Senseless death surrounds us. Innocent victims fall prey to depraved individuals, natural disasters wipe out whole villages, and disease ravages the bodies of loved ones who would otherwise have had years to live. Death is a natural succession after life, but when it comes as a result of a senseless act it can be devastating to those of us who watch it happen. Here is where the road of faith takes a sharp turn, and the foundation you once thought was solid appears to crumble before you. Questions of doubt can drive you off the road of faith and down a chasm of despair if you let them. But before you abandon faith, fasten your seatbelt a little tighter—how we manage the emotional roller coaster known as the dying process is just as much a faith builder as the way we handle life itself. In grief we can find hope, just as in life we see beauty all around us.

When it’s time to grieve, hold on to hope.

In 2003 the space shuttle Columbia burned up during re-entry of the earth’s atmosphere and all seven crewmembers died. The catastrophe was caused by a problem that took place shortly after launch a month prior when a piece of foam insulation broke off from the shuttle’s propellant tank and damaged the edge of the shuttle’s left wing. This damaged the heat shields that normally protect the shuttle and its crew from the friction caused during re-entry. Shuttle debris and human remains were recovered over parts of east Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas days after the incident. A dear friend of mine from east Texas, Mark Bray, was deeply affected by this tragedy. The senseless nature of the accident, the loss of innocent life, and the devastation that he and all of Texas witnessed in the aftermath burned a hole in his heart that was filled with sorrow and confusion. It drove him to his knees with eternal questions about the nature of God, as it did many others in his position. He did not turn away from God in anger, as many people do. He did not abandon his faith. Instead he used it to find hope.

Bray - Stand by for Columbia (2)

Stand By For Columbia- Mark Bray

Eternal perspective sheds light along the way

Time of loss brings us to our knees. When we are driven to prayer, our hearts are humble and open, ready to receive revelation. Tragedy often opens the window to heaven, where answers come quietly and peacefully. There is something about a broken heart and a contrite spirit—the vulnerable in us that is ready to be held again by a loving God—that makes us teachable. The spirit that surrounds us is more pure and virtuous. Our hearts are open to a higher communication with our eternal Father in Heaven. The veil between his realm and ours is thin. Meaning from the meaningless is made clear. It is during tragic times when our hearts are most raw; and so we are most accepting of the eternal balm that heals, not only for the moment but for eternity.

A portal home—our loved ones walk ahead of us

God’s ways are not our ways. I’ve heard many faithless people talk about death as the end. But it is not. It is a portal to a realm beyond what we see here and now. It is the next step of life, after birth and living—but it is not the last step. Eternal life is the promise of a future beyond death. Our loved ones pass through death like we would pass through a doorway back to forever—where we once began—only this time we will live our lives at a higher level, beyond our own comprehension. We may not understand how, but we were given the promise that it will happen. That promise was made to us by living prophets and was fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

Are these merely pretty words or will we put them to the test?

The apostle, John, promised so much with this one scripture. In it we learn of a Father in Heaven who loved his son enough to allow him to provide the doorway to our eternal home. Christ was that son. His perfect life and his atoning sacrifice was the doorway. The final few words of this scripture are most meaningful when we are faced with the death of our loved ones—whosoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life. That is probably the most powerful scripture in the Holy Bible. Because of what Christ did, overcoming sin and death, we too will overcome death and have a resurrected body. Everlasting life is the promise of living with our Father in Heaven again, and since his realm is so much more profound than ours, it will be one with infinite possibilities and eternal progression beyond what we can see here. When we remember this, when we sharpen the lens of eternal perspective, life on earth becomes a droplet of water in an ocean of eternity. Death is but a passing from one plane to the next. Once we cross the threshold, there is no reason to dwell on it any longer.

Expressing healthy grief

For those of us left behind, it requires great faith to overcome the heartache of loss. We cannot see beyond the doorway, but our relationship to Heavenly Father can provide strength and hope. The alternative is to become bitter and angry, which does nothing to help us along our journey here. Regardless of our choice of faith vs. doubt, we will all pass through that doorway and see that Christ’s promise is for all. I would rather hold on to hope in the meantime.

My friend, Mark Bray, also chose to hold on to hope. He is a fine artist who specializes in aviation-themed art. Ten years after the tragic space shuttle accident, he created a work of art as a tribute to the fallen crew, an outpouring of his expression of grief turned to hope. Stand By For Columbia depicts the fragile frame of the space shuttle passing through the nexus to an eternal realm. Normally mission control would give the command, “Stand by for Columbia.” In this case, we can almost hear our Father in Heaven say those precious words as he welcomes the crew to their new realm in heaven. The painting allows the viewer to recognize the grief in the broken shuttle, but to focus on the direction of hope through the nexus into a clear blue sky. And the apostle John’s promise of everlasting life is clearly seen in the shuttle’s complete fuselage, a representation of life carried home.

To view more of Nanette's articles, click here.

To view more of Nanette’s articles, click here.

Dealing with death is personal and difficult. Grief can cleanse a broken heart, but only when it is caressed with the promise of hope. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, gave us a reason to hope. Let us not forget the hope that lies ahead for each of us, that allows our grieving to be comforted during the moment, and cleansed for all eternity.

About Nanette ONeal
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.

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