Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Mourning With Those That Mourn

Posted by Shawn L on January 9, 2008

Our ward is passing through a time of tragedy: our Bishop lost his 4 1/2 year old son on New Year’s Day in a sledding accident.  This loss was especially difficult news for our family because the son and my daughter were playmates — same co-op preschool, same Primary class, etc.  But, to my surprise, this experience has helped to shed new light on a very familiar scripture and has helped remind me of the blessings I enjoy as part of a ward family.

The story is heartbreaking. (Out of respect for the family and for the sake of anonymity, I’ll simply refer to them as Bishop, Mother and Son). As I understand it, the entire extended family had gathered in Utah for a reunion at the cabin.  On the last day of the trip, the family visited the MTC, where the whole gaggle of cousins had their pictures taken in front of the world map, fingers pointed towards the exotic locales where they hoped to be called someday. In what seemed an inconsequential detail at the time, Son wouldn’t choose any particular location and when asked where he “wanted to serve,” he simply pointed skyward.  Hours later, the family went sledding.  On one of the last rides of the day, Bishop and Son hit a tree, sending Son into a coma from which he never recovered.  He died later that same day, surrounded by his family.

Before going on, let me tell you a bit about Bishop. He’s a relatively young guy (39-40 y.o., I believe) and is an all-around class act. He is a local boy and many remember serving with, and then grieving for, Bishop’s father, who was killed while on a YM activity when Bishop was 9 years old. Bishop was called last January when our ward boundaries were redrawn — 80% of our existing ward was pushed out, and we annexed an adjoining ward.  This drastic change has not been easy.  Discontented murmurs were heard for months and some went so far as to attend the other ward in protest over their friends having been assigned there. Needless to say, Bishop has had his work cut out for him in trying to bring this group of folks together.

Sunday was fast and testimony meeting. The mood at Church was eerily somber. It reminded me of going to work on September 12, 2001 — everyone kept their eyes on the ground, and members did not speak much to one another because no one knew quite what to say. The question on everyone’s mind was, would Bishop and his family be there? The consensus was that they should take the day off to avoid well-meaning, but painful, questions. But when I got there, Bishop was sitting on the stand, just like every other week.  His eyes were swollen and he looked as if he hadn’t slept in a few days, but he was there. By a cruel twist of fate, it was his month to conduct the meeting. No father should ever have to announce his own son’s funeral from the pulpit, but he did it (followed up by an announcement of next weekend’s DI drive).

But then a remarkable thing happened. As the one conducting the meeting, Bishop was the first to bear testimony. He spoke for 20 minutes about his son, his death and the effect it has had on his family.  In contrast to the prepared remarks I heard him give the following day at Son’s funeral (which were also excellent), his words were the product of raw emotion.  Through tears, he expressed his gratitude for the ward’s outpouring of love towards his family and for the strength he draws from his family’s temple seling.  His wife closed the meeting with similar words.   After the meeting was over, no one left the chapel.  Rather, we all took time to hug Bishop, his family members, and each other.   It was a cathartic moment.  Any prior divisions amongst us (old ward  vs. new ward) disappeared as we expressed our shared sadness, our grief and our hopes for brighter days ahead.

That day’s experiences have stuck with me all week, bringing to mind one particular scripture:  Mosiah 18:9.  In this and the preceding verse, Alma outlines the commitments required of those who are baptized and “are desirous to come into the fold of God.” Among these is the obligation to “mourn with those who mourn.”  Now, I have cited this scripture countless times in missionary discussions and Gospel Essentials lessons.  But, for the first time, I think I am beginning to see what it really means.  Our grieving for Son, led by the Bishop’s family, has been a communal emotion driven by a singular pain, the loss of one of our own.  We did not simply attend the funeral, offer hugs and bring in meals to help support a family going through a tragedy.  We all felt, and continue to feel, the weight (or “burden“) of that tragedy ourselves.   In other words, we are not merely helping to ease the mourning process for Bishop and his family; we are going through that process with them, together.   While more painful, this is, in my opinion, what is required of those who commit themselves to be disciples of Christ.  In addition, as the week has dragged on, what is most surprising is that this experience has also produced in me a sister emotion, a renewed sense of pride.  I am proud to be part of a community that is able and “willing” to mourn for Son.  We often speak with admiration and disbelief at accounts of pioneers who buried children along the trail to the Salt Lake Valley.   I can’t help but see an analogue to those experiences in the determination of our ward to rally together and move on after Son’s death. 

Oftentimes, the phrase “ward family” is tossed about without much thought.  Indeed, I must admit that its use often sounds a bit corny to my jaded ears.   But the events of this year so far have caused me to take a step back, humble myself, and rejoice in the blessing of being part of a congregation — a family — that has strength and faith to come together to “mourn with” one another.  Bishop, our thoughts and prayers are with you. 

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7 Responses to “Mourning With Those That Mourn”

  1. Kerry K. said

    Wow, fantastic post. Thanks Shawn. Brought tears to my eyes even though I have never met you or Bishop.

    Do you have any more insight on why Son didn’t want to point to the MTC map? Does the family kind of feel like he was anticipating something?

    Although it rips me up inside to hear stories of parents losing young children, I LOVE hearing about how our proximity to mortality drives people and families closer to Christ.

  2. Deb said

    Shawn,

    What ward are you in? I am a long time friend of Bishop. I heard of this tragedy and would like to contact Bishop and family.

    Thanks!

  3. Shawn L said

    Deb,

    Out of respect for the family, I am loathe to give out too much identifying information on the site. We can, however, talk off-blog. Shoot me an e-mail at admin@burningbosom.com, and I’ll respond that way.

  4. John B said

    Shawn,

    Thanks for sharing this very insightful and unique perspective on common scripture (Mosiah 18:19) and phrases (“ward family”) that we hear so many times that do not take on any significant meaning. Being in this ward with you and having gone through this experience with you, the ward and Bishop and his family – this particular posting has really helped me better interalize and truly understand the basic gospel principle of mourn with those that mourn. Anyone who has been part of this event (son’s death) has been impacted in so many ways. I know for me and my family it was an immediate call to put the things that matter most first again. The Plan of Salvation becomes more significant, not that it wasn’t before, but now there is a whole new context because of how close the Son’s death hit home to all of us. The thing that I continue to be amazed by and that I am so grateful for is even in their greiving, Bishop and Wife taught us, lifted us up and inspired each of us to be a better person. Although I wish the death of the Son never occurred, I will be forever grateful for the experiences of the past 1.5 weeks that have brought me, the Bishop’s family, my family and the ward family closer to God.

  5. […] Bishops, like any other father, must juggle the needs of their own families.   I’ve written elsewhere about my current Bishop, whose 4 year-old was killed in a sledding accident. Even while mourning, […]

  6. Brett said

    I’m giving a family home evening lesson on this today in my YSA ward. Thanks for sharing this story, I value such heartfelt and raw insight. It really makes the ward family feel that much more important.

  7. Jill said

    It was an accident that I came across this site, and especially this story. I know you wrote this two years ago, but I want to thank you for sharing this. My husband and I lost our infant son at the end of October and we have had a similar experience within our ward banding together. If you get a chance, please take the chance to ask Bishop how he and his family are doing. Grief needs no reminder, even years down the road. Thank you again, we are to mourn with those who mourn, and as someone on the receiving end, that is all I need.

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