Thursday, November 18, 2010

Allowing Mourning

As I began to write this post I had a flash of a memory from my undergrad days at BYU. We were in one of my English classes, a survey course, I believe, studying Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning." Our instructor, pointing out the need to understand the words before we could understand the poem, indicated the first time she read this poem she substituted "Morning" for "Mourning." And she wondered how anyone could forbid morning from coming.

In Donne's poem, the speaker tries to sooth his lover's mourning at his leaving by presenting a series of metaphysical images which demonstrate how their being apart is actually good for them.

I think about things I have mourned in my life, and about the scriptural injunction to mourn with those that mourn. Of course I have mourned the death of loved ones – first my grandparents in my youth and then my parents when I was an adult. I was relatively young when my grandparents died. The one I remember the most was my mother's father. I knew him better than the others because he spent half of each year in the same town that we lived in. I must have been about 14 when he died (my brother had recently returned from his mission). When my mother gave me the news, I felt nothing. And I was surprised by that. It seemed odd that I didn't feel anything, but there I was.

A day or two later we gathered in the funeral home for a family viewing before Papa's many friends and business associates would file through to pay their respects. When I saw my grandfather in the casket, tears poured from my eyes. I could not control them, nor did I understand them. It was not as if I wanted him to come back; I knew he wouldn't. But the tears were unrelenting.

My mother kindly moved me to a more private part of the funeral home where I continued to weep. My brother, just home from his mission, came in to try to comfort me. He tried to talk about the Plan of Salvation, about life after death. But in the end, he said sometimes we just need to cry, and asked if I wanted him to stay or be alone. After a while, the tears stopped. I blew my nose, and I was done crying.

I have also mourned other losses besides the death of loved ones. I have mourned the loss of my dream of what some of my children would become as they made choices that were radically different from the ones I would have made for them. (I have since learned that it's unfair of me to suppose that my children will choose the dreams I have selected for them; they must be free to choose their own paths.)

I have mourned the loss of opportunities that I either missed or squandered. For instance I work in a job that many would consider to be terrific, but it is not my first choice of profession and does not bring me joy. And for a long time, I mourned what could have been had I traveled a different path. (And at the same time I've learned that work does not have to bring me joy, even though some days I wish it would.)

I have, from time to time, mourned change in my life. When I have left a calling it often has also meant leaving the association of those with whom I worked in that calling. I have mourned the loss of friends who have moved away, or friends I have left behind when I've moved. I have mourned my own innocence when events out of my control showed me more real life consequences than I ever wanted to see. And I've mourned because of mistakes I've made as a parent and as a husband.

When we mourn with those that mourn, what do we do? Of course we bring funeral potatoes. We send sympathy cards or flowers. We offer to help. Sometimes we just listen. And sometimes, like my brother, we let the mourner just cry.

I remember with clarity one friend who mourned with me. We had moved back to the US from an overseas assignment. I had just been released as bishop. The transition back to life in the US was difficult (more difficult than going overseas, as has always been the case for us). Some of my children were not adjusting well, and all the change caused some emotional earthquakes in our home. A good friend had warned me that my release as bishop would likely be followed by a period of depression, and I ignored him. But within months of our return I was, in fact, in a deep depression – fueled by the release, the move, the upheaval in our home.

I finally reached out to a friend who patiently listened as I talked. He read as I wrote. He said very little, really, except to say by what he did that he was there for me, ready to listen and ready to do, if something needed to be done. He encouraged me to visit with the bishop, which I did, but that was not particularly helpful to me. Certainly not as helpful as the listening ear of my dear friend.

And in time, I healed. The sun began to shine on me again. It took years to sort out the tremors in the family (and some still resonate ten years later), but it took much less time for me to find relief. And having someone mourn with me made all the difference.

And it made me look a little closer sometimes for someone whom I might love a little more, encourage a little more, someone who needs someone to mourn with him.


  1. I'd heard of Mormon blogs, but never looked till now, when I Googled lds blogs. The first one I read was anti-, sad to say, but the next was yours. Thank you for your uplifting, insightful contribution, particularly with the important topic of mourning; brings back memories I still need to work out.

  2. Ned, I'm glad you found your way in. Thanks! And I'm glad that you enjoyed this particular post. My blog list might point you to some other positive lds blogs. I certainly don't have them all, but these often speak to me.

  3. Thank you for this post, Dad. Beautifully written. Coincidentally, I love that poem by Donne and I appreciate your insight into it.