In the two weeks leading up to Easter I had the opportunity to attend three funerals. 3 funerals in 2 weeks.
They say people die in 3s, but seriously there were
3 of them
In 13 days
I only have one funeral outfit.
Admittedly it was an emotionally draining time. However it was also beautiful and I have come through with some beautiful insights and observations and overall am grateful for the experience. (Except I would really rather not wear that funeral outfit again for a long time so if everyone could be real careful for the next little bit that would be real nice, k.)
They were all very different funerals and I had very different connections to each.
The first was the nearly 100 year old grandmother of one of my dearest and oldest friends. I did have the privilege of knowing her grandmother and seeing the beautiful relationship my friend had with her.
The second was a man who had recently converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and joined my ward. I never actually had the opportunity to meet him due to his significant medical concerns but had met his wife on a number of occasions.
While I was not personally grieving these losses, a part of the covenant or promises I made at baptism kept coming to mind.
Mourn with those that mourn.
I feel like we typically emphasize the next two parts:
-Comfort those that stand in need of comfort
-Bear one another’s burdens
And while I feel like there is significant overlap between the three, I think it’s also poignant that they are distinguished from each other.
I’ve been through enough losses to know that I couldn’t take the pain away from my friends, and that I shouldn’t try because that pain is sacred. There wasn’t a lot that I could personally do for them in those moments. But it kept coming back to me that I could mourn WITH them. Not mourn FOR them, not mourn BECAUSE of them, but I could mourn WITH them.
It was between these two funerals that I experienced a personal loss.
My career was in Special Education, and while I am not actively teaching at this time, it’s something that I continue to stay involved in and hope to get back to as an advocate in the future. This was not something that was on my radar growing up or even when I began college. My first summer home from school I needed a job, I bumped into the mom of a friend from high school who said she was looking for a care provider for her youngest who had severe Autism. Within about a week I found myself working with Megan. My sweet little Megan. A little angel who was also a primarily non-verbal little spit-fire who gave me more than a few bruises. Midway through that summer I got really fed up with her one day. She had this huge tantrum and I was completely exasperated and counting the days until the summer was going to be over and I would be done, and then she sat down and started humming her favorite song- I Am A Child of God. And you know that just made me even more mad because honestly how on earth could you go from this violent rage to humming that song. And in that moment I was completely humbled and changed as the spirit whispered to me, “She REALLY knows what it means to be a child of God.” And then I knew that this was my calling in life.
Despite never having had an actual conversation with her, Megan changed my life pretty drastically. Not just in my career but in so many aspects of my life. And while I hadn’t been working with her for a number of years, it might be kinda cheesy and cliche but Elphaba and Galinda say it best, “So much of me is made of what I learned from you…Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
Megan suffered a massive seizure at the beginning of March that landed her in the hospital and it didn’t look good. I spent the next few weeks waiting and watching for updates on her progress and prognosis.
At the end of March, the day after I was there to help my friend lay her grandmother to rest, I was in line for gas at Costco. The line was long and I figured I would jump on Facebook for a minute to pass the time. As I opened the app, the first post that I saw was the post announcing Megan’s passing. While I was not shocked by the news, and while I felt that it was for the best, and that she was in a better place, etc etc etc, in that moment it just hurt. It hurt in all the deep places I never really knew existed. So I promptly started ugly crying….in line for gas at Costco.
My first inclination was to get out of line and just get home where I could ugly cry not while trying to operate a vehicle, but…..I have this really bad habit of pushing my gas tank to the last drops. I’ve had to be saved on more than one occasion from literally just running out of gas and I was there, pushing it again. So I had to stick it through and fill up with gas.
As I’m pulling up to the pump I start desperately trying to regain composure because who wants to be the person ugly crying while they fill up with gas at Costco right?
But as I got out sniffling and wiping tears I found myself torn between not wanting to be noticed and simultaneously desperately wanting one of these random strangers at Costco to notice and give me a big awkward stranger hug and ask me what was wrong.
I didn’t want to be told that everything would be ok. And I didn’t want anyone to tell me about how she was in a better place. Or how I’d see her again. Or how this was all part of a bigger plan. Or any other of the things we say. I wasn’t ready to be comforted. I simply and desperately wanted someone to mourn with me for a moment. I wanted someone to feel that this was sad.
I didn’t want them to feel sad FOR me, I wanted someone to feel sad WITH me.
When Jesus came into Bethany and was greeted by Mary and Martha who had just lost their brother, Lazarus, we get the shortest, and yet arguably one of the most profound verses in all of scripture.
Standing near a tomb (not a Costco gas pump), having learned that his dear friend had been dead for 4 days, seeing the pain and I’m sure fear in the eyes of these surviving sisters whose lives could be drastically changed at the death of a male relative, and hearing the weeping of a community, Jesus stands there and ugly cries with them.
He doesn’t jump to offering platitudes. He doesn’t tell them not to be sad. He doesn’t immediately jump into preaching. He doesn’t even fix it right away. For this sacred moment he just simply mourned WITH them.
And the response from the community-
“Behold how he loved him!”
I feel like one of the purest and simplest acts of Christlike love and charity we can give is to simply mourn with those that mourn.
The story goes on and continues to show the other two aspects of the baptismal covenant I mentioned earlier.
After he’s had this moment of mourning he goes on to offer comfort and begins showing a bigger plan.
When he asks them to take away the stone from the tomb, Martha objects, reminding him that Lazarus had been dead four days and will definitely stink by now. To which Jesus responds by saying- remember I told you “if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God.”
Then, after he’s mourned and comforted, that’s when he very miraculously bears their burden.
“Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth.”
Now I can’t bring back Grandma, and I can’t replace a ward member’s husband. And you can’t bring back Megan or fix the years of trials that she went through. But I think we can use this story as a pattern for truly living our baptismal covenants.
When we hear about a tragedy in our own life, in the life of someone close to us, in our community, or somewhere in the world we’ve never even heard of, I think the first thing we need to do is just take a moment to mourn. Before jumping in with explanations or fixes, or blame, or anything else, just take a moment to feel sad that it happened.
Then, when the parties are ready, offer comfort. Offer prayers and best wishes. Offer hugs. Share insights. Share your peace. Share how you got through something similar.
But don’t stop there. Bear the burden. Make a meal. Do some service. Donate money. Donate blood. Do some research. Write your representatives. Find a way to make the situation better and hopefully avoid similar tragedies in the future.
I think that then we will see the glory of God, and He will pour out His spirit more abundantly upon us.