“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:8-9).
I’ve read these two scripture verses a lot in my life. As a student scripture scholar, I thought I understood them. It is what is referred to as the “baptismal covenant” or what we promise to do when we enter the waters of baptism.
We enter a covenant to become His people, or the children of Christ (Mosiah 5:7). A covenant is a two-way promise and part of our end of the deal is how we interact with other people. As children of Christ, or in modern nomenclature, Christians, we promise to “bear one another’s burdens.” Specifically, we are “willing to mourn with those that mourn… and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
All these years I thought I understood what this meant. I thought to bring comfort to somebody meant I needed to fix the problem that ailed him or her. Or that I had to remind the sufferer of truths perhaps forgotten by the trial. I thought that was my job and the sure way to provide comfort. The last few months, however, have shed a new light on these verses. Focusing on what it means to “mourn with those that mourn.”
In our society, the word depression has a negative connotation. We cannot allow ourselves to be depressed for any period of time. There is a meds for that to snap us out of it and make us feel better. While grief does sometimes travel the same road as depression, they should be viewed separately.
“Think back to the last time you suffered a major loss — particularly the death of a friend, loved one, or family member. You were knocked for a loop, of course. You cried. You felt a piercing, painful sense of loss and longing. Maybe you felt like the best part of you had been ripped away forever.
You probably lost sleep, and didn’t feel much like eating. You may have felt this way for a few weeks, a few months, or even longer. All this belongs to the world of ordinary bereavement — not of clinical depression.
But the problem is not one of “fuzzy boundaries.” Grief and depression occupy two quite different psychological territories, and have vastly different implications with regard to outcome and treatment” (Pies).
This is what I’ve learned. It’s okay not to be okay all the time. As much as we want to, don’t rush through the grief. Just realize, the process takes longer for some people and that’s all right. As long as it doesn’t overpower the sufferer and become depression. Allow the hurt because it’s been earned. I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat it. Dealing with grief has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through and I don’t think it’s over. But I am thankful for the sadness and sorrow.
I am reminded of an example from LDS history. The ill-fated Willie and Martin Handcart Companies are synonymous with suffering. The companies left late in the season and experienced a series of set-backs. They became stranded in an early winter storm in Wyoming and over 200 members died.
When Brigham Young received word about the serious condition of the companies, he organized a relief party immediately. Survivors were brought to the Salt Lake Valley in October.
Years later, a survivor was in a Sunday School class. The teacher commented on how foolish the companies were to start on the trek so late in the season and so ill prepared. The elderly gentleman rose and said, “Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [difficulties].
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (Intellectual Reserve).
I’m not saying my suffering is anywhere near what the pioneers suffered. I can’t even imagine the hardships they endured. But my grief has been a privilege to pay. It is during my hardship that I have become acquainted with God in a way that I have never experienced before.
During my grief, there has only been one source of comfort.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“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 7:11-12).
When we are asked to mourn with those that mourn, perhaps that is all it is asking us to do. We can’t fix somebody else’s grief. But we can share that person’s sadness. Walk the same road with him or her. I’ve appreciated the honest responses of, “Yeah, it’s hard. And it’s going to get tougher. But I’m right here with you,” to the platitudes, promises, and lectures.
Grief hurts and I will always miss my mom. I have no doubt this separation is temporary and we will be reunited. That is my hope and comfort. And that is my lesson I’m privileged to learn.
Intellectual Reserve. Handcart Companies Come to the Salt Lake Valley. 2010. 22 April 2012 <http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=ce1ba41f6cc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=198bf4b13819d110VgnVCM1000003a94610aRCRD>.
Pies, Ronald. The Two Worlds of Grief and Depression. 2011. 22 April 2012 http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/02/23/the-two-worlds-of-grief-and-depression/.