While Debbie was here, we were driving around in our van and started talking to her about how we were beginning to shop around for burial plots and coffins. Jo Anne usually has coupons for most everything, but as she searched expectantly through her stash of coupons, sadly there were no deals on burial plots or coffins. Maybe there would be some better buys around Halloween – I'm not sure.
As we were talking about burial plots, coffins, and headstones, Debbie said she had the perfect epithet for my headstone. It would read, "Here Lies Jack-In-The-Box." You can only imagine what would be served by the Relief Society at the post funeral service luncheon.
We had a good laugh at the "Jack-In-The-Box" epithet. It reminded me of some of my favorite humorous headstones I have run across in my own reading. I don't spend much time visiting and roaming about graveyards.
"Here lies Johnny Yeast/
Pardon me For not rising."
Or "Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake/ Stepped on the gas Instead of the brake."
And then from a lawyer in England – "Sir John Strange/ Here lies an honest lawyer and that is Strange."
Well, I hope you don't think badly of me having a little fun with death and burial plots, headstones, and impending coffins. I must admit however, that as I get older, I think more about death than I used to as a 40-year-old. Can any of you identify? Also, having lived for 23+ years on life support has made me realize how fragile life is and how quickly mortality can end. As most of you know, there have been at least 10 times that my life support system has failed me over the years. Each time I could have departed from mortality and entered the World of Spirits. For some reason I have been rejected each time, which has been hard on my self-esteem, making me feel that I must be some kind of spiritual reject. However, a delayed exit from mortality is more appealing to the natural man in me than an early entrance into the World of Spirits. I guess I have some apprehension, having never visited there. Maybe all of us fear the unknown just a little bit.
I know however, in spite of the humor recorded above, that death can be very sobering and can even test our faith when it strikes someone who is very close to us. When I was 32 years old, married, and the father of three little children, my dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away while undergoing what we all thought was going to be a "slamdunk" repair of a valve in his heart. He was only 62 when he passed away in April, 1970.
For me it was my moment of truth with the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here I was, a returned missionary, married in the temple, serving as an elders quorum president, working full-time for the Church Education System, and I must admit I was surprisingly shaken by my dad's passing. We were very close, and the thought of never seeing him again was, quite frankly, more than I thought I could endure. I had taught the Atonement of Christ and "The Great Plan of Happiness" many times through the years as a missionary, as well as a seminary teacher, and I thought I believed it to be true with all my heart. However, all of a sudden it was my dad, and was there truly a Spirit World, and a resurrection, and are families actually able to be together forever? During the week preceding the funeral service and during the service itself, my questions were answered in such a profound way, I have never doubted since that time the reality of the sealing power of the priesthood. I will just say that I simply was immersed in the Spirit and knew then, as I know now, that these special and sacred relationships we have with loved ones in mortality extend on into the eternities. For me, everything that means anything is centered in the temple and the ordinances and covenants entered into in that sacred setting.
I think I have been prompted to write what I have at this particular time, because of the deaths of four individuals who lived in our area, all occurring within a two week period. Two of those who passed on were older; in fact I was honored to have been asked to speak at the service of a wonderful 90-year-old man who we had known for about 40 years. The other two who passed were much younger, in their 40s. Death, of course, can and does come at any age. The thing that impressed me so much as I attended these funeral services, one after the other, was how well the families were dealing with the lengthy separation death inevitably brings with it. I saw tears being shed, but not tears of anguish or hopelessness. These families had faith in the Savior, and in his infinite love and Atonement for each one of us, and in the sacred ordinances and covenants entered into in holy temples.
Loved ones will be missed by family and friends, but there is no need to mourn. Tears are appropriate at times like these however, but as the Lord has revealed to us:"Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die…And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them." [D&C 42:45-46]
As I contemplate my own mortality and my inevitable journey into eternity – someone once said birth is a terminal disease – I have taken comfort in the scriptural references cited below from the Book of Mormon in which Alma teaches his wayward son, Corianton, the truth and reality regarding The Spirit World and of a literal resurrection. (Alma 40:11-12; Alma 40:45-46). These scriptures fill me with a "perfect brightness of hope" regarding my future journey into the World of Spirits, and ultimately of receiving a glorified, perfected body.
I also have found the words of Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as many other less known works very inspirational and worth pondering, as we think of death that will inevitably visit each one of us and those we love. By the Way, Victor Hugo had little love for the organized religions of his day (born 1802, died 1885 in Paris, France), which makes his words that much more meaningful to me. I believe it captures a universal desire and yearning in the hearts of all of Heavenly Father's children, regardless of their religious persuasion, culture, or nationality.
"It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live."
"I feel within me that in my future life. … I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens. … The nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me.… When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, "My day's work is done." But I cannot say, "My life is done." My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight, but opens upon the dawn." (Victor Hugo)
Editors Note: According to computer operating system file date/time stamps, this observation was last updated on October 29, 2012, after the last blog entry entitled "The Way Out is the Way through" was published on Jack's blog several weeks earlier on October 5th. However, this observation was not published on Jack's blog until December 2015.