More frequently over the past several weeks than in similar previous periods, I have had a number of friends, colleagues and neighbors dealing with the sorrows of loved ones either passing away or facing their final days of mortality.
In reaching out to them with expressions of empathy and consolation, I’ve turned to some repeated expressions — that “mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love” and “the only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
It’s part of a message I’ve found myself sharing — in family, friend and ecclesiastical relationships — first for remarks at a funeral service some 15 years ago and in similar talks and in notes of condolences since.
Knowing that I had pulled those messages and others from a variety of Church sources — books, scriptural guides and such — I went looking for the original citation. I was confident I had come across lines about mourning in “True to the Faith,” a Church-published gospel reference book from 2004.
But they date back before that — and come from President Russell M. Nelson.
In the April 1992 general conference, President Nelson — then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — offered instruction titled “Doors of Death.” His message is like a tender, timeless fabric, the interwoven topics including God’s plan of happiness, eternal perspective, coping with trials, post-mortal life, resurrection, immortality and eternal life.
President Nelson’s full quote on mourning from nearly three decades ago is as follows:
“Irrespective of age, we mourn for those loved and lost. Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandment: ‘Thou shalt live today in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45.)
“Moreover, we can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
I’ve since had a chance to read — and reread — President Nelson’s entire remarks as well as review instruction and reminders about funerals in the “Meetings in the Church” chapter in the online “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
One part reads: “A funeral conducted by the bishop, whether in a Church building or another location, is a Church meeting and a religious service. It should be a spiritual occasion in addition to a family gathering.”
Funerals have a three-fold purpose — to pay tribute to the deceased, to offer comfort for the family and the bereaved, and to teach and testify of God’s plan of happiness, the Savior, His Atonement, the Resurrection and the eternal principles that bless us in this life and through eternity.
As I attend funeral services in our chapels, at funeral homes and at gravesides, I find that we often do a very good job of paying tribute and seeking comfort. Yet, our knowledge of and belief in the plan of salvation gives us the greatest comfort, and we should speak freely and frequently of the plan and its principles. As we speak of these eternal principles, the Spirit speaks solace to our souls.
As he concluded his April 1992 general conference remarks, then-Elder Nelson offered promises of hope, peace and comfort, all centered on the Lord’s messages, ministry and mission.
“We need not look upon death as an enemy. With full understanding and preparation, faith supplants fear. Hope displaces despair. The Lord said, ‘Fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full’ (Doctrine and Covenants 101:36). He bestowed this gift: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid’ (John 14:27).
“As a special witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that He lives! I also testify that the veil of death is very thin. I know by experiences too sacred to relate that those who have gone before are not strangers to leaders of this Church. To us and to you, our loved ones may be just as close as the next room — separated only by the doors of death.
“With that assurance, brothers and sisters, love life! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God (see Mosiah 2:21). Live it well — even to your loftiest potential. Then the anticipation of death shall not hold you hostage. With the help of the Lord, your deeds and desires will qualify you to receive everlasting joy, glory, immortality and eternal lives.”