Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grief and The Plan of Salvation

We all grieve in different ways.  I'm old enough now to have dealt with grief on multiple occasions.  There is no right way or wrong way to grieve.  A person can deal with grief one way one time and then completely different the next time.  I have made some observations over the years, and for what it's worth I'm putting my thoughts down in case it might help someone.  Disclaimer:  I am not a grief counselor, nor do I have any training on the subject.  These are just my own observations from my personal experiences.

My first observation is that those people who have a knowledge of the plan of salvation seem to have a much easier time dealing with the death of a loved one.  A great lesson on the plan of salvation can be found here.  It explains the premortal existence, mortal life, and life after death.  There is great peace in understanding that Heavenly Father's plan includes death, but also includes the reunification of families for eternity.  What greater blessing can be given than the gift of living with our families after this life?  Knowledge of the plan of salvation is key to finding peace quickly at the death of a loved one.

Second, children need a chance to vocalize their grief.  So often we try to shelter children from hurt they need to feel.  As a child, my parents kept me away from my paternal grandmother's funeral because they felt I was too young to attend.  It wasn't until after the wake on the long drive home when it finally hit me that I wasn't going to see my grandmother again in this life.  Dad had to stop the car and talk to me.

Several years later, when my maternal grandfather passed, I asked my parents to go to the viewing prior to the funeral.  My parents had not planned on going themselves and were just planning to attend the funeral.  They talked about it in light of the first experience, and it was decided that my father should take me to the viewing.  It was a life changing experience for me.  I looked at the body in the casket, reached out my hand and touched the body and said, "He's not there."  Dad was surprised at my ability to realize that, and he confirmed to me that I was right.  We then read the 23rd Psalm together that was framed on the wall.  At this time we were not yet members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so our knowledge of the plan of salvation was limited.  It was very important, however, that I was able to discern the difference between a body and a spirit.

Having said all this, each child deals with death differently, and I absolutely do not agree with forcing a child to attend a funeral or a viewing.  I'm also not a fan of expecting that all the adults in the family attend a funeral or a viewing.  Funerals are for the living if it helps, but not everyone can cope with attending, and I think we need to be respectful of that.

Third, there are phases in the grief process.  What one is feeling today may not necessarily be what one is feeling tomorrow.  There are many emotions that are tangled in grieving -- shock, sadness, anger, hurt, loss, depression, guilt, joy (yes, I really said joy), and much more.  Joy can be felt when thinking about the great reunion that the loved one is having with family and friends who have passed on previously.  Joy can also be felt when thinking about a future time when you will be reunited with the loved one who has passed.  Conflicting emotions can be felt at the same time.  Joy and loss, for instance, are often felt at the same time.  Sometimes the cycle of emotions can be repeated several times.

Fourth, it is necessary to forgive before one can move on.  Sometimes we can be angry at a loved one for leaving us behind.  We might be angry at another person who might have caused an accident.  We might be angry at ourselves for not expressing enough love prior to the death of a loved one.  We might be angry with God.  Forgiveness is imperative in order to have closure.  In the case of anger against God, knowledge that death is part of God's original plan in order to live with Him and our families for eternity can bring great peace.

We can grieve differently each time.  In July, 1985, my father passed.  I grieved with painting supplies.  I painted the entire inside of my house, then moved outside.  I painted the cement on the patio, walkways, and the front porch.  When there was absolutely nothing left to paint, I went to the legal office where I was working part-time in the evenings.  I worked late into the night so that I couldn't think about it.  Then one night on the way home from the office a song came on the radio that was special to Dad and me.  I pulled off on an exit, got out of my car, slammed the door so hard that I actually sprung the door, leaned on the hood of the car and just sobbed.  I had a beautiful spiritual experience at that point which I won't go into here.  After that, I was okay.  I was able to move on.

In December, 2007, my stepson was killed in a tragic Caltrans accident.  The family situation at the time was such that I felt I had to "keep it together."  I kept it together and spoke at the funeral.  I kept it together and testified before the California legislature to help pass the "move over" law.  I kept it together for a full year waiting for the Highway Patrol report to come out.  I kept it together to read and summarize the report so that other family members didn't have to read it.  I shed a few tears off and on, but basically I kept it together for three years -- and then I fell apart at the seams.  I don't remember what triggered it, but I do remember that unfortunately I was at work when it happened.  I don't recommend that form of grief, by the way.  I think I did much better with a paint roller.

However we grieve, it is important to remember that it is a process, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.  It is also very important to let others go through the process in their own way.

Extra Tips Learned from the Highway Patrol Chaplain:  It is important to drink lots of water and eat lots of fruit during the grief process as the body dehydrates.  This is especially important in the days prior to the funeral so that it is easier to get through the funeral.  It works.  Really.

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