Coping with tragedy
I started using the Scriptural Index to the Latter-Day Prophets, which is an especially wonderful resource I recommend to everyone. It allows you to see which conference talks have cited certain scriptures. Our ward had an assignment to read to Alma 30 in the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I am a bit behind and so I was just now reading Alma 7. I noticed that President Eyring had continually and extensively quoted in his talks from Alma 7 and so decided to look through his related talks. I found a talk from April 1996 that really struck me strongly entitled A Legacy of Testimony
This is the part that stood out to me
“Some of the greatest opportunities to create and transmit a legacy of testimony cannot be planned. Tragedy, loss, and hurt often arrive unanticipated. How we react when we are surprised will tell our families whether what we have taught and testified lies deep in our hearts. Most of us will have taught our children of the power of the Savior to carry us through whatever befalls us. These words are from the Book of Mormon: “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” ( Alma 7:12).
When tragedy strikes or even when it looms, our families will have the opportunity to look into our hearts to see whether we know what we said we knew. Our children will watch, feel the Spirit confirm that we lived as we preached, remember that confirmation, and pass the story across the generations.
I have one such story in my legacy. Grandmother Eyring learned from a doctor in his office that she would die of stomach cancer. My father, her oldest son, had driven her there and was waiting for her. He told me that on the way home she said, “Now, Henry, let’s be cheerful. Let’s sing hymns.” They sang “O My Father” (Hymns, no. 292) and “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” where the last verse begins, “And should we die before our journey’s through” (Hymns, no. 30).
I wasn’t there, but I imagine they sang loudly—they didn’t have very melodic voices—with faith and no tears. She spent part of her last months in the home of her oldest child, her daughter. Aunt Camilla told me that Grandma complained only once, and then it was not really a complaint but just to say that it hurt.
Now, there are many people who have been cheerful and brave in the face of death. But it means far more to her family when the person has taught and testified of the power of the Savior to succor, of the sureness of the Resurrection, and of the hope of eternal life. The Spirit confirmed to me that Grandma’s peace and her courage were signs that her testimony was true, and because of that, all was well, all was well.”
Reading this, I reflected on the way that I had dealt with tragedy in my past. When my mother was sick, I made a strong external effort to make her proud of me. I began to get straight A’s and to take the most challenging classes. I took on an absurd amount of extra curricular activities. I worked to turn myself into someone that she could love and respect. Internally, however, I withdrew and made selfish decisions. I spent more time outside of the house and less with her. I am not at all proud of my decisions during that time of pain. It was too hard for me to imagine loosing her and so I lost a lot of precious time that could have been ours. In my actions, I certainly did not live up to the person that I wanted to be.
Likewise, throughout her sickness, we turned to the Psalms for comfort and relief. Our faith in God was strengthened, and on her dying day my mother told me that she still believed strongly. Even though her illness was difficult and painful towards the end, she did not lose sight of her faith. On the other hand, her death did a lot to shatter my faith. It was hard for me to accept that she could have been taken. Externally I was fine. I did not let the loss weaken. I kept up my grades and my work and everything else outside of me. Yet, internally the loss was crippling. I eventually came to believe that God could not exist.
I look back at this loss of faith with terror. I had once begun an essay testifying that because of an instance of divine intervention that helped to save my life, “Others may question their faith in God, but I never had.” Yet, my faith was built on much less firm ground than I’d imagined up to that point. Have things changed today? I like to think that my testimony today is much more sturdy and that I have matured in my understanding of Christ. I like to believe that when the storms come in the future I will be able to bear them and stay true to the faith. I have already found my faith wanting in the past. I keep feeling like I need to prove somehow that this will not happen again, but I suppose that life is the only antidote to that. That’s why we are tasked with “enduring to the end” and not just enduring.