Mike has passed

Livestream the service on September 25th, 11 AM Mountain time: bit.ly/MikeFitzgerald

Michael James Fitzgerald—beloved father, friend, poet, and cowboy—passed away at his home in Santaquin, Utah, on Friday, September 17, 2021, while on his knees in prayer.

Mike was born on November 14, 1957, to Robert and Jane in Multnomah County, Oregon. He was a middle child through and through, spending his boyhood riding horses, shooting skeet, roping cows, and occasionally attending Catholic school. 

At times, life was cruel to him, but he never lost his tenderness. His love for the Savior and the scriptures defined his life, and the gospel brought him great comfort. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 18 and believed wholeheartedly, emulating Christlike love in every way. He could find something to love about everyone he met, and spent his short time on earth caring for, serving, and rescuing others. He served as a missionary in Northeast Ohio, as Bishop of the Mapleton 12th Ward, in the Salt Lake City homeless branch, in the Utah State Prison, and in the Draper Utah Temple.

Mike was an accomplished writer, owner of his publishing company, Overdue Books, an experienced outdoorsman, geode hunter, and lifelong learner. He loved country western music, cowboy poetry, and John Wayne movies. 

He is no longer constrained by a body that gave him so much trouble and is reunited with his parents, brother Mark, beloved dogs and horses, and the many loved ones who preceded him in death. He is galloping through the clouds on the back of his roping horse, Stanley. 

Of all his loves, he loved his family the most. He is survived by his sweetheart Cristi, daughters Melissa (Joey), Amy, and Aubrey (Forrest), grandsons Callan, Nolan, Ian, Kimball, and Oliver, sister Dr. Shawn Clausen, and dogs Denver and Murphey.

A memorial service will be held at the LDS chapel located at 4300 N Canyon Road, Provo, Utah on Saturday September 25th at 11 AM. A reception will be held just prior to the service, 9:30-10:45am. Mike will be laid to rest in the Mapleton City Cemetery.

Update on Holly Barrett

Holly Barrett. FamilySearch.com.

Over a decade ago, I wrote a blog post about Holly Barrett who died in 1969 at the age of 14, mysteriously until now. Here’s an update to that post.

After years of wondering, I heard from one of Holly’s nieces recently and learned of her sad ending. She was a special young woman who contracted leukemia—likely due to being a Nevada bomb-test downwinder. Chemotherapy in the 1960s was hard on her young body and she died of heart failure in a Salt Lake hospital. Her parents were in the grocery business and they named Holly’s Pantry, a convenience store in Salina, Utah, after her (the store is still running, though it’s no longer owned by the Barrett family). Holly is buried in Salina’s East Side Cemetery.

I’m grateful to have learned more of Holly’s story and I hope she knows that people still care about her many years after her passing. I also want to thank all the blog readers for their interest and for reaching out to me publicly and privately over the years.

A Long, Slow Life Review

Man walking in a stone-lined tunnel toward a light. Canva.com

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes.” This phenomena, commonly reported by near-death experiencers, is called a life review and involves a movie of sorts that replays all the experiences of life, good and bad.

I haven’t been well for the last year and a half, and strangely, I’ve been having my own life review on this side of the veil. Except mine is non-sequential and very slow. I’ve been surprised by all the things I’ve been recalling, which, but for the love of my Heavenly Father and Savior, would be unbearably painful.

I can hardly believe what is popping up for me.

Without trying, I’ve been recalling, in excruciating detail, all—and I mean all—of the sad, idiotic, and sinful things I’ve done since childhood. The people I’ve hurt. Bitter words tarnished by resentment. The pets I’ve neglected. My financial mistakes. My wilful teenage sins. My weaknesses, neglect, and foibles as a parent. It’s been a grand parade of folly.

I comfort myself with this: maybe it’s a preview of the life review I’ll experience on the other side of the veil. Maybe I’ll be able to say, “We’ve been over this. Next slide, please.”

I think this has been an unexpected answer to prayer. While I’ve been ill, I’ve thought a lot about the fragility of life and how surprising and swift an end can come. Accordingly I’ve prayed for the Lord to show me what I need to repent of. He has graciously obliged.

Through all this, I feel His perfect love and see His smile. I know I have and will receive more mercy than I think I deserve. I’ve learned to be less hard on myself because I know how kind God is.

I’ve heard of people who are nearing death say, “No regrets.” No regrets? Are you kidding me? You have no regrets about your life? I honestly don’t understand that. But if people can hold themselves up like that, well, more power to them. I can’t.

Nevertheless.

I am grateful for this glacial life review oozing across my mind. It has opened my eyes, softened my heart, made me more conscious and accountable for all the stupid, embarrassing things I’ve done in life. They are no longer buried. I am forgiven and I forgive myself, but some pain remains. I’m not wallowing in the past but I am experiencing it as if it were present. Sometimes it feels like I’m wearing a barbed wire shirt, but I’m getting through it. My appreciation for the Atonement has grown to reach heaven. I hope I someday I can reach heaven too.

Your Inevictable Dream

Rainbow over a rocky mountaintop. Dark clouds, blue sky. Canva.com

You’re climbing up a mountain,
looking high and low,
driving down the highway,
learning as you go.

Looking for rainbows,
wrestling self-esteem,
searching for your electric,
unquenchable dream.

That dream’s gonna take
all the love you can give
every day of your life
for as long as you live.

So keep climbing up your mountain,
dreaming as you go,
burning down your fears,
taking it nice and slow.

Climb up your rainbow,
ford that wide stream,
keep searching til you find
your beautiful, inevictable dream.

Michael James Fitzgerald

(with a lot of help from Rogers and Hammerstein)

“Have I Then a Mother in Heaven?”

Zina D. Huntington was bereft when her mother Zina Baker Huntington died of cholera in 1839:

For a time, [she] was inconsolable at her mother’s death. Then [a] spiritual experience confirmed her faith. As she paced the floor, almost brokenhearted in her loneliness, she heard her mother’s voice: “Zina, any sailor can steer on a smooth sea, when rocks appear, sail around them.” Zina cried out: “O Father in heaven, help me to be a good sailor, that my heart shall not break on the rocks of grief.” A sweet peace came over Zina’s soul, and never again did she give way to such heart-rending grief.

—From “Mother,” The Young Woman’s Journal, Jan. 1911, 45, as quoted in “Zina D Huntington Young: A Testimony in the Heart of a Girl.”)

Is there any more startling doctrine from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven? Susa Young Gates records this vignette from Zina’s life:

Father [William] Huntington lost his wife [Zina Baker Huntington] under the most trying circumstances. Her children were left desolate. One day, when her daughter Zina was speaking with the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the loss of her mother and her intense grief, she asked the question:

“Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over on the Other Side?”

“Certainly you will,” was the instant reply of the Prophet. “More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.”

“And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” exclaimed the astonished girl.

“You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?”

Susa Young Gates, “History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from November 1869 to June 1910″ (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Y.L.M.I.A., 1911), 16, footnote).

I was a little shocked to learn this as a teenager, with all it implied. But after pondering it for a few decades, though my understanding is incomplete, this doctrine has settled in my soul.

We know almost nothing about a Mother in Heaven. Isn’t this where we get in trouble with our doctrine and faith, when we use our logic, reason, and a very limited knowledge to fill in gaps? Patience, not presumption, is helpful if not essential. I’ve learned to let God fill in these gaps, not me or other wayfarers.

True is reason; truth eternal
tells me I’ve a Mother there.

Eliza R. Snow, “Oh My Father,” Hymns no. 292

I hold many things in my heart that I don’t fully understand and am not yet ready to accept, but I choose not to reject things outright. I’m not a skeptic. I don’t find it troubling to hold unanswered questions. I don’t mind waiting in faith. The more time I have to process new ideas, the better I understand them and the more peace I come to feel about them.

(I try to reject things that lead to sin. I mean, haven’t I committed enough sins already? Do I need to pile on? I’m a sinner—a repentant one—who has had too many knife fights with the devil. I’m tired.)

I believe I have a Mother in Heaven. Though I don’t fully understand Her relationship with our Father in Heaven, it must be the most wonderful relationship imaginable. I don’t need all the answers right now—and I am wary of anyone who rushes in and thinks they have them all.

I am grateful for the opportunity to patiently believe and the privilege to know what little I do (it’s probably for my own good). Even if I can’t grasp a concept fully, whatever the truth is, I want to learn it, no matter how long it takes, no matter how popular or unpopular it may be.

The truth is the the truth. They only thing we can change is our relationship to it.