Mormons and Death Guest Post: The Loss is Real, Even for Mormons
(Bethany and her husband live in Arizona. They have 4 children, 3 on Earth and 1 in heaven.”)
One of the most comforting ideas in the Mormon church is the one of life after death and eternal families. Not even death can break our familial bonds, we will be together forever. But sometimes it seems like because we believe in these things, it gives us a free pass to not grieve when our loved ones die, or worse, to expect others not to grieve.
Mormons pride themselves on having “happy” funerals. The reason being, we “know” we will see them again someday, so why mourn? We should celebrate their joyous reunion with their loved ones who have gone on before, and look forward to our own reunions with anticipation. Yes, we will miss them, but having our gospel knowledge is comfort enough.
So at a Mormon funeral you’ll notice it is not customary for everyone to wear black, instead it’s a colorful affair. You’ll notice more “happy” tears than sad ones. It’s not uncommon for funerals to feel more like family reunions, and you’re more likely to hear laughing and reminiscing about the past than silence in respect for the dead.
When I was younger, I remember feeling a sort of pride that we could treat funerals this way. It was almost like we were more enlightened, we didn’t need to debase ourselves with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. We didn’t need to drape ourselves in black and keep our heads lowered. We knew the truth!
I think most people would want their loved ones to celebrate their life, instead of to mourn their loss, especially when one dies of old age at the end of a long, fulfilling life. True, it does make attending funerals much more pleasant. No need to burden oneself with the uncomfortable expressions of grief. But sometimes I think we take it too far. I think the desire to comfort has led some people to forget that they are there to mourn with those who mourn, not to make them smile and forget.
Funerals have long been necessary parts of the grieving process. It is a time to accept the reality of the death. And yet, it seems like more often than not, Mormon funerals focus on all the reasons why we shouldn’t have to grieve. We throw out pat statements of “At least we have the gospel” and “They’re in a better place” and “You’ll see them again someday”. We focus on the future, that “hope smiling brightly before us”, and hope that somehow it will cancel out the need for suffering here and now.
At my father’s funeral when I was 18, I remember acting strong and brave. I greeted people, I shed “happy tears”, I reminisced. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. But the moment that meant the most to me was when a long time friend walked straight up to me and wrapped me in her arms and cried. Finally all the pent up emotion was released. I wept. I felt more comfort in that moment than in a million brave smiles and happy stories. I didn’t need to hear reasons why I shouldn’t be sad, or why someday it will all be okay…I needed someone to allow me to grieve, and to bear that grief with me.
And then seven years later, I was standing in front of my little boy’s casket before they closed the lid. I wanted to throw myself over his body and hold him and weep. But I kept thinking, “We don’t do those kind of things at funerals. It’s not proper.” My hands trembled as they lowered and locked the lid forever, but I remained still and silent. I acted strong and brave and played my part well.
The morning after his funeral, I woke up with a knot in my stomach. As the day went on, I grew increasingly upset. I later realized it was because I felt like I was supposed to be “okay” now that the funeral was over. That my next part to play should be to get up at Fast & Testimony meeting on Sunday and testify that I was just fine because I “knew” the truth. But the truth was…the truth didn’t matter. It didn’t make me feel any better at all!
My child was dead, and nothing was going to change that. Nothing was going to bring him back to the here and now. And nothing was going to stop the pain that came with that. I wanted to weep and wail and gnash my teeth. I wanted to drape myself in the blackness that I felt all around me. I was feeling the loss, and nothing was going to make that “okay”.
I realize now that those feelings are not just okay, they are necessary, and even more, they are sacred. And the expression of those feelings, of that incredible loss, is pure and real. Those who shut themselves off from those feelings, from expressing them, and also from helping others to bear them, are missing a fundamental part of humanity. Throughout my grieving process, I have always felt that these feelings were important, I just never really understood why. I was wrong to act strong and brave. I should have cried. I should have held my baby one last time. I should have allowed myself to express my true feelings.
Feeling the Loss by Melissa Y. at Segullah, explains it so well:
“Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise, He did not arrive at the tomb with smiles and assurances that all would be well. The loss was real. It is because He wept at the grave of His friend that I feel I can reach to Him with my own losses.”
Jesus could have simply strolled in and rose Lazarus from the dead immediately. But He didn’t. He wept with them. He bore their grief, and grieved himself. He felt the loss.
I believe He did it to show us that grief is a sacred and necessary part of life and death. We shouldn’t try to ignore those feelings. And we should encourage and support those who need to express them. The gospel can give us hope for the future, but it does not take away the pain of the reality here and now.
It’s okay to feel sad. Its okay to cry. Its okay to mourn and grieve. The loss is real. Even for Mormons.