This topic is a tender one for me today. One of my dear friends is dying. I arrived at church to hear the news that she was “near the end.” I couldn’t believe it. Not yet! I had just been with her two weeks ago, and she was doing so well. I still wanted to go plop myself down on the fluffy down comforter that covered her bed, and listen to her tell me about her life (a regular ritual as of late). We thought she had months left, not weeks.
Yesterday, I went to her home. The feeling there was somber, yet peaceful. I quietly walked to the side of her bed; the family was kind enough to let me sit in the chair right next to her. She was clearly aware that I was there, and knew who I was, but she could say precious little. What she could say was difficult to understand. I couldn’t keep the tears from flowing.
I just don’t want her to go.
But I remember the conversations she and I had had, more than once. She realized that whether she lived or died, she would be happy. She desperately wanted to live long enough to see her new granddaughter (due in a week and a half). She wanted to see her grandson serve as a missionary.
But she also realized that if she died, she would see her husband and mother again. Her husband died a few years ago, and her mother died when she was only 14. How can I not be happy for those blessed reunions that are just around the corner for her?
We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that death is not the end to life. We believe that we are spirit children of heavenly parents, with whom we lived before in the premortal world (or existence). We believe that this life has a purpose — to give us experience, to allow us to learn and grow, to allow us to have families, to allow us opportunities to make choices. God’s hope, of course, is that we will make choices to seek Him and follow His Son.
While the end of the life of a loved one brings sorrow and mourning, we declare that there is life after death! Ultimately, death is part of God’s plan of happiness for us. (Let me interject and say that our beliefs about death should not be misunderstood as supporting deliberately ending a life (one’s own or someone else’s) prematurely. See more about Mormon beliefs regarding suicide (part 2 is here).)
After death, spirits of those who have died do pass on, to another sphere (called the Spirit World). There they wait until the resurrection — the rejoining of the body and the spirit — never to die again! We believe all who have ever lived on this earth will be resurrected. This conquering of death is made possible through the Savior, Jesus Christ and His resurrection (recently celebrated with Easter last weekend).
I cannot tell you what comfort this knowledge gives me. I know my friend will live again! I know, too, that after she passes from this life, that same spirit that gave her earthly body life will live on. She will continue to love and serve in a the Spirit World. We believe that those who have passed on are not far from us. While I don’t know exactly how that all works, I do believe it to be true. I believe my friend will indeed have a joyous reunion with her sweetheart and mother and others who love her.
A key part of understanding Mormon doctrine about death is understanding the belief that families can be eternal. (We often talk of “forever families.”) Through ordinances performed in holy temples by men holding priesthood authority of God, a husband and wife can be sealed to one another. This marriage union is bound not just “till death do us part” but can exist beyond death into eternity, conditional on the individuals’ faithful choices and desires. Children can also be sealed, bound, to their parents. In this way, families are given the potential to be connected eternally across generations through these sacred ordinances.
But knowledge of this doctrine does not mean we don’t mourn. As I sat at my friend’s beside and wept, first alone and later with my children, I was reminded of this quote by Elder Russell M. Nelson, one of the Church’s current Twelve Apostles:
Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” (D&C 42:45.)
Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.
And so, for now, I will let the tears flow. I love my friend and will miss her terribly. But through the tears, I hold onto the knowledge that this is not the end, and I look forward to a time when I believe I will be able to see her again.
Until then, to my dear friend: Godspeed. I love you. Thank you for your example of faith, your love, and your friendship. I will miss you, but I rejoice in your good life and in joyful reunions that await you. I am so grateful that God allowed me the blessing of knowing you. Rest in peace, until we meet again.
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