A 73 year old man with arthritis, failing kidneys, and other health problems died last Tuesday. I didn’t know him very well (I’ll call him Gene), but I knew his daughter. During the funeral yesterday, his daughter recounted his life and said she was glad that he had left his bodily prison, but at the same time she missed him immensely. Today was Easter Sunday. I sat behind her and her mother (I’ll call her Mary), as they struggled through their first church service since Gene died. Your first church service following the death of a loved one is always difficult, and music can make one more emotional. The opening song was “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” At first I started to belt out the hymn, but suddenly tears formed in my eyes. I couldn’t sing anymore. I noticed that this brand new widow was crying too, and it touched me deeply. As we stood for the congregational hymn “I Believe in Christ”, once again I could not sing. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to utilize gravity to keep the tears from my eyes. Tears flowed anyway. Mary sat and cried quietly during the song. My heart went out to her. As I thought about her loss, I recalled my own loss 15 years ago.
Like Christ, my sister died on a Friday. I’ve always found the expression “Good Friday” strange. While Christ was good, and while I am thankful for his sacrifice on the cross, it must have been a terrible Friday. I know that the Friday my sister died, “good” was not the word I would use to describe her death, though I too was grateful that she would no longer suffer from brain cancer. I remember getting a call at work from my mother. I hurried from my office to a parking garage as it was the only private place I could think of, and burst into tears. It was awful, and certainly didn’t feel good. I’m sure Christ’s followers didn’t feel good about his death that Friday either.
The Sunday after my sister’s death, I attended my singles ward. It was hard to sit through Sunday School because the lesson was on death and resurrection. I knew the teacher didn’t know I had lost my sister 2 days before. My sense of loss was profound, and I stared at the floor. After church, she called me telling me that she understood my sense of loss. When she was 15, she discovered her father on the living room floor. He had a heart attack, had fallen to the floor, and his nose was bleeding. She told me that she has hated Father’s Day ever since, because her father is no longer here. I realized at that moment that my 4 nephews and nieces would struggle with Mother’s Day.
About 8 years later, my brother, also age 36, also with 4 young children, died in a terrible car crash. His wife (I’ll call her Melanie) was badly injured, as were 2 daughters. The three were life-flighted to Salt Lake City for treatment. As a family, we divvied up many of the responsibilities to help my brother’s family. I took on the task of finding his final resting place. While it was not a fun task, it was a necessary task. I wonder if Joseph or Arimathea felt as I did when he found Christ’s tomb.
I had visited my sister’s grave many times. It was in a bright area, and I remember wishing there was a tree to provide shade. I made sure that there was a tree to shade my brother’s grave, and I was pleased several months later when Melanie said she loved to sit in the shade as she visited my brother’s grave.
I know that Easter is a time that we are supposed to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Following the death of a loved one, the resurrection is a huge message of hope, following a huge sense of loss. I’d like to celebrate Easter, but today my sense of loss for a man I don’t know well was profound. I don’t know Mary that well either, but I am “mourning with those that mourn.” I just wish I could provide “comfort for those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:9) But like my Sunday school teacher 15 years ago, perhaps mourning is all I can provide. Sometimes comfort never comes; I would still say that I am not comfortable with either my brother or my sister’s death. But I am appreciative of all those who tried to comfort me, and even more grateful for those that mourned with me. Today I mourn with Mary and her daughter, and I mourn for Christ’s death. The loss to Christ’s earthly family was truly profound.
And I have great faith and hope for Christ’s resurrection.