Today, I’m studying the talk Doors of Death, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the April 1992 General Conference.
I guess I’ll start by saying that this was a really good talk. There are a lot of things that I highlighted (which is usually the case). It’s kind of funny to say that a talk about death was good, but it’s true. There seems to be no better way to think about life than by talking about death.
President Nelson stated:
“Death separates “the spirit and the body [which] are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15.) That separation evokes pangs of sorrow and shock among those left behind. The hurt is real. Only its intensity varies.” – Russell M. Nelson
I’m sure that everyone reading this post has experienced the death of a loved one. And that each person reading this post has experienced the pain of this loss in various intensities. I have not yet experienced the death of a parent or spouse, but all my grandparents have passed away. My little brother tragically died seven years ago when he was only 18. I have mourned the death of loved ones and friends.
Not only that, but I’m going to be turning 40 this year, and it seems like the older I get, the more I realize that life is fragile. When I was a teenager, I never would have said that I thought I was invincible. I knew better than that! But it seems like I only knew that logically. I never really thought about the fact that I will one day die, and I didn’t usually attach any of my actions to this fact.
I mean, I drove recklessly, I jumped off bridges, I stayed up late and ate a diet of 90% junk food! Yes, I knew that I was going to die one day, but instead of using that information to make wiser decisions, it was more or less a reason for me to push the boundaries – YOLO!
Now, as I’m getting older, I have a fully formed frontal lobe. I’m a mother. In fact, I actually think that sometimes my anxieties have the best of me. But it is for the same reason…YOLO! I love my life, and I want to really live it. For a long time, too. Which is why this statement made by President Nelson really stood out to me:
“The only length of life that seems to satisfy the longings of the human heart is life everlasting.” – Russell M. Nelson
This is the only length of life that is satisfactory to me. I love life! What’s not to love? And yet, when I write this, I can’t help but think about recent events – like suicides of public figures – which are a small representation of so many more who feel so much pain that they think that death is the best option. My heart is filled with sorrow to know that there are people suffering to this degree. I can’t even imagine it.
But I do love life. Here are a few reasons why:
Okay. That was more than a few. Why I love life, yet this is a talk about death… So a few thoughts from the talk.
“Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death.” – Russell M. Nelson
This is such a good reminder and gives us perspective. Before we came to this earth, we existed as spiritual beings – spiritual daughters and sons of a Loving God. We had intelligence and purpose long before we took our first breath. And we will still have an existence for an eternity after we take our last mortal breath.
This life is only a portion of our eternal lives.
Sometimes I don’t really internalize that. Even though I have had the gospel my whole life and I have known the truth of our eternal natures, I can’t remember life before this life! I haven’t died yet either, so it’s easy to get consumed with this mortal life. It is easy to let this consumption beget anxiety and fear – that I’m missing out or squandering this life.
Instead, I need to keep a proper perspective on how my mortality fits into the rest of my life. The decisions we make here on earth will have some impact on our eternal futures. We must keep our eternal nature in mind as we balance zest for life with mindfulness of the real purpose that we are here – to prepare to meet God.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
“…it was appointed unto men that they must die;…” – Alma 12:27
Just as we had a life before mortality, we will have a life after mortality. Which means that we enter into mortality through birth, and that we exit from mortality through death.
We all die.
There is a purpose in the timing and seasons of our lives – and of our death.
“Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. 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.” – Russell M. Nelson
As I mentioned earlier, seven years ago, my little brother passed away. He was in a freak accident. It was completely unexpected and just terrible.
I was living in Arkansas at the time and my sister was living in Oklahoma. We drove together to Massachusetts to be with my family during this time. We drove as swiftly as we could, and when we arrived to Massachusetts, we went straight to the viewing.
People came to pay their condolences.
I kept hearing over and over again, “Stay strong.”
“You are so strong.”
Strong, strong, strong.
And yes, everyone was grief-stricken. We were mourning. But it seemed like we all tried to rush the time of mourning – and wear our stoicism as a badge of strength.
I was troubled by it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I, too, was proud of my “strength.” I had eternal perspective. Why should I be sad. We were there to celebrate my brother’s life, not mourn his death. We wanted to focus on the positive. I’m an optimist, so this idea naturally appeals to me.
Strength. Perspective. Hope. Optimism. Those are good things, right?
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
Blessed are they that mourn.
It seems like – for my whole life – I’ve tried to run away from mourning, as if it is a sign of weakness. Yet the Savior, in his short list of beatitudes, includes a blessing on those that mourn.
It was a few years later when I was seeing a therapist. I was feeling in a funk, and felt strongly prompted to see this particular woman. As we went through therapy she asked me: “Why do you intellectualize yourself out of your emotions?”
hmmm…Because I’m strong! Because I’m smart! I’m not emotional! Because I’m an optimist!
I didn’t understand the value of emotions. I didn’t understand that I could accept my emotions as the signals they are – that I didn’t have to be ruled by them as an “emotional person.”
She asked me about that – without giving me any insights or answers other than stating what I do. (“You were talking about something – it was really sad. I saw that you wanted to get sad. You started to feel sad. Then instead, you just explained it away. It’s okay to be sad about that! It’s a sad thing! So why do you do that?!”)
I thought about that for a while, and of course when we try to change, with our hearts, the Lord helps us with opportunities.
One day, I saw a woman in the parking lot of the fitness center I went to. She had a license plate on her car that had a “Donate Life” symbol on it – having been a recipient of organ donation. She was also wearing a similar tee-shirt. For some reason, I felt like I should say something to her.
She told me that it was her five year anniversary of life – receiving an organ that had kept her alive. I wanted to explain to her that my brother was an organ donor. I wanted to see the perspective and hope in this situation. But instead, I felt a prompting: Don’t intellectualize yourself out of this emotion. … So instead of saying something eloquent or strong, I broke down and cried, hugging her. Telling her that it was the two year anniversary of my brother’s death – and that he was an organ donor. We, two strangers, a woman I’ve never seen again, held each other and cried in the parking lot. She out of gratitude and grief. Me – finally letting myself mourn.
It was strange. I got in my car after that, a little embarrassed, and laughed to myself.
This was followed by heightened emotions for days. Finally, as things started to settle, I realized something. If I chose to bottle up my emotions, then I was bottling all of them up. I couldn’t only close myself off from grief and pain. Because peace and joy are connected to them. If I close myself off to negative emotions, I also miss out on the beautiful ones.
President Nelson taught:
“The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.” – Russell M. Nelson
Mourning. Sorrow. Grief. These feelings are all okay! They don’t indicate weakness. They don’t indicate a lack of perspective or gratitude! They show that you loved! They show that life mattered!
I know I just went on about mourning. And we are blessed when we mourn. But we can’t forget the rest of the beatitude: Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.
We need to also allow ourselves to be comforted. We can’t wallow in grief, refusing to be comforted. Comfort comes to those who mourn, but we still must accept the comfort, otherwise grief and sadness come at the cost of joy and peace.
How can we be comforted? We can remember that this life is a part of a bigger plan – A Plan of Happiness.
President Nelson taught:
“Our limited perspective would be enlarged if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil, when doors of death open to those returning home.” – Russell M. Nelson
Just as we mourn when our loved ones pass, there are people on the other side of the veil who rejoice at the reunion with their family!
Again, the experience with my brother. It was 5AM when I was notified that Sean was in the hospital – dead. That they were keeping him alive so they could harvest his organs. It was terrible, and feels terrible as I write it right now. Like a punch to the gut.
I knelt down to pray. I felt worried and sad – grief stricken…the first stages of mourning. As I prayed, the very words that the Savior promised they shall be comforted were fulfilled.
I felt a distinct impression – Sean was okay. There were loved ones there welcoming him. That there were more people praying for all of us on the other side of the veil than here on earth in mortality. That we were united in prayer – that prayer not only transcends distances but also through the veil. I knew that because of the covenants in the temple that I had made and that I had performed in proxy for my family we were united. I knew that the power of the priesthood was blessing me – as I am their posterity. I knew that the power of the priesthood was blessing Sean. I knew that really, as trite as it sounds he is okay. We would be sad for a time. It was a tragic loss. But it wasn’t an eternal loss.
He was with loved ones.
And one day we’d be with them, too.
Death feels so permanent. It is hard to remember that it is only a temporary state. But we have hope – we have Good News. Christ overcame death. His victory over death is our victory over death. Just as Paul taught: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
I love the way that President Nelson put it:
“The Lord who created us in the first place surely has power to do it again. The same necessary elements now in our bodies will still be available—at His command. The same unique genetic code now embedded in each of our living cells will still be available to format new ones then. The miracle of the resurrection, wondrous as it will be, is marvelously matched by the miracle of our creation in the first place.” – Russell M. Nelson
ISN’T THAT AMAZING!!!!!???????!!!!
I’ve never thought of that before. I hadn’t put it together – that of course Christ is the Resurrection. He created us in the first place! I love President Nelson’s background – as a medical doctor. He brings insight into the plan of Salvation and these truths – such as resurrection – that make so much sense I sit and think Duh! Of course!
Of course the miracle of resurrection will be amazing. And our creation – in the first place – is a witness of the remarkable power of Creation that our Lord has.
With each conference talk I read, my admiration and love for our Prophet grows. I’m so grateful for a prophet who understands death. He has had to experience the grief that comes with passing. He is 93 years old! He has had to experience this more times than most of us.
Yet he also understands where to find peace and comfort. He understands the purpose of this life, and that death is just a part of the bigger whole of our eternal lives.
I’m grateful for a Prophet who not only understands this life and death, but also that the resurrection is real. I’m grateful for a prophet who has internalized the Plan of Salvation and leads us in a way that we can find happiness in this life and in the life to come.
One last thought from our dear prophet: