Death has been hitting close to my home over the past year. Between September 2017 and May 2018 four members of my extended family passed away. I lost my oldest living brother, two nephews, and a great-nephew in that period of time. This brings to fourteen the number of members of my family that have walked through the doors of death into the next life.
In addition, I received word in June that “Grandpa Jim” passed away. We met Jim and his wife Liz on a camping trip more than thirty years ago and “adopted” them. We have stayed in contact with them over the years and even visited them in their home in Oklahoma. I am saddened to know that he will not be there on my next visit.
I am grateful for my knowledge that death is a necessary part of our mortal experience. This knowledge brings comfort and peace whenever I say goodbye to a loved one. I cannot imagine the difficulty that the deaths of loved ones would bring if I did not have the knowledge that death is an essential part of life.
Each mortal will pass through the doors of death at some time. Some will pass away as infants, while others will become elderly. Some deaths will be natural and normal, while others will be true tragedies. No one knows when their exit time will come because it can happen at any time between infancy and old age. We do know that the doors of death will open for us when it is our time to walk through them. Then-Elder Russell M.Nelson spoke of the doors of death in the April 1992 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Death separates “the spirit and the body [which] are the soul of man.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15.) That separation evokes pangs of sorrow and shock among those left behind. The hurt is real. Only its intensity varies. Some doors are heavier than others. The sense of tragedy may be related to age. Generally the younger the victim, the greater the grief. Yet even when the elderly or infirm have been afforded merciful relief, their loved ones are rarely ready to let go. The only length of life that seems to satisfy the longings of the human heart is life everlasting.
Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45.) Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.
I literally hate saying goodbye to my loved ones. It is difficult for me to say goodbye to my children and grandchildren when I know that I will see them again in a few days. It is much more difficult if I do not know when I will see them again. The death of a loved one brings even more uncertainty about seeing them again. However, we must leave this world in order to gain eternal life and joy with our loved ones in the next life. Elder Nelson explains the necessity of death in his April 2005 General Conference address, just months after the death of his wife.
Death is a necessary component of our eternal existence. No one knows when it will come, but it is essential to God’s great plan of happiness. Thanks to the Atonement of the Lord, eventual resurrection is a reality and eternal life is a possibility for all humankind. That possibility becomes a reality as we obey God’s law. He said, “Except ye shall keep my commandments, … ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” [Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 12:20]. One day we will be judged by the Lord and go to our own mansion prepared in our Father’s heavenly house. Celestial glory awaits those who have been faithful to God’s gentle commands.
Brothers and sisters, we live to die and we die to live – in another realm. If we are well prepared, death brings no terror. From an eternal perspective, death is premature only for those who are not prepared to meet God.”
We lived with God in a pre-mortal world before we came to earth. While we were there, He explained that He would be sending us away for a short period of time in order for us to gain what we need to live with Him forever. We left that world of spirits and came here to obtain a physical body, to gain experience, and to prove ourselves. Once we meet those requirements, there is no need for us to remain in this world. We exit this mortal life through the doors of death and enter into a more beautiful and better world.
Our lives did not begin with our birth, and they will not end with our death. Birth and death are two necessary steps in our eternal progress. Just as birth is an important beginning to mortality, death is an important graduation to the next life. Both are essential for us in order to progress and become like our Father in Heaven. This knowledge makes saying goodbye to my loved ones easier but not easy. As Elder Nelson said, “The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.” I would much rather love and miss my loved ones for a while than to never love them.