Death and Doctrine

July 29, 2008 | 39 comments
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I have an uneasy relationship with death.

I live across the street from the cemetery, so death stares at me as soon as I open my blinds each morning. And, of course, some people have up and died on me–mostly older people, which I found difficult but acceptable; four people my own age, which I found quite upsetting, no doubt because of some harmful over-identification; and a small handful of children or babies, which I found utterly tragic and almost intolerable. It was probably the last set that sparked my interest in nineteenth-century LDS women’s death poetry.

I don’t know what I expected to find in Exponent poetry, but whatever I expected to find wasn’t what I did. Scholars have typically argued that LDS theology and the LDS community were quite reconciled to death from Joseph Smith’s time onward. With our all-encompassing belief in eternal life, eternal families and the continuation of relationships, there seems to be little room for mourning and grief. Desperation equates with lack of faith.

One nineteenth-century anonymous poet mirrors such sentiments in tactless but straightforward terms. To those who have “Loved and Loss,” the author says:
“And this we call a loss! O selfish sorrow
Of selfish hearts! O we of little faith.”

That sounds harsh to me. It goes right along with Margaret A. White’s address to Isabel Hamilton (and yes, the author names her friend explicitly): “Sister give thy baby up,” because, after all, there is no need to “mourn to lay him down/When he his work hath done.”

Such poems match—in more insensitive words than I ever hope to use—the doctrine I know and love. Death is a mere stepping stone to another life, where (if I and they are worthy) I will continue all my relationships, where I will be myself but better, and where sorrow and hardship and the stupid things of life will be left behind. What is to mourn in that?

Ah, but then there is reality. I have watched people crumple to the ground and sob by a fresh grave for hours on end. I have seen those who have no more tears simply kneel and stare, and then come back day after day to do the same. Since I live in Provo, I can assume with over 90% accuracy that I am watching a weeping member of my own religion.

I was surprised to find such grief expressed openly by 1870s LDS women in published poetry. One author found comfort in the “House of the Lord,” but only after confessing:
“I felt the grave was a haven
A refuge from grief and despair . . .
O how I wished I was there.”

Others expressed suicidal devastation in more veiled terms and still others simply lived on in an agonized present:
“The years go by, the years go by,
I see them pass without a sigh. . . .
What now is all this world to me
But tasteless, dull monotony?”

I find myself both caught and comforted by LDS doctrine. We are hopefully more sensitized to feelings than those of an earlier era, but the doctrine is the same. Is there room in LDS doctrine for mourning? Devastation? Even desperation? We are obviously supposed to have charity for others, “to mourn with those that mourn.” How is that reconciled with faith and testimony?

When a friend’s baby died a few weeks before his due date, I did find hope in believing he was alive somewhere, waiting to be Matt and Joy’s baby in the millennium. But I also found great comfort in knowing that even Eliza R. Snow, that paragon of strength, recognized the almost unendurable pain caused by death:
“I’ve had a taste of mortal suffering:
I’ve seen my fellows drink its cup fill’d to
The brim and running o’er, until the pulse
Of life was clogg’d in every wheel—until
Nature’s deep agonies, outweigh’d the love
Of Life, and yet the throbbing pulse beat on.”

Jesus wept when Lazarus died. I guess my question is why. Was he mourning with those who mourned? Weeping for Mary and Martha and those left behind? Could he have been weeping for himself? Even if He knew perfectly that He would raise Lazarus from the dead in a mere moment? Can those with faith mourn?

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39 Responses to Death and Doctrine

  1. Steve Evans on July 29, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Wow, great stuff.

  2. Margaret Young on July 29, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Beautifully done, Kylie!
    I just got an e-mail from my husband (in England at a C.S. Lewis conference). I have been grateful that he already had this time away scheduled, because I wanted him far from the busy-ness of our life in Provo. As many know, Bruce lost his baby sister and his mother within the past three months. I felt very strongly that he needed time to ponder and let the grief settle. I hope he’ll forgive me for pasting his words here. They’re lovely, and it’s very late in England, so I can’t ask his permission.

    From Bruce Young to his wife: “I have not done lots of thinking about my mom or Lynda. But in high
    priests today the subject came up of whether it was selfish to grieve and I
    said, I think it’s natural, and though it can conceivably be excessive or
    too negative, in general the Lord seems to approve. I quoted the Doctrine
    and Covenants: “Thou shalt live together in love insomuch that thou shalt
    weep for the loss of those who die”–something like that. Also, I was
    reading in _Dreams from My Father_ the other day (I brought it with me), and I
    reread the new preface, where Obama talks about his mother’s death, and it
    hit me MUCH more strongly than it had the first time I read it. And then
    that night (this was in Stratford), I saw Hamlet, and was again hit in an
    unusual way by the scene where Ophelia is buried. Laertes’s reaction, his
    jumping into the grave and taking her into his arms, struck a chord. I’ve
    had a similar loss.”

  3. Ray on July 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Great post.

    “Can those with faith mourn?”

    “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

    Perhaps we should ask if we can be blessed if we do not mourn to some degree – if death does not wound our hearts at least a little. I don’t know, since I’ve never thought about it in that way previously. Thanks for the opportunity to consider something new.

  4. J. Stapley on July 29, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Where is Sam when we need him?

    Much has been made over the conquest of death in Mormonsim. Kris and I argue that this battle over mortality wasn’t simply a function of familial salvation, but also liturgically faught to prevent death. Still, even Joseph Smith, when faced with the chilling reality of infant mortality ceded to a grand Providence, a Mormon version of that great force which is described in nineteenth century non-Mormon theodicean poetry not too dissimilar to what you have shared.

  5. Ardis Parshall on July 29, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Kylie, what’s your sense of how much of this poetry was a unique, personal, creative cry from the heart, and how much was the conventional, stylized ritual of 19th century death?

    I’ve been around death quite a bit and was blessed from the first with an awareness of the next world and the reality of life beyond death, so I’ve been spared that devastation after loss that causes someone to return to the grave and wail day after day. That doesn’t mean it’s easy — I usually put it that I have no fears for the next 40 million years, but I wonder how I’ll get through the next 40. In that way Mormonism has reconciled me to death, while still leaving me to mourn.

  6. Keith on July 29, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die . . . ” (D&C 42:45). This passage seems to acknowledge (if not command) that those who love will mourn the loss of departed loved ones. The knowledge of the resurrection will help give comfort, but it’s the missing that brings sorrow and mourning.

  7. The Right Trousers on July 29, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    In my just-formed-and-therefore-probably-wrong opinion, to not mourn a loved one’s death at all you’d have to meet at least two criteria:

    1) Absolute 100% certainty of a universal resurrection.

    2) No problem whatsoever with losing years of togetherness.

    I’m sure that few meet #1, and almost nobody meets #2 (and when they do we call them monstrous). When years of expected joy are torn away from you and a big hollow nothing is left to take its place, how else could you feel but devastated? There’s also plenty of room for empathetic sorrow over pain and loss of opportunity.

    FWIW, every LDS funeral I’ve been to has, in tone, been nearly… happy? I’m trying to find a word, here. Maybe it’s “hopeful”. Mind, I’ve never attended a funeral for a child.

  8. Gilgamesh on July 29, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    I get highly irritated in priesthood when we would talk about the next life and a good intentioned brother would note that we, as Latter-day Saints, had no fear of dying. In fact we were joyous, unlike those of other faiths where death meant the end. I have never been joyous at death. I love Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “I wage not any feud with Death.” To me it explains precisely why we should sorrow at death. Not because death is a bad thing, but because of the seperation (although temporary in our theology) it produces.

    I wage not any feud with Death
    For changes wrought on form and face;
    No lower life that earth’s embrace
    May breed with him, can fright my faith.

    Eternal process moving on,
    From state to state the spirit walks;
    And these are but the shatter’d stalks,
    Or ruin’d chrysalis of one.

    Nor blame I Death, because he bare
    The use of virtue out of earth:
    I know transplanted human worth
    Will bloom to profit, otherwhere.

    For this alone on Death I wreak
    The wrath that garners in my heart;
    He put our lives so far apart
    We cannot hear each other speak.

  9. Adam Greenwood on July 29, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Believing that good, even great good, can come from evil, does not require us to accept the evil as good.

  10. Margaret Young on July 29, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I have no fear of death–if it’s my own death and it’s relatively painless. I have tremendous fear of loss, however.

    The Right Trousers–I love the line “losing years of togetherness.” When my sister-in-law understood that she was going to die very soon, she grieved that she wouldn’t see her children go to school dances or get married.
    I don’t think it’s much consolation to imagine that we will be able to see things from the other side. It’s one thing to watch from a loving distance; it’s another thing entirely to make a prom dress, or to smell the flowers of a corsage; to TALK to your daughter about the temple or about sex or about something as trivial as the wedding cake; to be the first to embrace your son after he and his bride have kissed as husband and wife.

  11. Adam Greenwood on July 29, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Margaret Young is on to something. One of our revealed truths is that embodiment offers unique possibilities and that disembodiment stinks. That suggests that at least in the short run, death really does deprive us. ‘Going to a better place’ is only partly true. In some senses its a worse place.

  12. Adam Greenwood on July 29, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Great post topic, by the way.

  13. The Right Trousers on July 29, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    That’s a spanking good point, Adam.

  14. Nathan Bunker on July 30, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Well, we’re human, so death sucks. But we have some comfort in that we know this is not the end. The sorrow of the world is despair because they only know this world. We can see and receive comfort that is greater than us, and this can bear us up. But we still can not escape the sorrow of this world.

  15. quin on July 30, 2008 at 12:36 am

    Something Adam said…made me wonder.

    Do you suppose that in our pre-mortal world the separation works the same way death works here? In other words-do you suppose that some spirits are just suddenly “taken” away to mortality, while others sense their time is coming (or know it is…in the same way terminal illness affects us)??? Were we excited for our friends and family members when they stepped through the veil or did we weep and mourn because they would be gone from us?

    Either way, I think genuine Christlike love requires us to mourn when those we love mourn, just as we rejoice when they are happy. We “become one” with each other and with Christ and it only intensifies our deepest and most sincere emotions. Just like our physical body suffers when a toe or hand is injured, so does the body of Saints suffer when individuals are hurt or suffering.

    That all probably sounds all over the place, but this thread was deeply touching and thought provoking. Thanks Kylie.

  16. Jonovitch on July 30, 2008 at 12:41 am

    I got choked up when I drove away from my parents’ house last month (we now live 1,300 miles apart). I’m probably going to be a wreck when one or both of them actually dies. Hopefully I still have a good 20 years or so before that happens, but I’m not so sure that I do. Separation anxiety isn’t something only experienced by babies and toddlers.

    Jon

  17. Lupita on July 30, 2008 at 12:55 am

    “One of our revealed truths is that embodiment offers unique possibilities and that disembodiment stinks.” Not that Thornton Wilder is scripture but…I think Emily’s experience on the other side always kind of influenced my thoughts on the afterlife. I wonder if there is longing for relationships abruptly ended by death. I don’t know that there isn’t mourning on both sides, although mourning may not be the proper term. Like Margaret, I do fear loss, the missing out part. I mourn for our friend who will miss participating in the lives of his children as I mourn for her having to do it alone. I don’t think mourning suggests lack of faith as much as an acknowledgement that there is an actual void left by a loved one’s absence.

  18. Drex Davis on July 30, 2008 at 2:35 am

    At funerals for children it has always bothered me when people have used this quote from Joseph Smith:

    “The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again.”

    I have always had a hard time with the notion that we should rejoice at the passing of a child. I can understand rejoicing in the notion that “we shall soon have them again.” But if it takes infant death to deliver us from evil (or to escape the “envy of man”), why not just kill us all when out of the womb and spare us all the “sorrows and evils” of this present world . . . what’s the point of all the rest of it?

    The rub is that there’s a flip side. There are also “joys and goods of the present world.” In part, we mourn that the child has also been “spared” the joys and goods of the present world, and our opportunity to share those joys and goods with them.

    I’m a big believer in long, deep, and till-resurrection-come mourning. Not the mourning of hopelessness, but the recognition that what has been lost is something of inestimable and irreplaceable value.

    Isn’t the depth of mourning a reflection of the depth of love one has had for the departed?

    It seems to me that we as Saints are often “not OK with people who are not OK” and we *need* them to “get over it” for some reason. So long as we equate mourning with hopelessness we will see mourning as weakness. Real mourning, in my opinion, has little to do with hope. It is a matter of love, not of hope.

    We miss them. We *should* miss them, because we love them.

  19. Dennis on July 30, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Nice post and discussion.

    I was just going to note how President Hinckley’s repeated talk about how difficult life was after his wife’s passing might curb certain LDS views that we should bear others’ death with a grin on our face.

  20. Velska on July 30, 2008 at 6:39 am

    I miss my sister. I miss my dad. I even miss my mother, although we didn’t get along so great. I mourned at their graves, missing the good memories, grieving for lost opportunities. Time does its healing, but I can still feel that loss when I heard that my father’s heart had stopped beating all of a sudden. I don’t think about it that often, but this discussion has brought the feelings back & I’m wiping my tears here.

    I have almost 100% faith in universal resurrection (who has a *full* 100?). But I have a big problem with losing years of togetherness! I’m human after all!

  21. CatherineWO on July 30, 2008 at 7:46 am

    I was just having a discussion similar to this with one of my daughters. Her husband expressed the oft noted sentiment that in the early days of the Church people didn’t mourn the loss of children the way we do now because the infant mortality rate was so high that they expected to lose some of their children to death. The recent family research I have been doing does not support this claim. On the contrary, personal diaries and family stories tell of excrutiating pain at the loss of children and spouses. Deep depression was not uncommon either. In some case, the common occurance of death only made it harder for the families to bear the subsiquent losses.
    When her three-year-old daughter died of scurvy between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, Jane Richards (wife of Franklin Richards) wrote in her diary, “I only lived because I could not die.” I think that is a sentiment many of us have felt at the death of someone very close to us. For the rest of that trek, Jane was assigned a special escort to watch over her (her husband was on a mission in England), essentially a suicide watch. Yet she recovered to go on to Utah, raise a family and become a leader in the R.S. organization.
    I believe that mourning is absolutely essential to our mental and spiritual health. We have to go to the depths of our emotions before we can pull ourselves up again (or be pulled up with the help of others). From my own experience I have found that mourning has helped me purge much of the pain of loss and remember the joy of our time together more fully. As Mormons, we talk much of “feelings.” Yet we don’t always allow ourselves to feel all the emotions that come with mourning, preferring to take the stoic stance.

  22. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Note that I’m not criticizing people who are stoic or who manage to rejoice that their loved one has moved on to Jesus. There are sound gospel and persons reasons for these and it can be appropriate or even noble. I am only arguing that there are also sound gospel and personal reasons for mourning and mourning with those who mourn.

    Some Mormons do half demand stoicism or even rejoicing in others and in this they go too far. The solution, however, is not to raise a contending counter-party that half demands that others weep and make a show.

  23. M on July 30, 2008 at 9:53 am

    I believe God mourns and weeps, feels joy and pain, and rejoices. I believe we are to become like Him. We too can experience emotion.

  24. CS Eric on July 30, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I was struck at The Right Trousers’ comment about losing the years of togetherness. My mom had an illness that usually has a life expectancy of 20 years after diagnosis, but she outlived that by another 20 years. How? I am convinced that she willed herself to live to see one more milestone in her family’s life. First to see me, her oldest, get baptised, then to see my brother do the same. Milestone after milestone, through seeing both of her sons married, and then to see the last of her grandchildren born. Shortly after that, her body just gave out. She’d lived to see events she never dreamed she’d see when she was diagnosed over 40 years earlier. When she finally passed, we all felt both sorrow and relief. Sorrow at her finally passing, and relief at her finally passing. I’m not sure I was really as sad as I was supposed to be, because I had been expecting her to die for most of my life.

    My father, who was her caretaker for all those years, hung on for another 7 or 8 years. He died the week after his two oldest grandsons (my brother’s boys) both received their Eagle Scout award at the same Court of Honor. He didn’t manage to see any of them go on missions, but he’d seen a milestone and it was time for him to go back to his sweetheart. That was nearly five years ago, and I still miss him.

  25. Margaret Young on July 30, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Catherine (#21): I think we’ve all heard that in cultures or times when infant mortality is high, “they” didn’t mourn the loss of children nearly as deeply as “we” do in our place and time. I believe that’s completely false. My husband’s research on Renaissance family life has led him to many journal entries/letters grieving the paralyzing loss of a child. I have seen grief in countries where infant mortality was high. Though there may be different ways of expressing grief, grieving is HUMAN.

  26. Susan M on July 30, 2008 at 11:25 am

    I lost both a brother and a sister when I was 20 years old. My brother died of cancer, my sister just died one night, natural but unknown causes, seven months after my brother.

    I tend to have delayed emotional reactions to things and it didn’t really hit me until a year or so later. Until then I’d mostly thought about it from their point of view—at least my brother wasn’t suffering from cancer anymore. My sister was a paranoid schizophrenic, so at least she wasn’t having to deal with that anymore. It took me awhile to recognize what it meant for me.

    What hit me the hardest was realizing that my own kids, who were babies at the time, would never know them. My kids are teenagers now and all they know about them is what I can tell them, and that just isn’t enough.

    It was also hard when I became older than they were when they died. They were about 13/14 years older than me. You’d think 13 years later it wouldn’t have been a big deal but it was hard. It’s still hard.

  27. TAG on July 30, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Susan M – The link to your blog doesn’t work, but I just wanted to say it was so odd to read your story because my paranoid schizophrenic brother died and thirteen months later my sister died of cancer. So sort of the same. That was last year, when my sister died. My brother’s death was a lot “easier” because he’d been out of my life for a long time, but there was a lot of guilt with that, too. I don’t like to hear in 13 years it will still be hard, but I guess it shouldn’t ever get easy, huh? I was mad at myself when it no longer consumed my every thought. God forbid the day I don’t think about my brother or my sister once during the day.

  28. Kylie on July 30, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for so many comments. Ardis, my feeling is that the poetry goes back and forth between stylized writing of the time (plus a heavy dose of didacticism) and outbreaks of emotion. These women had a style and form that they were “supposed” to use, and they did–but you can’t help but ask the question of why they continually chose death for the subject matter. And then, as I said, there are the “outbreaks” of feelings that simply can’t be repressed. I actually have another post about this death poetry because I find the particulars of it to be so interesting.

    Margaret, I appreciate your insight into fear. I wonder how much fear is at the heart of it, and, as you mentioned, it is not so much fear of death per se but fear of loss and pain. Those questions about fear are what brought me around to my original question in the first place. Is mourning just a lack of faith, a “fear” of the unknown? I don’t think so because, as you suggested, I don’t have much fear for my own death, thanks to doctrine and to chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Since my rheumatoid arthritis flared up, I have actually started looking forward to a release from pain, however morbid that sounds. But the idea of my kids dying or my husband dying–those things really get to me. And my cousin’s death last month has rocked our entire extended family, since it seems she committed suicide, though the autopsy was inconclusive. The doctrine of suicide has mellowed some in the last decade or so, but it was extremely harsh and unforgiving in the past.

  29. fifthgen on July 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    When my father died, many members of the Church made well-intentioned expressions along the lines of, “Aren’t we all so grateful to have a testimony of the gospel so that this is not so painful, etc.” I remember thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But this still sucks.” It was like an appreciation of modern medicine was supposed to make my broken arm hurt less. It doesn’t. In the big scheme, you are certainly glad the hospital is there, but your arm still really hurts. It is the years of separation and loss that causes the pain and now, a decade later, I still miss my dad and think of him all the time. My children never knew my father, and that is a loss I often feel. My children, of course, don’t feel the loss of a grandfather they never knew, which itself is a kind of loss.

    PS: I really love the Tennyson poem (#8).

  30. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) on July 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Death is not a good thing, even when it is preferable to unbearable suffering. Resurrection is the good thing:

    2 Nephi 9:10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.

    Doctrine & Covenants 138:50 For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.

  31. Margaret Young on July 30, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    C.S. Eric–I am just a bit troubled by your statement that your mother outlived her expected lifespan because of sheer will. The problem is the onus it puts on anyone with a terminal illness. Since Darius Gray, my dearest friend after my husband, has a terminal illness and should have died long ago, I can understand the force of will. (I am often astounded, and sometimes a bit upset, by what he continues to do given the state of his health.) And I consider it miraculous that my sister-in-law lived to see her son return from his mission. That was a good eighteen months after the expected time of her death. But what if someone feels betrayed by the dying person if they don’t “will” themselves more time? I don’t doubt that will has a good part in survival, but I want to put a much larger dose of grace into the mix. I am more comfortable with “God gave us more time than we had anticipated” than “she willed herself to live.”

    After my mother-in-law’s death, Bruce and I talked about _Shadowlands_. Jack’s response to Joy’s death was this:
    - God knows, but does God care? -
    We see so little here. We’re not the creator.
    We’re the creatures, aren’t we?
    We’re the rats in the cosmic laboratory.
    I’ve no doubt the experiment is for our own good, but…
    it still makes God the vivisectionist, doesn’t it?
    It won’t do. It’s this bloody awful mess, and that’s all there is to it.

    It’s all in _A Grief Observed_. The trials of faith come to even the most faithful, and nothing pierces us quite so much as death.

  32. CS Eric on July 30, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Margaret,

    I can see how you got the impression that I believe my mother lived so long on sheer will alone. While that was a large part, genetics also played a large part. Both her parents and her grandparents all lived well into their 80s at least. The point I wanted to make is that when she decided it was okay for her to die, she didn’t last very much longer.

    As you point out, just as you see with Darius that people can either refuse to die when the medical world tells them to, they can give up as soon as they hear the bad news. My wife’s grandmother died two days after being diagnosed with breast cancer; she was otherwise fit and healthy up until the day she got the news. I believe that part of it was that she had been a widow for quite a while, and it was almost like the news of the cancer was permission to join her husband, whom she sorely missed.

    What about people who don’t “will” themselves to live any longer? I don’t want to make it sound like I’m blaming anyone for dying quickly. Sometimes death or disease is more than sheer will can overcome. Death happens, and sometimes it happens outside the control of any of us. Take my father. I mentioned he died shortly after seeing his two oldest grandsons get their Eagle Scout. He also died a week before a birthday party he’d been planning for himself for weeks. Exactly a week before he died, he told me on the phone that his health was improving enough that he’d be able to travel to visit me and my family in a month or two. My wife’s father died a week and a half before she was going to go visit him. Were their deaths due to a lack of willpower? I very much doubt it.

    I am even more struck by this topic as this morning two people from an organiztaion I work closely with brought over sympathy cards for the loss of my uncle a couple of weeks ago. It took so long, they said, because they wanted to get everyone in the office to sign it. I am more overwhelmed by this unexpected thoughtfulness than I imagined I could be. You are right, nothing pierces us quite so much as death, but few things comfort us like the unexpected hands to help us through.

  33. John Mansfield on July 30, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I vaguely recall a short story that starts with a man who is terminally ill. He doesn’t feel all that bad about his fate, but he has to manage a pretense of regret or it will seem to his wife that he is willingly abandoning her.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    At 58, my wife and I have lived long enough to bury two infant daughters, an infant grandson, a niece at age 2, a nephew at age 16, her younger sister at 27, her brother, my brother’s wife, her mother at age 56 (before most of our kids were born), her father about 10 years ago, her aunt, and of course all of our grandparents. When we go to the cemeteries on Memorial Day, she jokes that more of her family are dead than are alive. These losses still affect us whenever we visit the graves or see a photo or tell a story about the one who is gone, especially for the young lives lost and not lived.

    I frankly think that anyone who walks up to you when you are mourning the recent death of a loved one and criticizes you for feeling sad, is a borderline sociopath. They are lacking in the most basic kind of human empathy.

    Such people are like Lucifer in their lack of compassion, and are the precise opposite of the Savior, who in my understanding (see Alma 7:11-13) performed in his Atonement the supreme act of infinite empathy and compassion, knowing, as only God can know, not only with his mind but also with his passionate, non-Nicene heart, the details of our lives and our feelings and our failings, taking on him our infirmities, so that he can succor us, comfort us.

    I think that part of our appreciation for the Atonement only comes when we feel empathy for the suffering Savior, which caused him to weep, not just from his eyes, but from every pore. We cannot comprehend the fullness of his love for us until we mourn over his suffering on our behalf. I think perhaps that the beatitude, that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted, had its great fulfillment when the resurrected Savior stood before the people and invited them to touch and see the evidence of his great suffering, while comprehending the glory of his resurrection. They mourned for the suffering Savior, while they rejoiced and were comforted by his living embrace. That is the experience we emulate every time we take the Sacrament.

    This is why the Creeds that assert God does not really feel emotion are an abomination to him. His compassion has been labeled a simulacrum by generations of theologians, who cast aside the pearl of great price that is the clear demonstration in the life of Christ that God does suffer, does love, and that he suffers precisely because he loves us.

    One of the most poetic passages in scripture is when Enoch witnesses God weeping and mourning for his children, fallen into wickedness and hate toward God and their brothers and sisters. It was their utter lack of empathy and love that forced him to end their mortal lives. And when God explains this, Enoch’s own heart stretches wide as eternity, as he feels an inkling of the empathy of the Savior, and he weeps too.

    In so many ways, Christ’s atonement was performed by him mourning with us and for us. We only can be exalted if we follow him, including following him into mourning with and for ourselves and our fellow saints. As we perfect and purify our love, our charity, the natural outcome will be that we will also perfect our mourning.

  35. BobW on July 30, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Raymond,

    Amen and peace. My sister, my brother, my father, soon my mother, my dearest wife and her father and mother.

    Memory erased, time forgot. That is indeed sorrow. I want to talk about the then’s and relive them with her and laugh.

    It was indeed as if someone ripped my heart in half and left a hole of no memory and silence.

    Graveyards are a cheat for all the life and memory buried there. How much we need them. How poor we are for the loss.

    Heaven means no more loss of love and memory. Why would we look forward to heaven else?

  36. sscenter on July 31, 2008 at 8:38 am

    My wife and I just lost an aunt last Wed. She was very young, only 57, and her death was a great shock. There had been no warning of illness. About a month ago she went to the doctor complaining of stomach pains, three weeks later she was gone.

    As my wife and I sat after her funeral we observed that this was the first person that either of us had lost that we were truly close to. We are both in our early thirties. We discussed that given the age of our parents, aunts and uncles and just the natural course of life, this would certainly be the beginning of many such losses that we would experience. The thought made us weep as we considered ourselves having to fill the void that each death would cause.

    There is no comfort in the gospel in terms of missing one you loved. There is no reconciliation for regret of opportunities missed. There is however, great comfort going forward. We sat with our children and explained to them where their great-aunt was and what she was doing and who she was doing it with. This was deeply comforting. It will not however fill the void come Thanksgiving that will emerge at her absence.

    I consider then for a moment the loss of my own wife, if that were to come. Even the thought brings me sorrow, most certainly amplified by our recent loss in our family. I understand better now why people say they want to go first. It is not to protect others from death it is to protect ourselves from loss.

  37. quin on July 31, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I had another thought while reading through these powerful posts…

    The Lord’s commandments often seem difficult, the things He requests of us. But they are all designed for one purpose-to re-unite us with Him and all of our loved ones eternally where no enemy like death can ever separate us again. If, mortal grief at the “temporary” separation of ourselves from our loved ones is so great and wrenching, we should deeply and thoroughly ponder what immortal grief at being separated from any, if not all, of the people we love for eternity would/will feel like.

    I think that suffering is a powerful teacher, and all who are touched by it learn more than they might want to at the time. One of the things death teaches us is that our days are numbered. We each only have so much time to do all we can to insure that our families are together forever. From the posts here, those who suggest we “get over” the loss of a mortal family member or loved one are understandably viewed as “calloused” and “lacking in basic human empathy and compassion”-yet aren’t we guilty of something similar (and of far longer and more painful consequence) when we are casual about our temple covenants, our genealogy, or sharing the gospel message with the world? Aren’t we in essence suggesting that God and others will eventually “get over” losing so many of the ones they love…forever?

    I guess my point is, as a Latter-day Saint, maybe I need to ask myself if the thought of losing mortal “years of togetherness” elicits a stronger emotional response than the thought of losing “eternities of togetherness” and come to terms with the fact that while I have no power to change one loss, I have a certain degree of responsibility over the other.

  38. Allie on August 1, 2008 at 11:14 am

    The title of an article at On Faith caught my eye the other day: \”Grief As Prayer.\” The contents of the article aren\’t directly relevant to your question, but the the title took me back to the days and weeks and months after my sister died, and to the very real experiences I had with God even as I was at my most raw.

    You asked about whether those who truly understand Mormon doctrine can mourn. In addition to the D&C 42 and Matthew 5 references already pointed out, I would also say that a true understanding of the plan of salvation should actually validate the pain and grief we feel in this life. If we believe that we came to this earth in part to experience pain, \”that we may know the good from the evil,\” then grief is actually an important aspect of what we are meant to experience here. Satan\’s plan was for us to avoid pain; God\’s plan allowed for it. And I believe God\’s plan allowed for it not just as an unintended consequence or collateral damage, but as an integral part of expanding our souls and becoming more godlike. As quin said (#36), suffering is a powerful teacher.

    Your question, I think, also relates directly to the Atonement. Saying that we shouldn\’t or don\’t experience pain or grief because of our great faith is essentially saying we don\’t need Christ because of our great faith. Only when we acknowledge great pain, whether because of our actions or the effects of a telestial world on us, do we turn to him for healing. To deny the pain is to deny the need for grace, for Christ. And an intellectual exercise in thinking through the doctrines of the Atonement and eternal life and how they should (and do) comfort us and heal our pain doesn\’t count here. It\’s experiential — we have to experience and feel the deep pain and actually turn to God for the healing — there is no escaping the process by simply believing in our minds or even our hearts that the doctrines are true. You said that \”Desperation equates with lack of faith.\” I disagree. I believe that not turning to Christ in times of desperation equates with lack of faith. Every honest human being experiences times of desperation. Our faith is to be centered in Christ to heal and save us as individuals; it is not to be centered in a system of beliefs to spare us the pain of mortality.

    Which bring me back to \”Grief as Prayer.\” Just as the song of the righteous is a prayer, I believe certain emotions, including grief, that emanate from the core of our being are so real as to constitute an unspoken prayer in and of themselves. I think grief is a sacred emotion, and that mourning is an essential part of our accepting Christ and worshiping God.

  39. Kylie on August 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I agree with quin #36: these are powerful posts. I thank you all for your insight and compassion. Perhaps it is true that some things can only be learned by experience. I think of the scriptures in Alma 7–so many people quote verse 11, but I also love verse 12: “And he will take upon death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” The repetition of “according to the flesh” is always moving to me. I can picture myself in a pre-mortal life agreeing to the trials and pains I would suffer in this life, openly taking on my life in all its ups and downs. But then, being here, actually feeling the feelings–well, there is just something different about that. Knowing that the death of a loved one will be difficult is one thing. Knowing about death “according to the flesh” is quite another. Once again, I thank you all for your comments and compassion.