A little advice from a guy who is closer to the finish line than the starting gate…
I was eighteen years old before I had to deal the with death of someone close to me. My grandmother died suddenly of a stroke just a few weeks after my high school graduation. I stumbled through that process in shock, and oddly enough, no one made an effort to talk me through the process of loss and grief. I made as much sense of the situation as I could, and it left me sad, confused and frustrated.
Three decades later, I have weathered many more losses. Accidents, illnesses, and suicide have claimed family, friends, clients and students. No loss is remotely easy, but thirty years of experience in grieving and supporting those who suffer in their own grief have taught me a few things that help me to endure dark trials. In particular, there are five principles that, prayerfully applied, can guide us through the pain of mourning.
1. God is Real
I can think of no more stark reality than the finality of death. The resurrection is a wonderful doctrine, but when we lose someone we love, it tests our faith in Christ and His victory over death in a way that nothing else can. Without Christ, there is no hope of being reunited with our families. We cannot have hope in a vacuum. We have to hope in something.
Therefore, choose to believe. Trust that there is more to our existence than the here and now. Choose to believe that there is a then and there to which your love one has moved, and that the darkness of death has been overcome by the light of Christ.
2. God Loves us
Because God loves us, we can enjoy the assurance that He is not arbitrary in dealing with us. He does not reach out and take our fathers, mothers, or children in order to “test” us like lab mice. He takes no pleasure in our pain. He wants us to be happy, despite the hardships that come with mortality. Therefore, there is a way through this.
3. God “Gets” It
One of the greatest messages of the Bible and the Book of Mormon is the doctrine that Christ suffered for all of our pains–whether caused by sin, stupidity, the evil of others, or the mere experience of mortality– precisely so that He would understand our hurt. His perfect understanding of our broken hearts is essential to His ability to mend them, and thus, in a way beyond our understanding, he chose to experience all that anyone could be called upon to endure. When we cry out in anguish, we are heard by One who knows better than anyone else what we are going through and whose perfect grace can make us whole.
4. God Has a Plan
I will admit that I have a problem with some of the platitudes we hear or share when we lose a loved one. I remember when my father died in a work accident, more than one person talked to me about the Lord “needing” my father for a mission on the other side of the veil. Really? With billions of people having died, including no small number of prophets, apostles and other spiritual luminaries, God can’t manage to get things done over there without killing my dad?
I think what these well-intentioned sentiments reflect is the hope that God is still in control of things and, from an eternal perspective, will turn all things to our good. To borrow from Buddhist teachings, we want to know that a lotus flower actually can bloom from the mud in which we currently are mired.
It can. Our decision to believe in God includes the decision to believe that He is not an absent manager. He has a plan for us, and it is a plan of happiness. We are not meant to spend our loves moving from tragedy to tragedy, living at the whim of a random, impersonal universe. Our Father is on top of things.
5. No Matter How Hard We Try, We Will Not Understand Today’s Tragedies
The problem with our faith in God’s plan is that we do not know its details, and we will not fully understand our losses while in mortality. We do not have the knowledge or perspective to be able to see into God’s heart as He sees into ours. I cannot think of any death I have witnessed where my reaction was, “Well, that made perfect sense!” I wish none of them ever had happened, and I cannot help but think that I would be happier if all those I have loved were still here with me.
But that isn’t the way mortality works. Our earthly journey includes necessary detours through the valley of the shadow of death, and nothing there seems to make any sense at all. But if we believe in the reality of a loving, omniscient Father in Heaven, who has a plan for our joy and happiness, then we trust that the plan will work. In the Stygian darkness of sorrow and mourning. We reach for his hand and let Him lead us to safety. We might never see clearly through our sorrows, so we surrender our vision to Him.
We choose to believe, to trust and to be healed.