“Your mom passed away peacefully this morning.” My mission president delivered the news on a cold January evening, his 6’7” frame seeming to fill the tiny upstate New York apartment I shared with my companion. After a 17-year battle with cancer, my mom’s fight was over, and surrounded by her family, she had slipped into eternity.
The Lord prepared me to accept my mom’s passing, and I had moments of exquisite peace, but sometimes my grief threatened to overwhelm me. On the afternoon of my mother’s funeral, I walked with my companion in the Sacred Grove. Snow covered the ground and crunched beneath our feet; everything was shades of white and brown and gray. Looking around in light of what had happened, it was hard to remember what spring felt like. The cold wind shook bare branches. My heart ached. Like the outside world, this season in my life felt like winter.
We made our way out of the grove and walked along Old Stafford Road between the Welcome Center and the Smith Frame Home. At a certain point on this path, visitors can look to one side and see the Sacred Grove across the field and look to the other side and see the temple through the trees. I stood in that spot and thought about how because of what happened in those two places—the First Vision in the Sacred Grove that led to the restoration of the covenants my parents made in a holy temple—I have the assurance that my family can be eternal, that death is only temporary and someday I will see my mother again.
Though I had that assurance, many days still felt cold and dark. Some days I was on the verge of tears all day long; on others, I felt anger that my mom wasn’t there anymore and wanted to kick a chair. Still others brought a frantic need to be busy to keep the pain from catching up with me or a sense of horrible emptiness. Mostly, I felt a great weight of sorrow pressing down on me that never seemed to go away.
But I was sustained through those winter days by a few specific things.
- Prayer. Every morning I pleaded with God to give me strength for the day, and He did. Looking back, I count it a miracle that I was able to get out of bed and continue my work as a missionary each day.
- Temple attendance. We were fortunate to have a temple in my mission, and my companion and I went as often as we were allowed. I was in the temple the day my mother passed away, and it was often in the temple that I felt closest to her.
- Sharing my testimony of the Savior. I was grateful to be a missionary and have so many opportunities to testify that because the Savior lives, we all will live again, and our broken hearts can be made whole. I needed the reassurance the Spirit brought to me as I shared those truths.
- Asking for support and allowing others to serve me. After my mom’s passing, the ward I served in and the other missionaries responded with an outpouring of love. Accepting their support blessed my life and theirs. I was also grateful to receive some professional counseling and several priesthood blessings in the few months I had left on my mission.
- Taking time to grieve. Though it seemed difficult to rationalize “taking time for myself” as a missionary, I realized that some days I just needed a little while to rest, reflect, and breathe. Slowing down and having a good cry when I needed to didn’t mean I was weak—it just meant I was human and missed someone that I loved.
Ever so slowly, the season began to change, and with it, my heart began to heal. I’ve always loved spring, but spring that year was sacred for me. Walking through the grove, I could see that where once all seemed cold and lifeless, plant shoots were coming up through the dead leaves and little green buds were appearing on the trees. The world was coming to life again. And I was reminded that no matter how dark and cold the winters of our lives, spring always comes.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “Because of the sacred ordinances we receive in holy temples, our departure from this brief mortality cannot long separate relationships that have been fastened together with cords made of eternal ties. … Because of our beloved Redeemer, we can lift up our voices, even in the midst of our darkest [days], and proclaim, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’”
Every night before we went to bed, my mother would say, “Good night—I love you. See you in the morning.” That’s still true. Because of Jesus Christ, on the Resurrection morning we will see each other again in bodies free from disease and from pain. Our tears of sorrow will become tears of joy—and what a glorious morning that will be.
And I like to imagine that it will be spring.