She Who Loses Her Life Shall Find It

Mom Hand

Dear Will:

I’m sorry that I have not written for a while. Truth be told, I’ve started down this path a half a dozen times and have been unable to find my footing. So tonight I’m simply going to start walking and see where it leads.

On the Friday entering Memorial Day weekend my mother, Becky, passed away. She was 91. Having lived a full and blessed life, she was ready to move on to “what’s next.” The last year of her life wasn’t easy, given the gradual decline of her body, and she admitted that she would just as soon be done with it all. She told me, in fact, that she was curious to see what’s it’s like on the other side. (Me too.) So now she knows, and you and I are left to wonder.

I said she lived a blessed life, and I think it would be fair to say that she died a blessed death as well. She pretty much stayed away from the hospital, and since my father left her with sufficient savings she could afford to stay in her home where we could sit and visit and hold hands until the very end. We found a saintly woman to look after her most days, and when she couldn’t, my brother, sister, and equally saintly sister-in-law filled in the rest. On the day she passed away, my mother’s home was filled with laughter and love and many of the people she cared about most.

Just before she died, those of us who were with her circled her bed for a family prayer. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes later that she slipped away, so quietly that, even though we were right there beside her, we didn’t even notice at first. There was no drama. No trauma. She simply stopped breathing. It was very sweet.

If you had been at the funeral, you would have heard this recurring thought: My mother was the most unselfish person imaginable. Her life reflected an unwavering commitment to doing what would make other people happy—because that’s what made her happy as well. I think that’s what the Savior had in mind when He taught that she who loses her life shall find it (Matthew 10:39). She gave and gave until she had nothing left to give. And yet, as I think I have mentioned before (for example here and here and here), I continue to benefit from her many, many gifts.

The death of a loved one is one of those moments in which we are all forced to confront one of the central questions of all existence: Is that all? In that instant when her heart stopped pumping, did Becky Watkins cease to be? Or does life continue in some other form? Even for those of us who faithfully show up for Sunday School (and occasionally dash off letters like this one), we must consider whether or not we actually believe what we say.

So for the record: I do believe. I believe Jesus, who said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). I believe Paul, who wrote: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). And I believe my mother, who taught me these things when I was a small boy and continued to reinforce them throughout my life. I have no doubt that my mother lives on and that we shall be reunited some day.

And so I do not mourn her passing. But do I miss her? Every single day.

PW

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A Fitting Symbol

Dear Will:

It’s Easter morning and I awaken to a quiet house. The scene is very different from the one I encountered as a boy, when my siblings and I would arise on Easter morning to find a basket set out for each of us, baskets filled with that stringy, green cellophane stuff (what do you call that?), jelly beans, chocolate eggs, and other candy. Then my brothers and sisters and I would scatter about the house and yard looking for the Easter eggs we had colored the night before. Although I don’t remember ever visiting the Easter Bunny at the mall the way kids do these days, I do recall that one year we received an actual bunny on Easter morning. That was pretty cool.

Easter was fun. It was exciting. And the candy was delicious. But this quiet house now feels much more like Easter to me.

That change in perspective has been gradual, to be sure. At some point—at an age I do not now recall—I remember asking what bunnies and eggs and whatnot had to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I remember that the answer—some convoluted bit having to do with symbols of birth or life or whatever—seemed contrived and completely unsatisfying. It didn’t really make sense.

The problem, of course, is that bunnies and eggs (and bunny eggs, for that matter) have nothing whatsoever to do with the resurrection of Christ. I’m pretty sure these oddments were adapted from some pagan rites of centuries long ago, but no matter. They might have easily been cooked up by the writers of Seinfeld for all they tell us about the event we celebrate at this time every year. And in that sense they are harmless enough, I suppose. Harmless, that is, if they do not prevent us from seeing and feeling and understanding the larger Truth this Christian holiday (holy-day) commemorates.

The essential, truth-telling symbols of Easter are these: an otherwise nondescript patch of ground in a grove of olive trees, stained with drops of sweat and blood; a cross on a hill on the outskirts of town; linen clothes lying in an otherwise empty tomb, the head-wrap neatly folded, separate from the rest; two hands and two feet made perfect by the scars that now remain as a reminder of who He is and what He did for all of us.

When Mary, Joanna, and others arrived at the sepulcher on that historic Sunday morning, they were met by two men in shining robes who said to them: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:5-6). Later that day, Jesus—the Christ—appeared to Mary, Peter, Luke, Cleopas, and many others of his disciples. The “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was then taken to the world by these eyewitnesses, and it has spread across the globe since that glorious day.

The Apostle Paul, who himself witnessed the Living Christ one day on the road to Damascus, put it this way: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). In simpler terms, Elder David A. Bednar summarized the message of Easter morning this way: “Jesus died; He is not dead.”

That is good news—fitting for an annual commemoration. And while I treasure memories of my own children dashing about the yard, plucking up fluorescent, plastic eggs, those are not what I would consider Easter memories. If asked to choose, the decision for me would be an easy one: To honor the death and resurrection of my Savior, I will always prefer a quiet house at the dawning of a perfect Sabbath day.

PW

What Do You Say?

Dear Will:

A friend of mine died last week. He was only 57, and as far as most of us knew, he was in reasonably good health. But then he broke his leg, which led to an infection, which led to pneumonia, and before we knew it he was on life-support. On Monday night, his wife of 30 years honored his wishes and instructed his doctors to disconnect the equipment that was keeping him alive. Within 15 minutes he was gone.

What a jolt. Those of us on the periphery had been told that he was slowly improving, but then last weekend he took a final, fatal turn for the worse. As you might imagine, his wife was devastated—is devastated. As she said to me: “We were supposed to grow old together. Now what am I supposed to do?”

What do you say to someone in a moment like that? Mostly you offer trite words of consolation: “I’m so sorry. He was a great guy. It’s not fair that you should lose him at such an early age.” And on and on. But as I said, such pronouncements, however sincere, are trite at best. They do not begin to provide substantive solace or meaningful counsel.

The truth is that the only way to get one’s bearings after the unexpected loss of a loved one is through words of eternal significance. When my father died last year, those were the only words that brought me any sense of comfort. I remember that the words of Job came repeatedly to mind at that time: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). Knowing, as I did, that life extends beyond this mortal existence made it much easier for me to accept his death.

The scriptures teach that faith leads to hope. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way:

Faith, Mormon taught, leads to hope, a special, theological kind of hope. The word is often used to express the most general of aspirations—wishes, if you will. But as used in the Book of Mormon it is very specific and flows naturally from one’s faith in Christ. . . .

What is the nature of this hope? It is certainly much more than wishful thinking. It is to have “hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” [Moroni 7:41]. That is the theological meaning of hope in the faith-hope-charity sequence. With an eye to that meaning, Moroni 7:42 then clearly reads, “If a man have faith [in Christ and his atonement] he must needs [as a consequence] have hope [in the promise of the Resurrection, because the two are inextricably linked]; for without faith [in Christ’s atonement] there cannot be any hope [in the Resurrection].” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 334–35).

No doubt there will be the chance to talk of such things in the days ahead. In the meantime, I pray for those my friend left behind—his wife, his siblings, his close friends—who find themselves wondering about death-too-soon and life hereafter. May they come to know, as I do, that “by man came death, [and] by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

PW