Yesterday and today, I attended the viewing and funeral of a man in our stake who died of an unexpected heart attack. He was in his early 50's, had just been to the doctor and been pronounced fit as a fiddle, was losing weight and feeling great.
He was the Bishop of his ward, and I had been the High Council adviser for his ward when I first was called to my current calling. He was a wonderful, humble, caring, kind man.
His wife had been cancer free for just over a year. During her treatment, while he served faithfully as a Bishop, their ward rallied around them in wonderful ways, giving incredible love and service and strength to both of them in their trial. Everyone had become reconciled to the possibility of her death, so his was a true shock. His son flew home for the weekend, after which he will return to finish his mission. In the words of our Stake President, "None of them would have it any other way." I spoke with his wife briefly at the viewing yesterday, and something she said has been weighing on my mind ever since. She said, essentially:
What I want to share from this experience is not related directly to those things she mentioned at the end (the Atonement, Plan and temples), but something else that she said at the beginning - being at peace.He lost his mother about six weeks ago, and his aunt passed away five days later. We had reached peace with death and were focused on life. I know it will be hard in a couple of weeks when everyone gets back to their own lives and I am alone to deal with not having him here, but I believe in the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation and the promises of the temple. It will be hard, but I will be OK.
As much as anything else, when I die I want to be at peace with death - but I also want to be at peace with my life. I don't want to be bitter or angry or upset before I die; I want to be at peace.
I believe that is up to me - that it is my responsibility. The natural man inclination is to blame others for our feelings - for whether or not we are at peace. I understand the necessity for anger, grief and/or cognitive dissonance when certainty is shattered, ambiguity accelerates and testimony is tried. I really do get that need. However, reconciliation of some kind that leads to peace and charity is critical.
I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I had a universal answer. The only answer I have is that there is peace in letting go - that there is peace in cutting others slack - there is peace in real charity - there is peace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There isn't always peace in the human organizations in which that Gospel is interpreted and taught, just as there isn't always peace in even the most ideal families, but the peace the Gospel brings can influence and strengthen the peace that then can be brought individually into the Church - the community of spiritual family.
I hope I or my wife never has to deal with what this good Bishop's wife is experiencing right now and in the near future. I hope we die together, at a ripe old age. More than that, however, I hope that when either of us dies, the other is at peace - because she or I simply has become a peaceful person.
As I strive to be a peacemaker and, thereby, to be called a child of God, I understand that the first peace I must influence and create is within my own heart and soul - that I can't spread peace externally unless I am at peace internally. For those who now are not at peace, I hope they can look for peace even before understanding. That might seem counter-intuitive at first, but I believe peace can bring understanding - and that understanding, in and of itself, rarely brings peace - largely because the quest for understanding never ends. Peace, on the other hand, can last and endure even during circumstances that cannot be understood - like the unexpected death of a good Bishop.