On Life and Death

The sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory.
— Alma 22:14

Two Sundays ago, in the middle of a sacrament meeting choir number, I got a text from my Mom with news that was unsurprising yet devastating. My Grandpa Rupp had passed away. Grandpa was 88. He lived a long, full life, including raising nine children, serving as scoutmaster for fifty(!) years, and working in the Jordan River Temple for thirty years. Just a few days prior he had been hunting in the mountains with my Dad, and on that bright Sunday morning he walked outside to get the morning paper, laid down in the grass of his front yard and slipped away. Having waited anxiously for a decade since Grandma died in 2006, his sudden passing was for him I’m sure a welcome blessing.

So why was I instantly in tears? I sat there, shielding my face, my ego taking comfort in the thought that the ward members would probably think I must really be feeling the Spirit during the choir number. (As if that would be a more manly reason to be bawling on the stand.) I was genuinely happy for Grandpa, and I had expected when this news for some ten years. I was left to wonder why it hurt so much.

The funeral was in Salt Lake City. We had two days to get things in order before we loaded up the family and made the long drive, arriving in Salt Lake in time for the viewing. I was so anxious to catch up with extended family, many of whom I rarely see anymore and all of whom I count as dear friends. The night was filled with joyful conversations, catching up and remembering our experiences with the great man who was the common bond of everyone in attendance.

The next morning felt more solemn. I handed out tissues during the family viewing, prayer, and closing of the casket. The funeral began. I felt pride as I walked into the chapel with my family.  Four of Grandpa’s eight sons and his only daughter were slated to speak.  The stories, the memories, the doctrine— I was again a sobbing mess; especially when my Dad, the second-to-oldest son, gave the closing talk. I hurt for my Dad. I tried to imagine what he must be feeling. I felt compelled yet powerless to provide any comfort. I glimpsed myself in him as he spoke, one day standing at the pulpit upon his inevitable death. All these thoughts and feelings tore at my heart and mind. I wasn’t overly embarrassed by my tears this time. After all, my two brothers (and most of the family around me) were doing the same thing.

I couldn’t help but wonder again, “what am I feeling right now?” I wrote in my notebook: “I’m not sad. I’m humbled. And sorry. And inspired.” Apparently those three are a lethal combination for a fellow who doesn’t typically show a lot of emotion. I was humbled by the profound impact one well-lived life can have on so many, sorry for the smallness I so often exhibit in my own life, and inspired to be better.

...

I didn’t intend for this to be a post about crying when my Grandpa died. So what did I intend? I suppose I just wanted to join the masses (everyone on earth who lives long enough and loves anyone at all) who have learned that coping with death is complicated, confusing, and indescribable. Death is liberating and yet damning, joyous yet heartbreaking. I’m not sure any other experience is so universal and yet so universally faced with such complete inadequacy.  It’s not enough to say with prophet Alma, that death is an “awful monster.” Death is, after all, an important part of God’s plan. Who wants mortality to never end, especially in an ever declining physical body? Surely one of the ironically sweetest moments of the Savior’s life was when he "gave up the ghost" and returned to his Father.

And yet we have these crushing consequences: the severed relationships. The absence of personality, story, and influence. The separation of the body and the spirit. I’ve been largely spared from the heartache death can bring. I’ve lost only two grandparents and never dealt with the tragic or untimely death of a loved one so I’m hardly an authority on the subject, but Grandpa Rupp was one of the most influential people in my life, and even though our interactions had been few in recent nears, his departure left a dull ache, an uneasiness, as if the devil was chopping away at the trunk of our family tree and we could feel it in our branches. The consequences of death are almost too much to bear if they are permanent. As Malachi described, when the children and the fathers are separated they are like stubble, having neither root nor branch.

That’s why I love believing in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.. It hurts to know that I won’t see Grandpa for a while. It hurts to know that I’ve been a largely absent grandson since moving to Arizona ten years ago. It hurts to know that one of my greatest heroes doesn’t exist on earth anymore. But I honestly feel peace in my heart that this all is temporary, that he is reunited with his wife, that he is free from the shackles of old age, and that I will know him again in a place and state that likely trumps any of our mortal interactions, as special as they may have been.

Because I believe this about everyone past, present, and future, my life has meaning and everyone around me has intrinsic purpose and value. There is reason to work and to play, to learn and to love, to hope and to try. There is reason to live.