Life, Death, Storm, Gloom, and Beautiful Clarity



Near Park City, Utah


It’s a glorious day up here in Park City — fresh white snow everywhere, newly flocked trees, exceptionally clear air, white conifer-clad mountains against bright blue skies.  For a Southern California boy, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  I don’t necessarily want it to put me in mind of Christmas.  Not just yet.  I don’t want to focus on Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  I try really hard to resist the aggressive commercialism that, these days, begins to put Christmas shopping ads up around early October.  However, such winter scenes, to somebody who didn’t grow up among them, irresistibly testify that Christmas is coming.


Yesterday wasn’t nearly so beautiful.  In fact, it was rather ugly.  It was cloudy and cold, overcast and snowing.  Visibility was low.  The mountains were impossible to discern.  But that’s the price that we’re obliged to pay in order to enjoy days such as this one.


Yesterday, too, we participated in the funeral for one of my wife’s aunts, in the small mountain-valley town of Henefer.  She had been suffering for quite some time from Alzheimer’s, the same terrible disease that, after years of ravaging mind and personality, finally claimed my wife’s mother this past 6 April.  I knew her only slightly, but, from my experiences with her and from what I’ve heard about her (and not merely during the eulogies at her funeral), she seems to have been a wonderful, faithful, and very kind person.  We accompanied her body to the cold and muddy little cemetery on the hill overlooking the valley in which she was born and in which she died.


Death, too, is a price that we pay — for prospects that are far grander, even, than this beautiful day after gloom and storm.  “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).


Time and eternity were in even closer proximity during that funeral than they usually are at such events.  Only minutes into the services, just as one of the daughters was commencing the “life sketch” for her departed mother, an elderly man (apparently a beloved former bishop in that small community) collapsed behind me and to my left, perhaps (I’m just guessing) from a heart attack.  Those around him managed to get him into one of the foyers, to stretch him out on the floor, and to call 911.  At first, I thought he was dead.  His wife was kneeling beside him on the floor, hugging him, sobbing and pleading that he not die.  Once things were more or less under control, though, and after help had been summoned, being a stranger and irrelevant — my doctorate is one of those that has no practical use at crucial moments like this — I walked out to the curbside in front of the church where I could direct the EMTs and the ambulance to the appropriate side of the church and the correct door.  In a case such as this, I knew, saving a minute or two might, conceivably, be of enormous importance.


In the end, the man was semi-conscious as they loaded him into the ambulance to take him down to a major hospital in Ogden.  The stake president who was presiding at the funeral (of his mother) sent the bishop who was conducting the services out to see how things were going, and the funeral paused as the people there joined in prayer for their stricken friend and brother in the Gospel.  I was outside, but was told about it later.  I would be very surprised, too, if those gathered right around the man didn’t lay their hands upon him for a priesthood blessing, as well, while they waited for medical help to arrive.


And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me.

Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection.

And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; . . .

And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.  (Doctrine and Covenants 42:44-46, 48)


I love being part of such a community as this.


Today, we participated in worship services with one of the wards in the greater Park City area.  We knew nobody there, but felt instantly at home among fellow Saints, as we have across the United States and around the world.  These are our people.  As the speakers addressed the theme they had been assigned, that of “Testimony,” they spoke our language, told of experiences that we fully understood, reflected on foibles and failures with which we could immediately identify, and gave reasons for the hope that is within us all.  (See 1 Peter 3:15.)


Posted from Park City, Utah



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  • RaymondSwenson

    A few years ago, when we lived in Idaho Falls, a young man who grew up in our ward was killed in Iraq, and we attended his funeral. Partly, I think, because it was honoring a soldier, the funeral included several musical numbers, including songs by a choir from a local Lutheran congregation, and later a solo by a man who stood at the lecturn to sing. During the (very long) solo, one of the older women in the choir started to have a seizure of some kind. The soloist was totally absorbed in his presentation, and at first it seemed that no one besides a couple of people in the choir were doing anything to help the poor woman. I just about stood up and shouted at the several men in uniform who were attending the funeral to start giving the woman some first aid, when the rest of the choir finally mobilized to help the woman stand and move her into the lobby while one of them called 911. The soloist was still oblivious. I slipped out to check on the situation, and she seemed to be recovering, but for a while I thought we were going to witness a second tragedy. The way the program continued without interruption was disconcerting, even absurd. The line between comedy and tragedy is very thin.
    A few years earlier, when an older man in my Sunday School class had a sudden seizure, I stopped the lesson to make sure that he was OK before I continued. With all the emergency first aid we learn through Scouting, not giving priority to people in urgent distress over the customary and mundane activities we engage in at church meetings must, I think, be offensive to the Lord.
    That is one of the reasons I have appreciated the stories President Monson tells of being prompted to leave a church meeting in progress, or depart from his planned itinerary, because he felt prompted to help an individual.