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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: How do I manage grief while looking forward to eternity?


Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

Q: I recently lost someone very dear to me. Other Church members keep telling me how grateful we should be for knowledge of the plan of salvation and of eternity and how comforting that is. That’s all true, but it doesn’t take the pain away. I’m struggling. 

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me with this. Sometimes we, as well-meaning members of the Church, in our efforts to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” may not spend enough time following the counsel to “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9). 

By this I mean to say that, in our efforts to lift, support, and strengthen one another (which feels proactive and empowering) we may avoid sitting with others in the anguish of their loss and just feeling it. But grief is an important part of our mortal experience and in following the path of the Savior. While some may fall short of supporting you in the way that you need, that doesn’t mean that you can’t experience grief in a healthy way.

We read that Christ wept with Mary and Martha as they mourned the death of their brother Lazarus. We mourn because we love. English psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes said that “the pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love.” 

Another said that “grief is just love with nowhere to go.” Even in popular culture, such as a recent episode of Marvel’s WandaVision, we find the wise words “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

This is all my way of responding to your statement that platitudes don’t “take the pain away.” The pain can’t be “taken away.” It must be felt. It demands to be experienced. Even the Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life, experienced this keen pain of loss. A knowledge of the plan of salvation provides comfort and hope. But the absence of someone loved is deeply felt. It’s good to feel it, even if it doesn’t feel good.

► You may also like: Church Releases Honest, Exquisitely Illustrated Video About Grief, Faith, and Loss: “There Is Hope”

Grief is an act of love for the departed. It will not be overcome until the last day when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). Until then, it is a necessary part of our developing compassion, of expanding our understanding of mortality and eternity, and in growing our capacity to love. 

Following the loss of his beloved wife Marjorie, President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed:

“My children and I were at her bedside as she slipped peacefully into eternity. As I held her hand and saw mortal life drain from her fingers, I confess I was overcome. . . . Immediately following her passing there was a tremendous outpouring of love from across the world. Great quantities of beautiful floral offerings were sent. . . . There were literally hundreds of letters. We have boxes filled with them from many we know and from very many we do not know. They all express admiration for her and sympathy and love for us whom she left behind. We regret that we have been unable to respond individually to these many expressions. So I now take this occasion to thank you every one for your great kindness toward us. Thank you so very, very much, and please excuse our failure to reply. The task was beyond our capacity, but your expressions have shed an aura of comfort in our time of grief.” (“The Women in Our Lives,” October 2004 General Conference)

There is a joy that only comes through pain. There is a love that is only experienced through sorrow. There is a connection that only comes through comforting and mourning with one another that is deeper and more profound than when we simply share the good times. Experiencing this pain as you are right now, and your need for others to mourn with you instead of just rushing to comfort you, allow that to work in you to be there for others when they have experienced loss. 

Grief doesn’t end, but it changes form. Avoided, it can consume you. Passed through and allowed to be felt, it tends to evolve. The pain is less sharp and less frequent over time and is replaced more by gratitude and fond memories. We learn to live with it. We experience joy again. We live life and honor the departed. But the ache will likely be there until our heavenly reunion, which is part of what will make that moment so overwhelmingly grand. 

Until then, allow yourself to hurt. Cry. Vent. Plead with the Lord for comfort and strength. He has experienced all things and knows how to lift you (see Alma 7:11-12). Absolutely, find hope in His Atonement and Resurrection. But know that being heartbroken and even devastated is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. It’s just part of mortality. It’s part of living. 

The only way to never grieve is to never love. In that sense, the command to love one another by extension applies to hurting for the loss of someone we love even as we rejoice for their passing on to the next phase of their eternal journey.

God bless you. I hope this helps.

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