My favorite scene in Les Miserables is when Marius sings “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Yes, I am fully aware of how heartbreaking and tragic that scene is — it’s the reason why I love it so. I love it because I can feel his pain, because he and I have something in common.
“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain goes on and on,” Marius sings.
That pain is that of loss. Of losing ones loved and close to you. For me, it began when a friend drowned while trying to save a little boy my junior year of high school. Then, after graduation, two other friends died in a car accident. The loss continued when a close friend passed after a battle with cancer my sophomore year of college. My uncle’s sudden death last October has left a hole in my heart that sometimes feels like it will never be filled again.
It felt like it was never going to end and to this day, I have an oftentimes encompassing fear that someone I love will leave this earth before I am ready to see them go.
One of my darkest moments in learning how to cope with death was after my uncle died. I was in my last semester of college, which was supposed to be the best semester of my entire college career. I got the news of his death in the JFK airport, on my way back to school with my friends and fellow students after an internship expedition. My sister was leaving on her mission in less than a month and I felt like everything was falling apart. I let myself get more depressed than I ever have before and distinctly remember lying in my bed one night, crying uncontrollably. I told myself I wasn’t grieving, — I had done enough of that. I was trying not to be angry with my Heavenly Father.
I knew without a doubt that I would see my uncle and friends again in the next life. I had a testimony of the plan of salvation and of eternal families. And yet, my grief made it difficult to maintain that eternal perspective. I couldn’t get past simply missing them. In fact, It’s still hard for me to come to grips with the fact that my uncle, who treated me like his own daughter, won’t be there on my future wedding day.
A saying commonly used while mourning the death of a loved one is “they wouldn’t want us to be so sad right now.” I hate that. I’ve said it myself, and I believe it to be true. However, I selfishly want to scream “but I have to feel this way!”
Forgetting the eternal perspective is selfish.
“Oh my friends, my friends forgive me, that I live and you are gone.”
Marius feels the guilt many of us feel after losing someone close to us, especially if the death is traumatic — and many are for many reasons. We desperately want to take their place, or in my case, go with them. I’m not trying to sound morbid. In reality, comparing the searing pain of this earthly life to one of paradise and the Lord’s presence has many times made me jealous and I end up longing for the ones I’ve lost even more.
In the midst of my trial last year, a very kind and wise bishopric member gave me a blessing to set me apart for a new calling. In it he said we all must experience death. That it was OK my uncle had passed, because he simply needed to, and that I would someday have to as well. It made all the difference.
Elder Russell M. Nelson said something I find a great deal of comfort in. “Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. … Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through — and not around — the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven.” (“Doors of Death,” Engisn, May 1992.)
How grateful I am for this knowledge. My experiences with death and mourning are examples of what can happen when we forget the eternal perspective and let the adversary take advantage of our weakened emotional and spiritual state.
Grief needs to happen. If we suppress it, it will most likely turn on us someday. Grieving with the Lord’s help and faith in His plan is a bump in the road He is ready and willing to assist us over.
I know that death is essential to God’s plan. I know that I will most likely have more experiences with it. I know my faith will be tried and tested once again. But I also know that Heavenly Father has prepared me by giving me the gift of the experiences I’ve already had. They are also experiences that help me in my everyday life. They remind me that this mortal life — while painful — is a blink in my eternity, and that Jesus Christ’s Atonement heals all wounds, especially those of death.
Something that really helped me understand death and why it is necessary was a simple booklet I found at Deseret Book years ago called “Comfort My Soul in Christ: Death: Finding Hope Beyond the Sorrow,” by Randy L. Bott.