military past, of course, and how well liked he was by the residents in the rural neighborhoods near the Shop. Mention was made of his positive and forgiving spirit, and a particular focus was put on Dad’s newest employee, a young kid about my age who had stolen from him a few months earlier. That was news to me, but it didn’t surprise me Dad would reach out and try to help someone like that. He’d done it plenty of times before.

Sure enough, some voiceover explaining my dress and appearance was added to the segment to explain I was on a mission “for the Church of Latter-Day Saints.” In one of the two bits from me they used, I talked about how Dad loved games, particularly Monopoly, and that I never beat him. Which was true.

In the second bit I said:

“The thing… that makes his death easier to bear is that I know I’m going to see him again.”

And that was true as well.

* * *


The next day, Thursday—finally—was Thanksgiving. What missionary gets to say they had Thanksgiving Dinner at home? None. That’s how many. None.

I slept in, a luxury I had not been afforded in many months. When I awoke and emerged from my room, it was to a house entirely different from the one I’d been living in the past several days. The Shoulders were absent, all of them gone to conduct their own holiday celebrations. For the first time, I saw Mom alone.

She sat sideways on the couch, legs lifted to rest on the cushions, looking at old home movies for glimpses of Dad. He was quick on the scene when the first home video camcorders went on sale in the early 1980’s, but back then the setups were so complicated and the camera so bulky, he didn’t trust anyone else to do the filming. Any footage of him was usually by way of small, tripodded cameos that occurred with roughly the same frequency as Sasquatch sightings.

“Brock,” Mom said without looking at me as I groggily stumbled my way through the living room. “Do you remember this?” On screen was the first Christmas after Tyler was born. Back in the old Buckingham house. Dad had us all gathered together with him on the couch and lead us in a chorus of ‘Merry Christmas’ to some unseen party. Presumably ourselves in the future.

“Yeah, that was the year I swore up and down that one of my boxes under the tree was the Transformers set with all the jet robots.”

They were called Aerialbots and they combined to form the giant robot Superion. I didn’t mention the names to her both because Mom didn’t care and because I didn’t want my clear, clear memory of the single greatest disappointment of my present-opening career to suggest I was still bitter about getting knock-off Legos that year instead. Because that wasn’t true. At all.

“Oh? I’m sure your father wanted to get that for you, but we just couldn’t afford it back then.”

“I didn’t know that.” Of course. Mom and Dad would rather I think they hated me than suggest we might be poor.

“There’s a lot of things we didn’t tell you like that. But, you’re older now.”


Mom watched the home videos, color commentating and shouting anecdotes to me while I poured cereal in the kitchen. Most of her day was spent like that, not doing anything in particular. The funeral behind them and their concentration fully on Super Nintendo games, McKay and Tyler stayed otherwise occupied and kept their minds off the events of the past week as much as possible. Logan, as usual, did his own thing in his room. No one really knew what. Dad’s absence filled the house.

Mom tried to do things to be useful and made several trips to the kitchen to demonstrate this, but inevitably she headed back out to the living room to watch the home movies again and again after accomplishing not much of anything. The time the Shoulders spent in the kitchen now paid huge dividends. Food made in our home and brought in from outside was stacked high both in the fridge and on the counters and kitchen table. I scolded myself a bit. Not all of the Shoulders heard about Dad’s death from the news. Probably not even most of them. They attended to McKay and Tyler when Mom couldn’t. They stayed with Mom and made sure she wasn’t alone during the worst of it all. Maybe I didn’t need to participate in group mourning, but that made me either weird or in a different place emotionally, not the Shoulders unwelcome.

It was because of them that Thanksgiving was exclusively a day of relaxation and eating heartily and constantly. There were casseroles without name and seemingly without number. There were green jello salads, yams, French bread already buttered, and more cookies and pies than could possibly be eaten (not that we didn’t try very, very hard). Mom had very little to attend to. After five days of constant activity and attention, she did not know what to do with herself and nothing was require of her. It was a blessing.

Both sets of Grandparents and several aunts and uncles returned for the Thanksgiving Dinner. They kept things light and respectful and were mindful of Mom’s state of mind. It was a good meal and a good time to be with family. He didn’t pick it, but there really wasn’t a better week for Dad to die.

I sat at the table with all the other grown-ups, talking and laughing and remembering. I ate more than my fair share of Pumpkin Pie because it was my favorite and, thanks again to the Shoulders, we had more than a lot of it. I held court and told stories from my short, momentarily interrupted tenure as a missionary. The man I met while buying a hot dog who claimed to be a demon from hell. The time Elder Gatica tricked me into knocking on doors in a Spanish neighborhood without him. The beautiful night just a few months earlier when, for some inexplicable reason, I spoke perfect Spanish to a family I was desperate to teach with precision.

I was, honestly, quite bored. These were stories that were supposed to be told at a much later date. With nothing to do or take care of, my presence served very little purpose other than to entertain. My legs twitched and begged to get out from under the table and onto a bike. Every minute I spent sitting and eating and talking and not doing anything of any particular import was pure torture. When the conversation moved to the living room and everyone’s efforts toward action served only to communicate the score on the television or to get into a comfortable position for a nap, I thought seriously about asking Uncle Richard to drive me down to South Fresno to go knock on some doors. It was exciting seeing everyone again, but they could nurse their food babies without me.

Any thought I’d had about staying home beyond Thanksgiving disappeared at about 4 pm when I asked Mom what else was going on that day and she said “nothing.” I was in the wrong place. By the time Friday morning rolled around and it was time to leave, I felt like an intruder in my own house.

During my little sabbatical, I’d found peace in a nightmare. I’d seen and felt and experienced the power of the principles and ideas and faith I’d been teaching firsthand. All along I’d had this precious stone to share and now, finally, I could fully behold its shine and its glow. That was amazing, a gift to be prized above all else, and an impetus for returning to the mission and using what I had learned in service to God. To finish the work.

NEXT: Chapter 33 – Life After Death

PREVIOUS: Chapter 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man

START FROM THE BEGINNING: Chapter 1 – Shooting

RBDM: Chapter 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man

My father was murdered in 1996. 17 years later, I wrote RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, a coming-of-age memoir about all the violence that lead up to that moment. Now, after sitting on the manuscript for 6 years, I feel compelled to share it, chapter-by-chapter, starting right here. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems wrong given the subject matter, but I honestly hope you do.

Because this is a story of hope.


The local media had been on the story of Dad’s death since the weekend, asking us for interviews and access to the funeral. Memory of our appearance on Rescue 911, which ended its run as a television program just two months prior, still lingered. Our priorities differed slightly from theirs, so we didn’t allow the new crews inside the church building. They set themselves up outside, cameras trained on our entrances and exits like morbid Rodeo Drive paparazzi.

I walked into the makeshift viewing room at the church early Wednesday morning to see not the pale blue, wooden, angular casket I had picked out, but a beautiful, brushed metal gray coffin with gold trim, a rounded top, and a sturdy frame impervious to matches. I was told that, for some reason, the funeral director decided a free upgrade was necessary. We guessed it had something to do with the cameras, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.

Normally, the room was used as a meeting place for the women’s organization in the ward, the Relief Society. Every burnt gold colored chair was cushioned in maroon, and long, white linens draped over the windows ran nearly the entire height of the walls leading to the vaulted ceiling. Flowers of many colors with names I did not know sat on tables and in pots on the floor. Dad’s coffin took up the length of the head of the room next to the upright piano, warmly lit and cold to the touch.

It was also open.

It was the first time I’d been with Dad in the flesh since January, when we said our goodbyes and see-ya-laters at the Missionary Training Center. I stood in front of his body more out of curiosity than a need to see it. It wasn’t the first dead body I’d ever seen, but it was the first one I could stare at for however long I wished without fear of anybody bothering me to move along.

He looked older than I remembered. His skin thin and stretched and powdery in texture. His face was puffy, like they’d stuffed cotton balls into his mouth (maybe they did). At the same time, paradoxically, he looked hollowed out. His eyes, closed and unnatural looking, were set so far back into their sockets they seemed to be sinking into his skull. Had they been sewn shut? It was hard to not think about how frightening it would be should they suddenly flutter open. That wouldn’t happen without some manual stimulation, possibly scissors. I imagined Zombie Dad anyway.

I could see it. He’d shock us all, open his eyes, sit up, and walk right out of the church on his two stiff legs and one new hip. Being a zombie, his first thought would be for brains to satiate his incredible hunger after being dead and without food for four days. He’d ignore us, his family, out of residual affection, but even that would fade over time and we would ultimately admit he would have to be stopped. The police would be ill-equipped and useless when it came to handling the reanimated corpse insomuch as battling the walking dead was not covered by their Academy training. Desperate, the Mayor would go to the airwaves to make a public plea to the only ones who could save us in this dark hour—the men who had proven once already they could do the deed and had the skills necessary. In the time of the city’s greatest need, only my father’s killers would be able to save us all from the rotting, shuffling plague his body had become. Armed with shotguns, hacksaws, and a pardon from the Governor, they would go forward and restore peace to the community in the brutal manner to which they were accustomed, allowing us to finally resume our mourning.

I stifled a laugh, then turned away from Dad and winced, ashamed of myself for such a dark, ridiculous thought.

I could have, but did not dare touch him. I knew he would be cold. He looked so white and so fragile, like chalk. I was afraid he might fall apart in my hands.

McKay and Tyler came up and stood beside me. They stared at Dad, expressionless. I gave them brief hugs before they shuffled off silently to sit on the front row of chairs near Mom and wait to be ushered into the chapel. They’d spent most of the past couple of days more or less happily playing the Super Nintendo a neighbor lent them. That time between Dad’s death and the funeral now seemed a cruelty. They were right back to how I’d found them on Sunday.

The viewing room filled up slowly in the hour leading up to the funeral. All were quiet and respectful. Even Sister Milligan. Many had a story about Dad to tell and bent whichever of my family’s ears they could grab. Everyone dressed in their Sunday Best except for those I didn’t know very well. It was easy to tell who knew Dad from the Shop and who knew him from church and as family.

Mom surrounded herself with her sisters, constantly blocked from my view by the parade of Shoulders moving through the room and lending words of support. I was, in that moment, grateful for them. Logan stayed huddled with his friends on the margins of the room. Grandma and Grandpa Heasley stayed near the back, teary and comforted by the old California friends they’d left behind after moving to Arizona.

“Your Dad ever tell you ‘bout the time he fought off those drunks bare-knuckled?”

I turned around.

“I’m sorry?” I didn’t recognize the man, but I had seen him before. He looked like a lot of Dad’s buddies from the Gun Club and Shop—big guy, flannel shirt, unruly brown (always brown) hair, tattoos, questionable facial hair, and rough around the edges. He surprised me by coming up from behind. “Uh, no. No, he didn’t.”

“He didn’t? Well, let me tell you, your dad, he didn’t have no fear whatsoever. This was back when he was the manager at Blackbeard’s—he told you about working there right?”

“I remember,” I said. aka the Family Fun Center. “He helped build part of the Pirate mini golf course.”

“Right, yeah! Yeah, I worked on that, too.”

“He used to take me there after hours to help him empty the arcade of quarters.”

“Oh, then you must be his oldest, right? Logan?”

“Brock. Well, Elder Heas—Brock.” Hearing my first name again—much less using it—was something I just couldn’t get used to.

“Yeah, that’s right, Brock. So anyways, there was a bunch of us working there this one night and there were these guys that were getting really rowdy in the parking lot. They were drunk as skunks and making all kinds of noise. Beer bottles smashed on the ground, that sort of thing. Real rowdy-like. Your Dad—he was manager at the time—he decides he was gonna ask them to leave. He got a few of us to come over with him and we grabbed us some golf clubs to defend ourselves—show ‘em we meant business. But Bill, we asked him if he wanted one and he said no. He went over there with nothin’. He took point and just bareknuckled it right up to those guys like it was nothin’.”

“No way,” I said. How had I never heard this story before?

“Yeah, yeah. So, Bill, he asks the guy who was the loudest for him and his buddies to leave. He was real nice about it. Guy wouldn’t budge. He—bottle swingin’—he got real testy and asked Bill who the hell he was to be tellin’ them where to go. He gets right in your dad’s face—like this close, closer than how I am with you now—but Bill, he wasn’t gonna back down an inch.

“So your dad, he squares up and gets ready like he’s gonna box the guy. Bill wasn’t real tall or anything, but, y’know, his arms were built like tree trunks or somethin’. And this guy, I don’t think he thought Bill was serious cuz he took a swing at him and then it was on. They traded a few blows and got into a fight while the rest of us just watched. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a scuffle because pretty soon the drunk just figured it wasn’t worth it anymore and they all left.

“But I’ll never forget that—your Dad goin’ into that fight bareknuckled. He had no fear—just no fear at all!”

No one had anything unkind to say about Dad. Over and over again I heard fantastic stories about how he was helpful and friendly, tough and generous. It wasn’t always the smart move—people betrayed him or took advantage more than once—but he gave freely of his time and even his money if need be.

I both did and didn’t see Dad in their effusion of praise. No one talked about how easily he got frustrated or what a taskmaster he could be as a boss or the occasional coarse language that crossed his lips. His (freakishly white and disturbingly still) dead body was nearby. No one wanted to say such things. You’d think, from standing in that room, that Dad was a saint who did nothing but good in the world, making it all the more evil that he had been taken out of it.

It was his funeral—his one day to be perfect.


* * *


Everyone stood in reverence as my family walked into the chapel, sitting down only after we did. We sat on the front most pew, our backs to the congregation while we faced Dad’s (now closed) casket. So close we could reach out and touch it. The large chapel was quiet save for the echo of Bishop Pauline’s voice as he thanked everyone for coming and outlined the program. I was announced as one of the last speakers. Plenty of time to sit and worry and scold myself for attempting to speak at my father’s funeral in the first place.

After Uncle Richard gave the eulogy and Logan’s friends sang their song, everyone waited. The silence that filled the room spoke my name. I jumped up from the bench and bounded up the stairs to the wooden podium as it lowered to meet my relatively depressed height. What I hoped look like enthusiasm was more a product of fear and a desire to get it over with as quickly as possible. Only an empty stomach prevented me from throwing up.

The vinyl curtains in the back that served as a partition between the expansive gymnasium and the chapel had been opened to accommodate the large crowd, something I only discovered as I faced them for the first time and adjusted the microphone to my level. Many, many stares crowded the combined mega-chapel.

I lowered my head and gripped the sides of the podium to steady myself. I focused my eyes on the shapes in the grain of the wood and asked myself how tiny and diseased my brain must be to have ever thought this a good idea. Far more people had shown up than anyone anticipated. (Later, the estimate would reach seven hundred.) And there I was in all my stupid, cherub-faced glory. I, in that moment, was grateful for the suit, tie, and nametag asserting in a way I could not that the nineteen year old man/boy standing at the head of the congregation actually had business speaking on something other than the relative merits of Weezer’s latest album.

I raised my head.

“This is not my father,” I said, pointing at the coffin directly in front of me. “He is not there.”

I saw my family from a new vantage point. Just on the other side of Dad’s casket, opposite from me and directly below. They cried softly. I raised my gaze immediately, lifting my chin high to block them from my view. My speech stumbled and my tongue tied itself up somewhere deep inside my throat. I forgot, entirely, what I was supposed to say. I could feel the base of my eyes swell up and those in the front rows of the pews grew foggy. I swallowed, begging back the tears with a silent prayer and an ever-tightening grip on the podium. I was committed enough to keep going, but I never dared to look down at my family again.

I choked out the next sentence. “A dead body is dead because it houses nothing,” And then the next. “Earlier, I got a chance to look at this one and I didn’t see my father for one very good reason —it isn’t him.” I kept going. “He—now as a spirit—is somewhere else, incomplete and waiting. His body has been marked ‘Return to Sender,’ and soon enough it will be shipped off and put back into the dust where it came from, only to come back at a later date in proper working order and with the right parts.”

The night before, when I couldn’t put it off any longer, I settled on talking about the Resurrection—the idea that both body and spirit will be together again in their perfect form at some point after death. Christ was the first to undergo the process, and now because of Him we would, too. This was Dad’s hope, the thing about post-death life that excited him most. I could feel that excitement in me now.

“Often were the times Dad and I would talk of the next life, and even his own death, but there was no significance to any of it without the Resurrection. Dad’s hope, particularly after the first shooting in 1989, was for the time when his body would once again work as it should, without a limp and loose bullets and artificial hips. Perhaps he’d even lose some of the french fry weight.” Scattered laughter. “He was broken and his belief—his faith—was that he would be fixed.”

I kept going, barely even stopping to think about what I was actually saying. I talked about the eternal nature of the soul and the hope we have in Christ for Eternal Life with God. This wasn’t an abstract, this was something happening now, with my father only the latest person to take the next step on that journey. I talked about the possibility of an eternal family and that in the same way the spirit and body would be restored to each other, so too could our relationships with our loved ones. My parents were still married and in whatever society that exists after this life, we would still be the family we always had been. Dad’s passing was an entirely temporary condition. Sad, difficult, and significant—but temporary.

I grew more comfortable and confident as I went on. There was something else being said outside of the scope of my words alone. There was an electricity in the room, a current running out from me and connecting with everyone present. I could see the honesty of our intimate, shared moment in the their faces, and feel it in their rapt attentions. It was a communication beyond words; it was spirit speaking to spirit. I could say anything I wanted and it would barely register. What was being felt was greater.

I spoke more in terms of my father’s instead of my own. I worked from little more than an outline and some of the things I said and recalled over the course of my talk surprised me. As hard to understand as Dad’s approach to faith was for me, I couldn’t deny that his footing was sure. Dad’s faith was practical, matter-of-fact, and frustratingly, oddly stronger for it. He did not doubt. He did not waver. He believed, unceasingly.

I continued. “Dad never experienced psychological trauma after the shooting in ’89. That bothered a lot of people—people Dad had no patience for. He acknowledged the awful things that happened to him as bad, but he did not let them stay that way after the fact. Trials and tragedies built him up and shaped him. They increased his patience and faith.

“I hope you understand that I am not saying my father was perfect. Besides my mother, I may know that better than anyone. He and I disagreed often and didn’t always understand each other. But I can tell you that all his hopes, all his understanding of how to conduct himself in this life—whatever his shortcomings—came from his faith. That’s who he was—he was what he believed in. His imperfections were who he was when he wasn’t being himself.”

I kept going. I was off outline now. I had no idea what I was going to say next anymore, and what I said next was exactly what I was supposed to say.

“Dad knew exactly how he wanted to live his life and who kept it going. He spoke of his gratitude and recognized God’s hand when it was obvious to him. When it wasn’t, he said so. What he did not concern himself with—what was of very little consequence to him—was the now. He didn’t need God to manifest Himself here when he’d see Him just as well in the next life. He did not need present evidence of what he, in all confidence, knew was coming just up the road. Dad’s faith was firmly in the future, for a life decidedly beyond the current one. He required nothing of now because, to him, everything was already past.

“If it is often only after the fact that we see things clearly, then how lives the man for whom death is an imminent and ever-present reality? My father wasn’t perfect in his faith, but he moved on from his trials and challenges with lessons learned and forgave easily. He saw so clearly in the moment, almost as though he was outside of it. He didn’t let cynicism, hatred, victimization, and fear rule over him. He was not surrounded by a perimeter of self-righteous narcissism that held forth against empathy and understanding, justifying a desire for vengeance no one would have questioned. His vision was clearer than that. Dad, whatever his failings, did his best to let his more forward-looking perspective and faith guide him when the limited present could not. He favored his limitless future and defined his life backwards from there.”

I stopped, concluded in the name of Jesus Christ, and returned to sit back down with my family. I shook so badly the entire pew vibrated.


For those who missed it (or would like to revisit), the prologue chronologically occurs directly after this chapter: Prologue – Ready


NEXT: Chapter 32 – Grounded

PREVIOUS: Chapter 30 – Speaker for the Dead

START FROM THE BEGINNING: Chapter 1 – Shooting

RBDM: Chapter 30 – Speaker for the Dead

My father was murdered in 1996. 17 years later, I wrote RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, a coming-of-age memoir about all the violence that lead up to that moment. Now, after sitting on the manuscript for 6 years, I feel compelled to share it, chapter-by-chapter, starting right here. Saying “I hope you enjoy it” seems wrong given the subject matter, but I honestly hope you do.

Because this is a story of hope.


As a missionary, I often knocked on doors for hours for the chance—the smallest, slightest chance—to talk to just one person. I understood why those doors often didn’t open. I shared a bond with the people hiding behind the curtains and telling their kids to stay low and quiet that was completely unknown to them, but very real for me: neither of us wanted me on their porch. I didn’t enjoy interrupting meals or telenovelas or midday sexual congress any more than they liked seeing me standing there in the white shirt and tie, eagerly hoping for a few minutes of their time. Yes, I wanted to talk and teach, but not to anyone who didn’t want to listen. So, when Mom asked me Sunday night if I would like to speak at Dad’s funeral and to the hundreds of people who would be there, I responded with a resounding Yes!

In my head. I didn’t want to sound too eager given the somber reason for the opportunity.

What I said out loud was, “Me?”

“Yes,” Mom said. “Don’t you think that would be nice? I think that would be nice.”

It was a safe bet the funeral would be covered by the local media and half of the people there would not be members of the Church. I couldn’t imagine not speaking at the funeral. A more captive audience I’d never find. Any other path led to regret.

The Shoulders had gone home. My first day back in California was almost over and Mom, Uncle Richard, and I sat at the kitchen table together to talk about the next few days. Mom left most of the decisions to me. I don’t know if it was the nametag or that I was not a gooey mess in a house of gooey messes, but she seemed to think me perfectly capable of handling all the necessaries. The idea I speak at the funeral was one of her lone contributions to our plans.

“Richard is giving the eulogy and Bishop Pauline will be giving the gospel talk.” I said.
“What else is there to say?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “You’ll think of something. You always give such good talks.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m amazing.”

Uncle Richard laughed. “You knew your dad, Brock. What did he believe in? What would he want you to say?”

Ah. What would Dad want? We thought we knew, the three of us. It was something we asked and answered with confidence several times that night. Dad wouldn’t want a sad, depressing funeral. Dad, a patriot, would want the military involved despite the fact he hated his time in the Service. Dad would want this hymn sung and these people as pallbearers and that person to say a prayer and that other person to feel like they were included. Maybe that guy could, I dunno, usher at the door?

It helped that Dad was dead and couldn’t argue with us. We, the living, were so sure about the identity and personality of our newly dead and gone, we alone deciding what his responses would be to a life now going on without him. Who would challenge us, the ones that knew and loved him best? No one, not even him. This was the neat and tidy version of Dad, the one who did everything we told him to and behaved precisely as we had come to expect. It wasn’t the Dad any of us knew, but it was the only one we had left.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

After all of our talks about the Gospel and his death and what came after who was more qualified? According to Mom and Uncle Richard, no one. I knew only one thing for sure: the talk would somehow involve words.


* * *


The next day’s errands gave me the perfect excuse to procrastinate. There was a gravesite to select and a funeral home to visit and an obituary to write and many more decisions still to be made. My guide through it all was Uncle Richard. Outside of our home, as a full-fledged, temporarily displaced missionary, I still needed to be accompanied by an adult male who could serve as a companion while I was away from Elder Vaughn. It saved me from asking for the help I so desperately needed. Tall, commanding, and at-ease with every person he met, my mother’s oldest brother probably could have done it all without me. Instead, he was my chauffeur around town and stood behind me as I made the key decisions.

Our first stop was Red Bank Cemetery, far outside of the Clovis city limits. Tall trees stood at attention on the main drive up through the middle of the property and along the outer perimeter, but otherwise the grounds were bare and open. On a good (read: smog free) day, there was a clear view of the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains and, unlike the more populous cemeteries in town, this one was always quiet. I chose an untouched spot without many other graves around it, which was easy enough to do.

Afterwards, we went back into the city to the Smithson Funeral Home. It truly looked like a “home,” complete with a well-manicured lawn and an interior layout suggesting less a business and more a converted mini-mansion. The Director, a short, greasy little man too old for the brown hair he sported on his head and above his lip, wore a smile that never cracked. He greeted us at the door and brought us through a series of tight corridors and narrow doors—the kind you usually only see in older homes—to a large, well-lit back room with two rows of caskets on either side. All of them were open. It wasn’t actually the barracks of a vampire army, it just looked like one.

The creepy and quiet showroom for the final vehicles of the dead came complete with a pushy salesman. As the Director highlighted the features of each casket—solid mahogany casing, almond interior, ebony finish, head panel designs adorned with praying hands or doves flying or some other art the earthworms could admire—Uncle Richard and I walked down the aisle, noting the price tags as we went, each one more shockingly expensive than the last. What I couldn’t understand was why the dead needed an elaborate coffin in the first place. What good did gold trim ever do for those who couldn’t open their eyes to admire it?

The Director was a seemingly nice enough man, but he had his agenda. The people he led into this room were grieving—at their most vulnerable and most willing to move through a sale as quickly as possible. How else could he charge thousands of dollars for a box—a box!—and get away with it?

Thankfully, I knew exactly what I wanted and the thicker the Director laid it on, the more sure I became. Down at the end of the rows, away from the others and painted the most offensively unattractive pale blue the world had ever seen, was the cheapest casket available. A pine box for my father. You could light a match under it and watch it burn.

“A-are you positively sure that’s the one you want?” The Director went into a flop sweat.

“Yes, of course.” I said. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“It, ah, matters more than you think. But if that’s the—if you want that one then I suppose it’s, ah, up to you. It’s not the one I’d choose for my father, certainly.”

What would Dad want? I figured Dad saw death as such a temporary thing he’d be upset if we spent a lot of money on something that was just going to get buried in the ground anyway. Dirt could be shoveled onto blue wood just as well as gold trim.

The matter settled, we moved into the Director’s office to discuss our ideas for the funeral and transportation and the graveside service. His people would take care of everything, including setting up chairs and shuttling the body in and out of the church. The funeral would be simple and short. Hymns, prayers, an a capella rendition of True to the Faith by a group of Logan’s friends, and a few talks. (Including mine about…something super special.)  Afterwards, we’d convoy over to the cemetery and be met there by volunteer Army Veterans for the 21-gun salute.

Was I sure I wanted the pale blue one?



* * *


Since I had never before been entrusted with anyone’s legacy in print and microfilm, I pulled the last few days of newspapers from Mom’s recycling bin to get some idea of what obituaries were supposed to look like. It was my last task that Monday evening, and it had to be done immediately to make the next day’s paper. I didn’t trust anyone else to do it properly.

Most of the obituaries I read were little more than a cold list of accomplishments and a note about the time and place for the funeral. There was no sense of who the person was or what all those accomplishments added up to. That didn’t seem right. If they didn’t result in a human being worth describing in even the broadest of details, what possible meaning did any of the plaudits and degrees have?

My word count was limited by our budget. I packed in as much as I could:


William Maurice Heasley

A loving husband and father, Bill died on November 23, 1996 a happy man. Bill spent much of his life in the service of others; in particular his family and including his country through a 3-year service in the army. He is also a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and served in many capacities in the church. Exhibiting a Christ-like love towards those he came in contact with, Bill Heasley was an example to all of humility and firmness. He instilled a kind of hope in others that continues even after his death. We know that we will see him again one day and he is dearly missed.


I had perfectly codified my father into one paragraph. The changing tense precise and each adjective chosen for maximum impact and information. It was succinct, and I was quite pleased with it.

No doubt Dad, who was not around to tell me differently, would have thought it the greatest obituary ever written.


* * *


The Shoulders returned on Tuesday, which was motivation enough to stop procrastinating and just write my talk for the funeral already. I had been so sure when I took on the assignment that I would think of something vital to share, but trying to represent Dad’s worldview and take on faith turned out to be harder than I thought. I knew Dad had faith, but I still couldn’t grasp how. I dug around the house, looking for notes, books, pieces of mail, anything Dad had put his hands on for some sort of clue or inspiration.

I found a copy of an audio tape I had received from my family back in March while I was still at the Missionary Training Center. Dad’s hip was replaced in February, just after our trip to Utah together. At the time of the recording, he had just gotten home from the hospital.


Dad: Hello, son… I’m sitting here on the throne—the easy chair here. Just got through cleaning myself up and I’m doing pretty well. Doing my exercises. I’ve been walking down to the end of the block and back, so I think I’m doing well.


The tape was front loaded with Dad’s 911 call and I shared it with the other Elders in my MTC district because by then they’d heard the story and were curious. Their jaws dropped appropriately, which never stopped being a thrill. Most of the rest of the 60 minute tape was filled with news, greetings, and personal messages. Mostly from Mom. According to her, the big news around the house was Dad’s newfound ability to bawk like a chicken. She insisted I hear it, but Dad was a bit more reluctant about sharing.


Mom: Do the chicken thing.

Dad: Huh?

Mom: Do it. Do the chicken.

Dad: Well, why can’t I just take him out and let him listen to Daisy, our pet chicken?

Mom: All right, go ahead.

Dad: Nah, I’m just kidding, we don’t have a pet chicken Daisy.

Mom: [Bursts out laughing] What, did you think he was gonna believe you? I can barely put up with the cat.

Dad: Well, you never know what the boys will bring home from school.

Mom: McKay wants a rat.

Dad: A rat? Your mother says McKay wants a rat for his birthday.

Mom: Next week.

Dad: Um, I don’t think he’s going to get it.

Mom: No.


I hadn’t listened to the tape since Utah. It was the last record of his voice I had.


Dad: Well, I don’t know much else to say. I miss ya. Um, I guess I’ll sign off by doing my one lone impression of the farm animal. I don’t know if this is something you really wanna hear, but I guess this is my one claim to fame.

Oh yeah, I guess Mom is sending you the 911 tape. It had been some time since I heard it, so…it’s funny how you remember things a little differently over the years. But, of course once I heard it again it brings it all back. That was definitely an eventful evening. So, I guess I shouldn’t say I hope you enjoy it. [chuckles] But, uh, it is quite unique I suppose. Well, I think your Mom’s got more to say. Surprise, surprise. So, here it goes.


[Dad imitates a chicken. Very and creepily well.]


I love you, son. Talk to you later. Buh-bye.


Dad’s segment of the recording stopped, replaced by empty hiss. With eyes beginning to water, I stared at the tape player in disbelief. Was that all there was? Was this the last record of him I had?


You hadn’t seen him in ten months. And then he was gone.


Do you remember the last thing he said to you?

He told me no one wanted to see me and that I shouldn’t come home.


Yeah. But, he meant it in a good way.

Of course. What about the time before that?

He bawked like a chicken.

Seriously? Last thing he said?

That time, yeah.


For the first time since the night he died, I felt the sting of Dad’s absence. I hadn’t stopped missing him since he’d gone, exactly, but I hadn’t experienced it this acutely, not even when Mom sobbed all over me Sunday afternoon. I felt a kind of aching despair, worn out and hollow, and I knew that space would never be filled again.

The reality of speaking at my own father’s funeral came into focus. What if, instead of having nothing to say, I got up and couldn’t speak? I was proud of the fact I hadn’t cried since the night Dad died and the last thing I wanted to do was put myself in a position where I could potentially break my manly, manly streak. I was at risk of making the funeral into the kind of spectacle it was not intended to be.

The tape clicked and a high-pitched rub out sound transitioned the audio to something new. The background hiss resumed and Dad’s voice came back on.


Dad: Brock, it’s me again. I felt that after I ended I, well—prompted by the Spirit if you will—that I should make a comment about the 911 tape that you and your companions have listened to.

Um, I just—it was as you know, Son, a life-altering experience. It was an experience that changed my entire life and I believe that—ultimately—that it will be for my good. And there’s been a variety of other things that have happened since then that, uh, I guess don’t happen to too many people, but they seem to be things that the Lord has seen fit to throw my way to strengthen me. I believe they have, although I think for a period of time there I wasn’t really aware or could really accept that fact.


“Your father always said he never got any answers to prayers.”


Mom poked her head into my bedroom to see how my talk was coming. Her words confused me. I had seen Dad pray, but had we ever had a discussion about it? I couldn’t remember. There was that night in my bedroom when I vomited words and feelings and Dad thought I was crazy and needed therapy. He said he never got an answer about the Church being true, but I hadn’t thought he was talking about prayer in general. That seemed like a declaration I would have remembered.

“He just didn’t feel like Heavenly Father answered him,” Mom explained. “He used to say it all the time.”

“Even after the shooting—the first one?”


“How could he even think that? Of course he got answers.”

“Well, I know that and you know that, but your father didn’t think so.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, it doesn’t. That was your father.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“He was a contradiction,” Mom admitted. “I could never figure him out. Believe me, I tried.”

I felt my funeral talk and my perception of Dad collapse under the weight of what Mom’s words. I couldn’t accept any of it.

“But,” I said. “We would talk all the time about life after death and the Gospel and all that—it wasn’t some abstract thing to him. He believed in it. He knew there was something next and he looked forward to it. We talked about that. All the time. I can remember being six and talking about it on the Route.”

“Well, hold on,” Mom said, her hand up. “I didn’t say he didn’t have any faith at all.”


Dad: But I knew when all this was happening—at the time the shooting was going on—I never did lose consciousness. There was a time when I felt, well, this might be the end of my life. And as you heard on the tape I felt that could be so and tried to say goodbye, but it wasn’t too much longer after that that I felt, well, y’know, I’m gonna get through this.

And then after the surgeries and getting out of the hospital and being able to revisit the scene and so on and so forth—and then later on finding out that even though they only hit me thirteen times I was actually shot at 35 times and basically every one of them were from point blank range, no more than eight feet away—so you can see that a miracle was in its work there that I was only hit that many times.

And as I’ve stated many times after going back into my shop and seeing where the bullet holes were, that right where I was standing—cuz I can remember everything, every second of it as if it happened yesterday—there should have been bullets that had gone through my chest or my head. Just like the three bullets they tried to put in the back of my head when I was sitting on the ground—and these are armor-piercing bullets, some of them—and the second wooden door, a one-inch wooden door stopped the bullets, which they shoulda’ never done. So, there was a lot of things going on and I really do feel that somebody was looking after me. It wasn’t my time to go, but for whatever reason the Lord allowed this to happen.


“So,” I said to Mom. “He did have faith. I didn’t imagine that.”

“No,” she said. “That was the thing that used to make me so mad. Your father never doubted for a minute.”

To a lot of people, Dad was the guy who—when he was able to attend church—never wore a tie because of his thick, nearly non-existent neck. Business concerns kept him away from Sunday services with enough frequency that people noticed. They thought of Dad as a storeowner or a bait distributor or a gun salesman or that guy with the swiss cheese legs. But to me there was more to him than guns and worms and the ultimate How I Got These Scars story. The concerns of this life sometimes demanded more of his time than he would have liked, but his chief interests lay in the next world. He was very up front about that.

Or was Dad confused? He believed in a God that never answered his prayers and allowed him to be shot nearly to death—only to actually die later when it happened again. Was that madness? Was there any sense in that?

“Okay, right,” I said. “Right. So, if he didn’t believe in prayer then how…?”

“He believed in prayer as much as he did anything else,” Mom said. “He just didn’t think he got answers to his prayers. For whatever reason, he just didn’t see it.”

“So he had faith, just not a lot of it.”

Mom looked displeased. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

“Well, that’s why he worked on Sundays, isn’t it?”

For years, working on Sundays was a matter of no small disagreement between Dad and me, though he was mostly unaware of this. Sunday, as the designated day of rest, was a day to refrain from working and from doing things that would cause others to work—things like buying groceries and eating out.

It wasn’t until I was several hundreds of miles away and had nine months of pious living behind me that I worked up enough righteous fury to tell Dad that he broke the fourth of Ten Commandments each and every Sunday by selling his guns and his beer. He did this either in person (missing church in the process) or by not closing the Shop so his employees could go home and be with their families. It bothered me that it was on this gravy train of disobedience that a roof was over our heads and a pool in our backyard. I explained to Dad that greater blessings awaited him if only he’d do the right thing. Dad wrote me back two weeks later. It was our last communication.

“Your father told you why he worked on Sundays,” Mom said. “He talked with his Bishop about it years ago and was told then that if the only way to support his family and keep his business going was to work on Sundays, that was between him and the Lord. Your father prayed about it and felt good about staying open on Sundays. And that was that.” Her face couldn’t help but sadly register all the many, many discussions they’d no doubt had on the subject.

“He prayed about it,” I said.

“Yes,” Mom said.

“And he felt good about it.”


“And he never received answers to prayers.”

“… Exactly.”


Dad: And, like a lot of things in life, I think, the shooting was to eventually get me into a more humble position—which it certainly has. Of course I do hope that He doesn’t have any more experiences like this in store for me. I think I’ve had my quota for this life anyway. I hope so. It was one of those, hopefully, once in a lifetime experiences that most people don’t ever go through.

But it was a character-building experience, I believe. One that someday I think I will probably know all of the ramifications as to why and so on, but I know at least part of it was to prepare me for—for whatever He may have in mind.

So I don’t have any feelings of “why me?” or any feelings of, well, that was a terrible thing to be allowed to happen to me. Or anything like that. I don’t blame the Lord for allowing it; I thank him for allowing me to get through it and giving me the strength to do so. Because it was something I don’t believe I could have done without some help.

So anyway, that’s all I really had to say about it. I guess your Mom wants to take up the rest of the time here so I’ll sign off again. And so, uh, I love you and look forward to hearing from you again, Son. Buh-bye.

NEXT: Chapter 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man

PREVIOUS: Chapter 29 – The Shoulders

START FROM THE BEGINNING: Chapter 1 – Shooting