Today is a good day, don’t fret, but I was musing on how different and perhaps unhealthy grief is within Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint community.
Typically people are missed somewhat but not really grieved. When some folks leave the Church or lose their faith they often remark on how different death is perceived and felt afterward compared to their time within the chapel walls.
There are very good reasons for both traditions. Within the Mormon church it is believed that death is but a short period, we will see our loved ones again, the separation is for now rather than forever. There are scriptural references to back up this viewpoint. Mormonism also teaches us that we were intelligent beings before our birth too and known by God. It’s not goodbye, it is only goodbye for now, until we meet again.
The secular view is that death is final, that we will not see that person again, that all we have left are their possessions and memories of them. That they will be memorialised and deeply missed.
There is comfort in Mormonism’s view of death, it softens the blow, is based on deeply held beliefs. The idea that you will hold a dear loved one again in a mutually affectionate embrace will often make today more palatable to bear.
There is freedom in the secular view to miss, deeply miss and fully mourn the passing of a loved one. It is often more painful and long lasting. It is often uncomfortable.
Mormons often muse that if secular folks knew what they knew there would be no need to feel such depths of sorrow, that the grief would be tempered to a more manageable state, that there is no need to suffer as there is One who has already suffered. It confuses Mormons that people would willingly feel the deepest, most long lasting levels of grief known.
The idea that Mormons don’t often mourn, and that, as gently as I can put this, if they are suffering perhaps they need to tap in to their faith a little more is isolating and dismissive. It was a disturbing idea when I first heard of it and I considered my position on the idea for quite some time.
Then a friend fell ill, and his illness became terminal, and his illness ended his life.
When it became apparent that his illness was terminal and his care had reached the palliative stage I made the decision to approach what was coming from a secular point of view and not try to mute, soften or gloss over what was happening.
As the time approached and when the time arrived, his family were kind enough to let us know which was more than they were required to do.
I began to let myself feel what his passing would mean to me, to them, to his friends, to his extended circle. I began to long for the rubbish jokes, for the pep talks, for the regaling us with tales of his youth. I began to consider the milestones that he would miss, his first grandchild, his second and third grandchildren, his milestone anniversaries with his beautiful wife who he loved more than the breath he breathed daily. I considered the holidays in the sun he would miss, the Christmases’, the New Years and Easters.
I was shocked at the depth of the pain. During my time in Mormonism I’d experienced the passing of many dear friends as a natural part of life. Nothing hurt like this. I thought the pain would pass quickly but it lingers more than a year later.
There are times when our circle of friends will include him in our celebrations by speaking of him and it is both a joyful and painful moment simultaneously. My throat closes in a pre-cry manner, my memories of him make me smile.
I could shut down these feelings at any point by stepping in to the Mormon Model of grief management but I feel it does a disservice to his memory. I want to miss him now. I want to be happy that I know and knew him for a few years. I want to feel his absence. I want to know that I want him here with us.
There is a time and a place for both models of managing the passing of a loved one.
My middle way, because I always find a way to incorporate civilian life and Mormonism, is to grieve fully and completely now, and hope that there is a reunion one day, but without step 1 I don’t believe I’d appreciate step 2.
Of course, I haven’t lost anyone close in the family for more than 20 years so if and when that day comes I would feel no hypocracy in taking whatever steps were necessary to manage and soften that blow.
My life is richer because I miss my friend. He knew we all loved him and cared about him during his lifetime and we know we love him still and feel his absence. It feels very respectful.
I have a new found respect for secular folks who go through this process without hope of respite. In future I’ll try to honour their choices. In honouring their choices, perhaps they’ll let me share some of the peace of mind that faith brings in these circumstances.