Sunday, March 30, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: Death

I have had a hard time writing anything this week after hearing from a friend over in Salt Lake City, Utah, that his uncle had suddenly passed away. When he first called me, my friend told me that his uncle had been sick for several months, but went downhill quickly and it had taken him very much by surprise. It was very difficult for him to speak of the circumstances surrounding the event, and difficult for him to keep his composure. I was immediately reminded of the death of my own uncle some time ago.

I know what my friend is going through, because like him, I am not well-acquainted with death and was close to my uncle. The things that my friend has been telling me this week have hit very close to home. This is the first time I have put into writing any of my thoughts or feelings about the death of my uncle. I am a little bit afraid of the memories or emotions that I might feel.

When I heard the news about my own uncle from my parents, I was numb, initially--calm, reserved, even stoic; within just a few hours I remember standing in the shower, tears streaming down my face, mixing with the water and soap and swirling down the drain. I felt helpless and drained. My throat and eyes hurt. The sorrow was coming in waves, every ten to twenty minutes there would be another bout.

My Utah friend tells me it was much the same for him. He thought a hot shower would help ease his aching eyes and stuffed-up sinuses. Instead, it provided a mask for his tears. His wife told me he even punched the tile wall several times; he could not even bring himself to talk to her about anything past the basic details. He couldn’t put any of his feelings into words.

I know how that feels.

I told him what I had been told in the same circumstances: that his uncle was at peace; he was in a better place; that through the gifts that Christ gave us, his family would be together again; this was a joyous time, like a graduation ceremony from this life to a better one, and that we all should be happy.

Funny--his response was the same one I gave those who tried to comfort me: I know all that, but I have every right to be selfish right now.

I know how that feels too.

You see, it IS a joyous time, a graduation from this life of pain and trial to a new life of happiness and glory. Those who leave us behind do so facing a return to a place of infinite beauty.

We who are left behind, however, are left with only our memories of our loved ones. We are left with the knowledge of our mortal minds that we will never see our beloved uncle again in this life. That is the key, of course: IN THIS LIFE. We can tell ourselves--and we can actually know and believe--that all that made our loved ones who they are still exists. But still we cry. Why? It is out of our selfishness.

We are envious, perhaps, of where they are and what they are experiencing.
We are selfish, wanting to share more time and experiences with our loved ones.
We are angry, lashing out at other loved ones because of the envy and selfisness.

We are sorrowful, knowing that we feel all these things and cannot seem to help it.

It is our mortal mind warring with the knowledge of our eternal souls.

Knowing this, helps. A bit.

What really helps is the aid of the Comforter.

My friend described to me attending the viewing and seeing one of his cousins wracked in grief, telling a sister that “I’m just waiting for what you always hear about, when the peace descends over you, and you’re able to move on.”

I know how this feels too. I waited and waited for that peace. Looking back, I think I tried too hard to force that peace to come.

The Comforter cannot--WILL NOT--be forced. He has to be ALLOWED to come in to your heart and mind.

My uncle also passed away quite close to Easter. I think this fact was part of what helped me finally overcome the grief I felt at his passing. It helped me see past the selfishness and envy. I was able to see the Big Picture, because--with the Easter celebration--reminders of the Big Picture, or the Plan of Salvation, were all around me.

Knowing this, helps. A lot.

It was a constant reminder that because of His sacrifice for us, we may be forgiven of our sins, but also that we may conquer the physical death. That through His example--His resurrection--we will once again have our spirits and our bodies reunited, to live forever.

And importantly: to live forever WITH OUR FAMILIES.

It took several days for the peace to descend over me. I remember that I was next-to-useless at the office until it happened. My friend tells me that he felt the same: he was unable to focus or concentrate for any extended period of time on any task. Little things would set me off, either in tears or in anger. I have also lashed out at my friends and family, until no-one wanted to talk to me or confront me.

Once I let myself be reminded of all those things, of all the things that Easter stands for, I instinctively stopped trying to force the Spirit to help me, and instead opened my heart, mind, and soul to allow him to come in. And I felt peace.

With any death of a family member, particularly those with whom one has an especially-close bond, there will be selfishness. There will be envy and anger.

But the reminder... the knowledge.... His sacrifice changes everything. We need to remember that. Because it helps.

I will see my uncle again someday. My friend will once again see his uncle. Maybe the four of us will be able to sit down and swap stories. My uncle had been a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts; his uncle had been in scouting his entire life, and had many honors and accolades. My friend told me this morning that one of the themes of the funeral was the scouting, and an image of his uncle sitting around a campfire with his heroes.

I’d like that.

Sitting around a campfire with my friend, our uncles, and all of our heroes someday.

I wonder what s’mores would taste like in Heaven?

Cutting through the envy, the selfishness, and the anger is the realization that I can and will see my family members again someday. This realization lets the Comforter descend, who helps pull me back from the edge and reminds me--helps me--to live my life so that I will have the opportunity to live with my loved ones forever.

My uncle.

And my heroes.

And my Savior.

Knowing this, helps.


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