“Through a Parent’s Eyes” (Elder Renlund) #ldsconf

dale-g-renlund-largeUnlike Elder Renlund, my career has not put me in contact with death. And yet, I understand, on a more modest scale, the need and impulse to develop emotional distance from people and problems. Being able to detach myself allows me to function in a world where things don’t always go the way I would have them go.

There’s a downside, though: as long as I remain distant from my neighbors, I cannot “completely fulfill [my] covenant obligation to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”

Elder Renlund described an experience where his emotional distance was shattered: he had performed a heart transplant on a boy, and the boy lived as healthy and normal a life as he could. A decade and a half after the transplant, Chad ended up in the emergency room in full cardiac arrest. After desparately trying to save him, Dr. Renlund declare him dead. Though sad, he comforted himself with the thought that “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.”

That could have been where the story ended: Elder Renlund had done what he could, and recognized the good life Chad had enjoyed. But, it turns out, that’s not enough: Chad’s parents came in and saw Chad, dead, lying on the stretcher:

For the first time, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. With this realization, I began to weep. In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me.

Elder Renlund’s devasating realization: seeing Chad through his parents’ eyes transformed Chad from a person who had lived a good life into someone who was loved, someone who would be missed, someone who was part of a fabric and a community, and who could have had and been more.

We must, Elder Renlund tells us, see others through a parent’s eyes, and through God’s eyes. Only then can we really understand their value. Only then can we truly love and serve them.

There’s a problem here, of course: by seeing them without emotional distance, we open ourselves up to feeling their pain. And that pain can paralyze us. What do we do about that?

In Elder Renlund’s case, he was comforted by the parents who, themselves, were mourning. And Elder Renlund promises that similarly, Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us.

His was a message I’ve heard before: to truly love our neighbor, we need to see them as children of God. But Elder Renlund’s version struck me in a way the message hasn’t before. It’s not enough to intellectually know that our brothers and sisters are children of God—we need to actually see them from the perspective of their loving parents. Only then can I truly see them as they are, and as they could be.


  1. An incredibly touching and humble talk. Good things to come from E Renlund.

  2. I hope someone reviews with him the federal patient privacy laws before he gets in trouble for violating them. Patient information can’t be shared like that. I wouldn’t want him to get in trouble nor do I want people seeing him as someone who doesn’t keep his moral obligation to patient privacy.

  3. HIPAA is one of the most misunderstood laws in the medical industry, even by those who practice and administer medical care, and that is simply wrong, Mark. He was not even close to violating federal privacy standards, or even violating the purposes for which the laws were written. He was well within the letter and the spirit of the law.

  4. Amen,Amy, This talk does not violate HIPAA. It resonated of emotional honesty and touched me deeply.

  5. This was one of my favorite talks throughout GC. That example was powerful and profound.

    I am looking forward to hearing more from Elder Renlund.

  6. @Amy and @Chris. Elder Renland’s talk was very touching and taught a great message no disputing that. Only if he has permission from the patient’s personal representative to share the protected health information that he did (the patient’s name, condition, etc) would it be ok. He didn’t state that he had that permission so we don’t know for sure. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/coveredentities/decedents.html

  7. This was one of my favorite talks, too. Very sincere, honest, and humble.

  8. It was a wonderful talk, and this is a great post. Thanks Sam. I’m excited to see what comes from Elder Renlund.

    Mark, I’m sure he would be familiar with that law and you don’t need to worry about it. Armchair quarterbacking a pro.

  9. it's a series of tubes says:

    Mark, did you consider that he might have been granted permission to share the details? Throwing legal shade on a very moving talk is (at least to me, as an attorney who practices in the relevant space) missing the forest for the trees.

  10. It was a tremendously sincere and moving talk—for me, definitely a, if not the, highlight of Conference. I look forward to learning the Gospel through Elder Renlund’s experiences and discourses, and, better, learning how to be a better brother and citizen from him.

  11. I love that the Bloggernacle commenter’s reaction to a tender-hearted story is to accuse the speaker of a HIPAA violation. CLASSIC BLOGGERNACLE DON’T YOU EVER CHANGE.

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