I just learned that a twenty-two-year-old friend of our family died in a car accident this morning. I was immediately wrenched back seven years to when my nephew died. I can still hardly talk about it. I wrote this short piece after I came home from his funeral. In the time since I have researched and written on related topics, I’ve had two more children, and the pain still smolders. God be with my friends as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. May they know that they are never alone.
A month ago I came home from teaching seminary and I was met by my wife. She told me to sit down. It was my first day teaching and we spent the early morning discussing the “Plan of Salvation,” or as I told my students, “Mormon Cosmology.” In retrospect, it was a gift to have had that morning. The following day we left for Utah and I spent the thirteen hour drive considering various details of that cosmology.
Michael was twenty-two years old. He married his wife just a month earlier. And I wept. I laid down and I didn’t want to get up. I thought of his mother and father. I thought of his new wife. I thought of my own two sons. He was closer in age to me than only one of my four siblings. I saw him grow from baby to man and I loved him.
Mormon funerals have the reputation of being joyous. We memorialize a full life well spent. The release of death is the culmination, and we are confident in the cosmology which promises the persistence of our sociality. As we drove through the Cascades, I thought about the intersection of Joseph Smith and those recent days. I thought of Joseph’s sermons for the dead. It was perhaps fitting that Joseph’s greatest sermon was occasioned by the death of a man when a bucket fell on his head. As we drove through the eastern deserts of Washington and Oregon, I found no reason to celebrate; his life was not spent.
In the Blue Mountains, I thought of Joseph’s funeral sermon for Judge Adams. He mentioned the “vicissitudes of life, and of death; and the designs and purposes of God, in our coming into the world, our sufferings here, and our departure hence…[and] that it is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter[.]” Then Joseph made a bold assertion: “Reading the experience of others, or the revelations given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things, can only be obtained by experience in these things, through the ordinance of God set forth for that purpose.”
I have not asked God for an explanation. I’m not sure that I need or want one. I am content to be comforted by the measures that I have received – tying the robes of the priesthood on his broken, lifeless corpse, and feeling the power of God; sitting with my extended family and talking, even laughing; walking through the cemetery, nestled in the Wasatch Front, and naming the dead. These are perhaps a revelation. We are anointed, as Joseph said at Adams’ funeral, “to receive the keys of knowledge, and power, by revelation to [ourselves]” and over those few days, I needed every bit.