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No one escapes this life without tears. Perhaps we should notice that our first expression, upon birth, is to cry. Yes, we all hope for more happiness than sorrow, but make no mistake: Grief will visit us all.
And it’s natural to mourn when we lose a loved one. It doesn’t show a lack of faith, or self pity; it shows the depth of our love. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it says, “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.” (D&C 42:45.) Even when we know death is but a homecoming on the other side of the veil, we anguish over losing the companionship of those we love. And who among us hasn’t felt the seeming wrongness of a parent having to bury a child? Or the loss of family members in the violence of war?
We mourn other losses, as well. Betrayal, cruelty, abuse, spiritual death, and setbacks of all kinds cause us to ache with sorrow. The depth of our hurting sometimes feels so crushing we wonder how we’ll ever come back to some form of normalcy. We look around and wonder how anyone survives the intensity of pain we feel.
Of course, we know that the Savior knows every ounce of our suffering, and the agony of everyone else as well. It’s inconceivable to mortal minds how he managed to take upon himself every sin and every sorrow, yet he did. This Easter as we celebrate his glorious resurrection, we also fill with humility and gratitude for the indescribable atonement of mankind that he single-handedly wrought as well.
Knowing he understands and has compassion for our sorrow helps. No one else may truly grasp what we feel, but we know our Savior does. He can help us through the darkness, and buoy us up through waves of grief when every minute is a struggle. But we must also remember that this path is ours to travel in our own way, and one size does not fit all.
Well-meaning friends, who only want us to feel better, often try to move us through the steps of grief faster than we’re able to navigate. “You just need to get out of the house,” or “Jump in and do service, like so-and-so,” are typical suggestions. And sometimes, they’re exactly the right fit. But only you will know when and how to take each next step. Some people need to plunge into a project or a distraction, to stay sane and inject meaning into life. Others need to pull back, contemplate, and have time alone.
I recall a well-intentioned friend who advised me to jog along the river when I was going through a particularly grievous time. That had worked for her, because she’s a runner. And I actually tried it. But it didn’t have the same effect on me; if anything, it depleted the strength I needed to cope. It was a good lesson for me that we each need to work things out in a way that fits us exclusively.
Let’s look at the stages of grief psychologists have identified. All of these are natural reactions, and it’s possible that swallowing down our hurt and refusing to move through these steps can leave lingering, unresolved issues we’ll only have to deal with later, possibly compounded.
First is Denial, our knee-jerk reaction to something we cannot believe has happened. It keeps us from dealing with hard facts, and some of us hide from reality for a very long time. Some experts say an extra step—Guilt—might be experienced next. The second stage is Anger, as we rail against the terrible blow we’ve been dealt. “Why me?” we ask. We see the unfairness of others not having to suffer as we do. We look for someone to blame, often God. Some people get stuck in this stage for years, nursing grudges and fanning the flames of fury at someone who hurt them long ago.
Then we Bargain. In this stage we try to make deals, often promising God we’ll straighten our lives out if only he will remove the thorn. Depression is the fourth step, when we sink into despair, unable to hope, unable to picture a happy future. And finally, we move into Acceptance. No, we do not forget our loss or our injury, but we find a way to pick ourselves up and go on. We grow from having traveled the path, we help others just beginning their journey. We find meaning in life again, ways to feel fulfilled, even slices of joy once more. And no one can rush this; the length of time we spend in each stage is different for each individual.
Thomas S. Monson addressed some of these steps in a General Conference talk in 1993 titled, Meeting Life’s Challenges. He said, “When the pathway of life takes a cruel turn, there is the temptation to think or speak the phrase, ‘Why me?’ Self-incrimination is a common practice, even when we may have had no control over our difficulty… at times there appears to be no light at the tunnel’s end—no dawn to break the night’s darkness. We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’ We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism. We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone.
“To all who so despair, may I offer the assurance of the Psalmist’s words: ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5).
Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life’s fight, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome.”
And in the April Conference of 2000, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin gave an address called Finding a Safe Harbor. He said, “Be assured that there is a safe harbor. You can find peace amidst the storms that threaten you. Your Heavenly Father—who knows when even a sparrow falls—knows of your heartache and suffering. He loves you and wants the best for you. Never doubt this. While He allows all of us to make choices that may not always be for our own or even others’ well-being, and while He does not always intervene in the course of events, He has promised the faithful peace even in their trials and tribulations.”
And so, while the order and duration of the stages may differ from person to person, there is one common solution that applies to all of us. It is to draw close to the Savior and let him ease your burdens. Instead of pulling away, we need to draw near. Perhaps Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best in his Conference talk, An High Priest of Good Things to Come in October of 1999, when he said, “To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. Christ comes to you in His ‘more excellent ministry’ with a future of ‘better promises.’ He is your ‘high priest of good things to come.’ ”
And the grief you thought only you knew, he knows. He has always known it, and has always been there, his hands outstretched to hold and comfort you. No pain is too monumental, no piercing hurt is beyond his healing touch.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books and YouTube Mom videos are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.