faith: death

Marcel is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is an address he gave at a funeral of an elderly friend on June 18th, 2021. Personal information has been removed out of respect for the family.

We met at church. There is a program at church where we are all asked to look after each other, by assignment, and I was assigned to her. Somehow, we clicked. She did most of the talking, and I did most of the listening. 

It may seem unfair that she left us and had to go through all those health issues, and it isn’t what we want. I hear you. So how do we reconcile those feelings? If I may, I’d like to step back and think about the bigger picture, and the context.

Things are not always what they first seem. But when viewed in a larger context, we can understand the purposes beyond what is immediately visible. At work when my manager asks me to do something which on the surface doesn’t make sense, at least from what I can see at that moment, I need to dig into it and understand it more. There always is a good reason. When I understand the context, even when the assignment doesn’t change, then it’s easier for me to get on board. Similarly, in my personal life, when I understand the context in which things happen, especially for the bad things, it brings me patience, peace and hope. Or in other words, to get on board with God.

The first step to viewing the larger context is to understand what the real goal is. My own kids may think that my goals for them are to have a clean room and good grades. But as a parent, my real goal is above having clean rooms and good grades. 

It is for them to grow up to become their best selves, to realize the great potential they have, and for them to have everything I had and more, and to feel loved and to give love to others. Those are my top-level goals. Other parents here today, I think you want the same for your kids. 

I believe God wants the same for us: to become our best selves, to realize our tremendous potential, to have everything, and specifically to have love. This is demonstrated when God says (Moses 1:39) “Behold this is my work and my glory: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” We are His children, we are His purpose, and He loves us perfectly.

We believe that as individual spirits, we existed long before we were born on earth. Back then we were in the presence of God as spiritual infants, where we could grow and learn. Which we did. But we could only go so far without the unique experiences and challenges of having a physical body, where we would learn great lessons from difficulty, including pain, disappointment, and loss. When difficulty is self-inflicted via a bad decision, we can learn a lesson from that experience too. 

Because it is in those difficulties that we can finally develop an appreciation for truth, health, joy, and love. And in particular to develop compassion and understanding. We learn the most when things are rough. This is illustrated when God spoke to a prophet that was going through a lot of difficulty caused by things outside of his control:

D&C 122: “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”

Here’s what that means: How much better will we be able to teach and serve and love, to have insights, compassion, understanding and empathy because of our difficulties here on earth. These experiences make us better people. It is how we grow and progress. Christ felt the pains of all people across all time, and we shouldn’t think ourselves exempt from difficulty.

The purpose of this mortal life on earth is to learn and do. It is not the end. It is a step in our eternal progression. And to progress, we must both enter this phase and leave it. Otherwise our progress stops. Although at this point, this earthly life is all we know, it is not all there is. 

Death is a separation of the spirit from the body. We lay the body down in the ground but the spirit continues. It continues to learn and to serve. Lying in this casket is her body, not her spirit.

Eventually with Christ’s return, the spirit and the body will be reunited, the same spirit with a perfected eternal physical body, without the flaws of mortality. Never to experience death, sickness, or fatigue. No more stenosis, no more iron deficit, no more blood pressure problems. No more cancer. No more birth defects. No more chemical imbalances of addiction or depression. No more diabetes. No more achy joints. No more hair loss. This is what we call the resurrection.

The reason we call Christ our Savior is that what He did enabled for us two saving things:

(1) to be resurrected, meaning that after our death on earth that later our spirit will be reunited with our body in its perfect and complete form. In summary, to make our bodies perfect. 

(2) to be cleansed from the bad choices we’ve made and the spiritual damage we’ve received. In summary, to make our spirits perfect. 

With this perfection in both body and spirit, we can live with God. Christ enables us to be saved from permanent physical death (resurrection), and to be saved from spiritual death (separation from God). And in order to enable this for us, Christ paid an infinite cost in His pain and physical death in Gethsemane and on the cross. And He did it because he loved us. And in doing so He learned our pains, so that He understands us perfectly. 

So you may ask: where is her spirit now? We believe that she is in a place called the Spirit World, as an active and aware spirit, there to await the 2nd coming of Christ and resurrection of our bodies. While there, there is work to do. She can serve and teach and invite other spirits there to accept Christ. And she can also see us here and cheer us on. I suspect she is here right now, watching and listening. And I suspect that on occasion she’ll have a role as a heaven-sent angel to provide us protection or inspiration. And she’ll do well in that role because she knows us and loves us.

She still is, but she’s not here. At least not here that we can see and interact with. So I talk about her in the present tense, not the past tense. Is, not was. And I encourage you to do the same. 

Yes, we are separated from her for a time, and we’ll miss her during this separation. But the separation is temporary. It is not permanent. 

I remember as an 8 year old hiking the Grand Canyon. From the upper rim to Havasupi Falls on the floor of the canyon. ½ mile of elevation change straight down, 12 miles of distance including switchbacks. And then repeat on the way out, but all uphill. Even though I was exhausted, when I took off my backpack, I felt so lightweight like I could fly. It was a remarkable feeling. I was unburdened. 

But being temporarily burdened made me physically stronger, tired, and taught me appreciation of freedom from burdens.

In the time I’ve known her, she’s had a lot of medical issues. So much pain for so long. It must have been a heavy burden. I think she feels unburdened now, and it must feel remarkable, like she can fly.

I can only imagine her joy at being reunited with her husband and them having a chance to catch up with each other.

I’ve told my wife that for my funeral I want there to be a party. A chance to remember the good things, and to laugh at the rest. To not be sad about my progression. Everything is going to be more than OK. 

My goal is to have lived a good life, to make the most of the short time that we have on earth. To prepare myself for the next step. To recognize that this experience is temporary, and that death is an expected and necessary gateway to achieve something greater than we can even imagine. I think she has done that.

This is what I wish for her, as written in Mathew 25:21, and adjusted for gender: “Her lord said unto her, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

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