A short time ago I attended the funeral of a friend’s son. Earlier in the week, the young man was traveling home late at night with friends when the driver of another car fell asleep. The second car crossed the median and smashed head-on into the first. The accident occurred with such swiftness that few, if any, brake marks showed on the highway and both cars were demolished. The accident took three lives, including my friend’s 17-year-old son.
In reflecting on the accident, I have thought about the lessons taught by death—particularly the death of a loved one. The first lesson is that life is short whether one dies at 17 or at 80. To a 17-year-old, 80 years seems like an eternity. But to a 70-year-old, 80 years is not a long probationary period.
Second, death reminds us that there is a spirit in man. As we viewed the remains of our young friend, it was obvious that more than blood had left his body. The light of his spirit no longer animated his facial expression or twinkled in his eyes. He, too, had given up the ghost, but at a tender, young age.
Another lesson taught by death concerns the importance of eternal families. Just as there are parents to greet a newborn on earth, the scriptures teach that caring family members greet the spirits in paradise and assist them in the adjustments 33). While I was standing before the casket, the thought came that separation was not only a shock for the parents, but also for the young man as he suddenly found himself on the other side of the veil. I suspect that he would like to tell his parents once more how much he loves them. Brothers and sisters, heaven only exists if families are eternal.
A fourth lesson, and perhaps the most important, concerns the purpose of life. To be meaningful, life must be more than the ephemeral pleasures of youth. There must be a plan. Death, even if accidental, must be part of the plan. Developing faith in and coming to know one’s Maker is at the core of that plan. Having hope with regard to one’s eternal destiny and experiencing joy must also be part of life’s purpose.
Death teaches that we do not experience a fulness of joy in mortality and that everlasting joy can be achieved only with the assistance of the Master (see D&C 33–34). Just as the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda needed someone stronger than himself to be healed (see John 5:1–9), so we are dependent on the miracles of Christ’s atonement if our souls are to be made whole from grief, sorrow, and sin. If grieving parents and loved ones have faith in the Savior and his plan, death’s sting is softened as Jesus bears the believers’ grief and comforts them through the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, broken hearts are mended and peace replaces anxiety and sorrow. I received a letter from the boy’s parents telling me the peace they have found through their faith in Christ. They know that they will see their son again and be with him in the eternities.
The Savior, as a member of the Godhead, knows each of us personally. Isaiah and the prophet Abinadi said that when Christ would “make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed” (Isa. 53:10; compare Mosiah 15:10). Abinadi explains that “his seed” are the righteous, those who follow the prophets (see Mosiah 15:11). In the garden and on the cross, Jesus suffered for each of us and not only bore our sins, but also experienced our deepest feelings so that he would know how to comfort and strengthen us.
As part of his redeeming power, Jesus can remove the sting of death or restore the spiritual health of a struggling soul. The scriptures are filled with examples, but a young Korean sister indelibly taught me this lesson. In early 1994, while attending a stake conference in Seoul, Korea, I met Kim Young Hee, a young woman in her 20s. I noticed her beautiful countenance as she sat in a wheelchair on the stand waiting to speak. When her turn came, a brother pushed her chair to the front of the stand but off to the side of the pulpit so she could see and be seen. He gave her a microphone and she told us her story.
As a young woman, she was healthy, had an excellent job, and was content with life. She was not a Christian. In 1987, she was in a terrible car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Following her recovery in a hospital, she returned to her parents’ home wondering what life held for her. She was despondent and empty. One day a knock came at the door. Her mother answered, and two American women asked to share a message about Jesus Christ. The mother was hesitant, but the daughter heard the voices and invited them in. They were missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kim Young Hee accepted the invitation to receive the missionary lessons. She read the Book of Mormon, prayed about its truthfulness, attended church, and received a witness of the divinity of the Restoration. She was baptized.
“I know that Heavenly Father does not look on the outward appearance, but on the heart. I also know that the true miracle is the healing within, the change of heart, the loss of pride. Although my physical body may not be healed in mortality, my spirit has felt the healing power of the Holy Ghost. And in the Resurrection, a fully restored, perfect physical body will again house my spirit and I will receive a fulness of joy.”
As I listened, the Spirit bore witness of the great miracles of the Atonement and the Savior’s power to mend broken hearts, to heal from within. The Savior’s parable of the ten lepers took on new meaning. Luke describes Jesus meeting ten lepers. Upon seeing the Savior, they cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus responded: “Go shew yourselves unto the priests.” As they went their way, they were cleansed. One returned, fell on his face at the Master’s feet, and gave thanks. Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” And then the Lord said to the one who returned, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (see Luke 17:12–19). In becoming a whole person, the grateful leper was healed inside as well as on the outside. That day nine lepers were healed skin deep, but only one had the faith to be made whole. The tenth leper and Sister Hee were changed eternally by their faith in the Savior and the healing power of his atonement.
The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, he knows how to carry our sorrows and relieve our burdens that we might be healed from within, made whole persons, and receive everlasting joy in his kingdom.