[Edit on Mar 11: I have seen some weird search terms repeatedly sending traffic to this post, so I decided to add this by way of disclaimer: If you’re looking for justification for suidice or worse, don’t bother. None here. This deals with accepting mortality when it’s time, not seeking death.]
I had an interesting experience yesterday. Last week, a friend I had known for 10 years passed away because of heart failure. He was the first priesthood holder in this branch (before it was a branch, actually; it was just missionaries holding meetings), and served as a full-time missionary in the mid-1950s. He was a very gentle and thoughtful man.
I was asked to clothe him (no LDS relatives, and he was endowed), with another brother. His relatives are state church people, but they respected the will of the deceased, so there was no problem with it, and the state church-affiliated undertaker’s representative was very cooperative and friendly (I guess undertakers by definition need to be fairly empathic people)
It evoked some memories. I’ll take you to a flashback for a second here:
I was 7 years old, when my grandmother died. I wasn’t present, when it happened, but arrived on the scene with my father and grandfather fairly soon. She had a heart condition, and she had had to cancel some activities that day, because she didn’t feel well; that’s why my sister had stayed with her (she was 15). Anyway, the scene then was a little stressful, because of the emotional response of the older people present. My sister was shocked (some of the adults seemed to be questioning if she had acted the right way), and the others’ reaction was not helpful to her. But I was a little confused. For me, she seemed so peaceful. I was pretty much there when she was examined by the ambulance personnel, and then later when she was washed and clothed – inconspicuous the way only a curious 7-year-old can be – and I got a fairly good lesson of the fleeting nature of our life here. What started there, led me to examine carefully my assumptions about life, and, for a while, worry about my future, too. But in a way it also made me want to know more about who we are and what the purpose of our life is.
But back to the present… I noticed, that I had some detachment from the situation at hand. I was thinking about the last few discussions I had had with him (I was his home teacher), and the stories he had told about his life. There are some aspects to handling a deceased person, that may be unaesthetic, but not really like many people think (kind of like babies need some help, I suppose). But to me, the body that remained is not really him, it just looks like him.
I noticed again how different a person appears after life is gone. The same features are there, but there’s just no one home – or then you could say the visit is over and he’s back home. I thought about the anticipated resurrection, and how different we’ll be then. I really don’t know that much about it; I just have faith in the promises given us. We’re told that we will be somewhat like in the prime of life – only that for me, that prime was always so fragile, that I imagine it will be quite different.
There are some things that only experience can teach. One of them is being mortal, and another would obviously be the opposite of that. I have often thought how much our understanding of the gift of immortality depends on experiencing mortality. We can only understand eternity by contrasting it with a finite existence. Well, again, although I have a spiritual witness of these things, I could not come up with a very detailed description. I don’t have the understanding or even the language to even explain exactly how I feel about it.
We are supposed to learn from our experiences. I have thought about what Paul says in Hebrew 5:8, “Though he were a Son, yet alearned he bobedience by the things which he csuffered“. I can’t know for certain, what he (whover actually wrote that – I know that many think Paul was not really the author of the epistle to Hebrews) meant exactly, but I think there were indeed things, that even Jesus had to learn by experience – he had not experienced the consequences of sin, because he had never sinned; nor could he know the pains involved, until he had a body that could ecperience them. I think there is a kind of a paradox in that: Perfection is only attained by submission to some degree of imperfection. We need to learn to see our weakness and live with it in order to overcome.
One thing that stands out to me is that if we seek improve, we must submit to the Lord. Your self-help counselors usually tell you, that you have to take “control” of your life and micromanage every little thing that happens. Well, that kind of control is an illusion. Our plans work out only as far as they are in harmony with Heavenly Father’s plans.
And talking about paradoxes: Jesus himself said that “Except a acorn of wheat fall into the ground and bdie, it abideth alone: but if it cdie, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). We are all seeds, and we have life in us, but we first have to give up that life.