On the Death of Allison

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Not quite one week ago my sweet niece, age 11, was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly.

On my family blog I wrote the following:

“Yesterday as the lights were going out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights.

“Goodbye sweet Allison, your death has brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn your passing but your life brought love and joy to those around you. You came to earth for just a short while; not long enough for us who are left but long enough to fulfill our Father’s plan. We are brightened by our memories of your light and long for the day when we shall meet again, face to face and embrace in embrace in eternal realms. We are strengthened by our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ who gave His life that all would live again. Jesus “appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion, [and] give[s] unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). We are fortified by the knowledge and power of the sealing of families together forever through the power of the Holy Priesthood of God. We miss and love you Allison!”

Since then, all our – family and friends – feelings have been tender; our hearts are broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family are trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cry:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,
And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison will be forever part of her (and our) family should we remain faithful to God. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

President Joseph F. Smith, “at the death of his 19-year-old daughter Alice, his ‘Darling Alibo,’ on 29 April 1901, conveyed his faith in the Atonement in a letter to his son: ‘Our hearts are still bowed down in the earth where the remains of our Sweet girl and those of her little Brothers and Sisters repose in dust. … But we will do the best we can, by the help of the Lord, and from our hearts we feel that our Sleeping treasures are all in His holy keeping and will soon awake from the dust to immortality and eternal life. But for the precious assurance and glorious hope in the Gospel of Christ, life would not only not be worth the living, but it would be an infamous and damning farce! But, ‘O, what joy this sentence gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!’ Thank God.'” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Jesus Christ Redeems All Mankind from Temporal Death).

Those are strong words from someone in the acute phase of separation. The joy that comes from the knowledge of what happens after death is immensely comforting. Even though we feel painfully separated, those who depart do not travel far. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “‘Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 18; or Ensign, June 1971, 33). President Brigham Young taught that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, around us (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 279).” (Source). Even though we cannot see our departed loved ones, they are close by us in a world of spirits.

In the spirit world, those like Allison are in a place of peace and rest: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40:12). Allison is free from all troubles, care, and sorrow. That does not mean that she has no cares for us, she just has no burdensome cares; things that so many of us are plagued with in our lives. She is surrounded by her family who have gone on before. They are with her until her parents and the rest of her family join her in that radiant world.

We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).

There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.

We shall see Allison, one of our missing joys, again. Through the sealing power of the Priesthood families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with Allison and our Father in Heaven.

You can read her obituary here.

For those wishing to honor Allison Bowers, her family has suggested that in memoriam donations can be made to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program of Latter-day Saint Charities or to the school library at Hale Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Allison loved both children and reading, and either program would be a fitting memorial. The family sincerely thanks you for your love and support during this difficult time.

To donate to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, follow the instructions under In Memoriam giving at the LDS Charities website or go directly to give.lds.org/neo-natal.

To donate books for the school library at Hale Elementary School you can bring in a new book to the library and specify that it is in memory of Allison, or you can send a check that will be used to buy books for the school library. Checks should be made out to Hale Elementary School, contain the name “Allison Bowers” in the memo line, and can be brought to the school’s main office or mailed to Hale Elementary School at 1425 North 23rd Street, Mesa, AZ 85213. The books donated or bought will be marked that they are in memoriam of Allison Bowers.

Here is a brief video about death from Mormon Messages. In it, Pres. Monson expresses his testimony of the Plan of Salvation and of life after death.

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas – Part 2

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Jesus accomplished all this to bring the possibility of eternal life to humankind. He did this because He loves us. By this love and His power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and to each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C; 64:7). [As an aside, I think that were Joseph not a prophet {and not honest} he would not have included this statement. After all, who likes to tell the world that they sinned?].

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C; 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not me that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins. It also does not mean that we do not seek retribution – legally or one-on-one – but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

I’m going to quote at length from a talk Pres. James E. Faust gave in the April 2007 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This talk was one of his most moving and powerful talks. It was the last conference talk he gave.

“My dear brothers and sisters and friends, I come before you humbly and prayerfully. I wish to speak on the healing power of forgiveness.

“In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.

“A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. Last October he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.

“This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, ‘We will forgive you.’1 Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.

“One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, ‘We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.’2 It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.’3

“The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public:

“’To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:

“‘Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

“‘Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.’4

“How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.

“Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.

“Forgiveness is not always instantaneous as it was with the Amish. When innocent children have been molested or killed, most of us do not think first about forgiveness. Our natural response is anger. We may even feel justified in wanting to ‘get even’ with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family.

“Dr. Sidney Simon, a recognized authority on values realization, has provided an excellent definition of forgiveness as it applies to human relationships:

“‘Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.’5

“Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. We
can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness.

“Some hold grudges for a lifetime, unaware that courageously forgiving those who have wronged us is wholesome and therapeutic.

“Forgiveness comes more readily when, like the Amish, we have faith in God and trust in His word. Such faith ‘enables people to withstand the worst of humanity. It also enables people to look beyond themselves. More importantly, it enables them to forgive.’6

This is a powerful example of people living the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ. They were able to forgive the man who caused such great pain and tragedy. How many of us would feel those feelings of forgiveness in a similar circumstance? What if it were your little girl who had been shot and killed? Would you forgive? As the father of two beautiful girls, who are bright lights and joys in my life, I do not know how I would react. I’d like to believe I would be forgiving – I know I would but it might take a while; maybe not though. I hope I’m never in a similar circumstance.

The Hand of the Lord

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Ten years ago I was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the town of Sultan, a small settlement off Highway 2 up in the lovely Cascades of Washington. Our area covered a number of small towns along the highway. The ward in which we served was small – we met in a local middle school for the first four months I served in that area. For the first experience we were still meeting in the middle school, for the second, we had just moved into our new church building.

The two experiences I will share are similar in that I was preparing talks for church for both of them and had a similar experience in my preparation of both. Here is the – mostly unedited – first experience.

“Since today was a 5th Sunday we got to speak in church. I had my talk done by last night but this morning I woke up and started looking over my talk and I started rewriting it. I kept the basics [of the talk] but wrote it over, really basing it on the Plan of Salvation. This morning gave [a man] a blessing with the help of [a brother in the ward]…. I gave my talk and it went well and I left plenty of time for my companion. He did well. People commented on how much they felt the spirit during Sacrament Meeting. I really felt it strongly. We filled in…teaching…the 7 and 8 year-olds [in Primary]. After church we saw all the women crying and then [a sister] told us that [a brother in the ward] had just died. He had a heart attack, called 911 and within 45 minutes was gone…. It is really interesting that I spoke on the Plan of Salvation. This day has been both a spiritual high and a sad day.”

What I did not write at the time is what happened during my talk in Sacrament Meeting. Because we met in the cafeteria of a middle school, Sacrament Meeting was usually noisy due to the acoustic properties of the room. However, when I started to give my talk and throughout my talk, the room went completely silent. It was the strangest experience. I believe that the spirit was there in strength because of what the Lord had inspired me to speak on. That was one time in my life I knew I was speaking directly for the Lord. My talk had been about talents but then changed to talents as found in the Plan of Salvation. I talked about the pre-earth life, earth life, and life after death. I firmly believe that the Lord inspired my words to help prepare the ward members for the sudden death of the ward member who died at home during church (maybe even right around the time I gave my talk).

I was scheduled to give a talk in sacrament meeting the day Daylight Saving Time ended, which was on Sunday, October 31 that year. The Fall was cool, with gray skies more often than not and light, misty rains more often than not. Over the previous week I had tried to prepare a talk but had not had much success in my preparations. Now I’ll quote from my missionary journal (I’ll not make edits to my writing in order to keep the quote pure):

“I have learned many things today. I have really learned that the Lord does provide. I had to give a talk in Sacrment Meeting today and up to last night, nothing seemed right [i.e., which topic to write on]. I kept praying that I would know what to write. Last night it started coming to me and this morning I got to finish it. I even had an extra hour to write it because daylight-savings went off but I still got up at the normal time. I am really learning to trust in the Lord by really praying a lot. I find that out here I pray many times a day, even if it is a little plea or a prayer of gratitude in my heart.”

Through sincere prayer, we can know God’s will for us. As we pray and listen, we receive inspiration and revelation. Through us, the Lord can help others. We need to be willing and ready vessels of the Lord so that our lives do not hinder the work of the Lord. As we look for the Lord’s hand in our lives we will see it.

Truman Madsen Passes Away

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This morning Truman G. Madsen passed away at the age of 82 after a battle with bone cancer. He was one of my heroes. I love his lectures and his books. I was honored to have attended one of his lectures while I was at BYU a few years ago. He had a wonderful lecture style that showed his incredible depth and breadth of knowledge. I’ll miss his keen insights and his voice; there’s something comforting about his voice. I love all of his work, but one that has strengthened and touched me deeply is his biographical series about our modern-day prophets. It is available on CD and as a book. His works about Joseph Smith are wonderful as is his series of philosophical/gospel lectures called, Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights (the link goes to a site where you can purchase the audio lectures digitally {as MP3s}); I’ve listened to those lectures at least 20 times on cassette. If you haven’t read or listened to his works, I highly recommend them. I’ll copy en masse what LDS Living wrote about him. You can also read a short biography on his website.

Truman Madsen, well known LDS scholar and educator, died this morning after a long battle with cancer.

Madsen, a grandson of Heber J. Grant, was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City. He developed an interest in his Church heritage at a young age and would eventually become a recognized expert on Joseph Smith and one of the most popular lecturers among Church members on LDS topics.

After serving a mission in Canada and studying at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California, Madsen received his Master of art and PhD in history and philosophy of religion from Harvard University. Part of his legacy includes his work with leaders of other religions to better understand Mormonism.

A prolific author, Madsen has written numerous books, including Eternal Man and Christ and the Inner Life. He contributed to the five-volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of Mormonism and served as an editor for the project.

His most recent project took a similar vein his DVDs called On Sacred Ground, with this series devoted to walks in the Holy Land. The DVDs, called The Eternal Christ, include Madsen’s deep insights into and testimony of the Savior’s life. They are scheduled to be released this summer.

He served in the Church as a bishop, stake president, president of the New England Mission, and executive assistant of the Temple Square visitor’s center. Most recently, he served as the patriarch of the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. He also served previously as director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

“Truman Madsen mastered the weighty matters, the themes of eternity, in a far-reaching range of interests: philosophy, scriptures, Jerusalem, Joseph Smith, and temples,” said D. Kelly Ogden, a friend and former associate director of the Jerusalem Center. “He has left deep impressions in ‘lives without number,’ in a worldwide context—as a professor, guest lecturer, commentator and writer, as a stake president, a mission president, as director of BYU’s Jerusalem Center, and especially in his key roles as husband and father. The legacy of his brilliant mind and fervent spirit will live on for generations to come.”

Peter Johnson, who worked closely with Madsen on several projects, including On Sacred Ground and the upcoming The Eternal Christ, recalled Truman’s unique traits. “One of the things I will always remember is his humor and compassion. Everyone who knew him thought they were his best friend. And that tremendous love just reached out and touched any individual he had dealings with,” he said. “He was such Christ-like man.”

“Truman really is an amazing man,” he concluded. “He is one-of-a-kind a man of tremendous intellect combined with faith and testimony. I’m so thankful that I was privileged to spend the intimate creative time that I did with such a profound thinker and man of God.”

Madsen and his wife, Ann Nicholls Madsen, are the parents of four grown children.

Be of Good Cheer

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At the recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pres. Thomas S. Monson shared the follow story. I reprint it here in its entirety. As I listened to it again this week (I subscribe to the Conference podcast and listen to the conference talks as I travel to and from campus on the bus), I marveled at the suffering the woman endured. Yet she remained faithful. She suffered more than I ever will in my life (at least I certainly hope so, I would never wish this type and intensity of suffering on anyone). When you feel down or feel overwhelmed by trials, reading this story can help put suffering in perspective; at least it does for me.

“The setting for my final example of one who persevered and ultimately prevailed, despite overwhelmingly difficult circumstances, begins in East Prussia following World War II.

In about March 1946, less than a year after the end of the war, Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied by Frederick W. Babbel, was assigned a special postwar tour of Europe for the express purpose of meeting with the Saints, assessing their needs, and providing assistance to them. Elder Benson and Brother Babbel later recounted, from a testimony they heard, the experience of a Church member who found herself in an area no longer controlled by the government under which she had resided.

She and her husband had lived an idyllic life in East Prussia. Then had come the second great world war within their lifetimes. Her beloved young husband was killed during the final days of the frightful battles in their homeland, leaving her alone to care for their four children.

The occupying forces determined that the Germans in East Prussia must go to Western Germany to seek a new home. The woman was German, and so it was necessary for her to go. The journey was over a thousand miles (1,600 km), and she had no way to accomplish it but on foot. She was allowed to take only such bare necessities as she could load into her small wooden-wheeled wagon. Besides her children and these meager possessions, she took with her a strong faith in God and in the gospel as revealed to the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith.

She and the children began the journey in late summer. Having neither food nor money among her few possessions, she was forced to gather a daily subsistence from the fields and forests along the way. She was constantly faced with dangers from panic-stricken refugees and plundering troops.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Each day, she stumbled over the frozen ground, her smallest child—a baby—in her arms. Her three other children struggled along behind her, with the oldest—seven years old—pulling the tiny wooden wagon containing their belongings. Ragged and torn burlap was wrapped around their feet, providing the only protection for them, since their shoes had long since disintegrated. Their thin, tattered jackets covered their thin, tattered clothing, providing their only protection against the cold.

Soon the snows came, and the days and nights became a nightmare. In the evenings she and the children would try to find some kind of shelter—a barn or a shed—and would huddle together for warmth, with a few thin blankets from the wagon on top of them.

She constantly struggled to force from her mind overwhelming fears that they would perish before reaching their destination.

And then one morning the unthinkable happened. As she awakened, she felt a chill in her heart. The tiny form of her three-year-old daughter was cold and still, and she realized that death had claimed the child. Though overwhelmed with grief, she knew that she must take the other children and travel on. First, however, she used the only implement she had—a tablespoon—to dig a grave in the frozen ground for her tiny, precious child.

Death, however, was to be her companion again and again on the journey. Her seven-year-old son died, either from starvation or from freezing or both. Again her only shovel was the tablespoon, and again she dug hour after hour to lay his mortal remains gently into the earth. Next, her five-year-old son died, and again she used her tablespoon as a shovel.

Her despair was all consuming. She had only her tiny baby daughter left, and the poor thing was failing. Finally, as she was reaching the end of her journey, the baby died in her arms. The spoon was gone now, so hour after hour she dug a grave in the frozen earth with her bare fingers. Her grief became unbearable. How could she possibly be kneeling in the snow at the graveside of her last child? She had lost her husband and all her children. She had given up her earthly goods, her home, and even her homeland.

In this moment of overwhelming sorrow and complete bewilderment, she felt her heart would literally break. In despair she contemplated how she might end her own life, as so many of her fellow countrymen were doing. How easy it would be to jump off a nearby bridge, she thought, or to throw herself in front of an oncoming train.

And then, as these thoughts assailed her, something within her said, “Get down on your knees and pray.” She ignored the prompting until she could resist it no longer. She knelt and prayed more fervently than she had in her entire life:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I do not know how I can go on. I have nothing left—except my faith in Thee. I feel, Father, amidst the desolation of my soul, an overwhelming gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot express adequately my love for Him. I know that because He suffered and died, I shall live again with my family; that because He broke the chains of death, I shall see my children again and will have the joy of raising them. Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.”

When she finally reached her destination of Karlsruhe, Germany, she was emaciated. Brother Babbel said that her face was a purple-gray, her eyes red and swollen, her joints protruding. She was literally in the advanced stages of starvation. In a Church meeting shortly thereafter, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all the ailing people in her saddened land, she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died and was resurrected so that we might live again. She testified that she knew if she continued faithful and true to the end, she would be reunited with those she had lost and would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God. (Source).

Lessons from Death, Part 10

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The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That’s one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Link to part 9 of this essay.

Final note: Thus concludes my essay on death. This was an enlightening essay for me to write. It was one of my most personal. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should write. The essay initially rose out of some of my thoughts and reactions to posts by the mother of little Evan who had a brightness in him. She gave me permission to write about him in my essay. I hope that some of the words and experiences I shared were comforting to any who mourn those they have lost. I found comfort through prayer, fasting, and the Holy Ghost. I also found comfort in the scriptures, the words of the prophets, and other writers. I found comfort in talking with others. The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.

Lessons from Death, Part 9

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For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another’s death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

“For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).

Link to part 8 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 8

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As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: “‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid…. Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.” (Source).

That’s another wondrous blessing of the gospel – we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly – some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord. As he was suffering, in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.

“On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s own way. It is one thing to teach, ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need.“(Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).

Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

Link to part 7 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 7

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One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior’s original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That’s the great blessing of the gospel – we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is “the great work…done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (D&C; 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C; 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances – they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord – but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: “I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C; 137:10). That’s a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: “The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope” (Source).

Link to part 6 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 6

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Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:

“You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt…. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome…. The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: “The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” Our tears of sorrow will – sooner or later – turn to tears of joy. We don’t always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear – and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child – but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them – all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: “If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.” (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

Link to part 5 of this essay.