It has been something of a difficult year. This week we noted the passing of two more family members, the latest felt very keenly with my wife and her dear family. It is a tender time.
It is amazing to me how losing a loved one re-centers me.
I have found that even attending a funeral for someone who is not a family member touches me on a very fundamental level and reminds me how the things of this world pale in comparison to the eternal principles of love.
A good death, it seems, leads to a greater appreciation for living and loving better the people around me.
It is natural, in the process of mourning the loss of one so loved, to worry about where they are and if they are happy.
Those with gospel-centered teachings and a testimony of the Savior take comfort in God’s known plan. Others, whose lives have not given them access or opportunity to learn those things, may suffer more when a loved one leaves this life.
That is why I have always had a fascination with stories of “the other side”.
Long, long before my testimony strengthened in the Gospel of Jesus Christ I read and collected stories of near death experiences.
Today I again stumbled upon a story I had read before of a woman named Ella Jensen.
This is an old story. Ella was nearly 20 years old when she died and was called back to life after being dead for nearly 3 hours. As with many near death experiences she tells a remarkable experience in seeing and conversing with loved ones who had preceded her in death. The detail in her story is amazing.
As I read her tale again, and contemplated it in the context of loved ones we have recently lost, it occurred to me how close Ella Jensen lived more than 100 years ago to where I am living now.
I know we have her maiden name Jensen in our Family Tree and the family historian in me couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection. So off to Family Search I went.
I looked her up and – boom – there it was: a link to “view my relationship” with Ella Jensen. “I’ll be darned,” I thought. “We ARE family.”
I quickly scanned her tree looking for familiar names, thinking in my head this was another of my Westover connections from Northern Utah and South Eastern Idaho. But none of the names looked familiar.
So I hit the relationship link and was shocked to see I’m not related to Ella Jensen through my Westover line – it’s through my mother’s family that the distant relation dating back to the Puritans of Duxbury, Massachusetts is made. My 9th great grandmother, Mary Howland, is Ella Jensen’s 6th great grandmother. We’re cousins.
That changes the story doesn’t it? Her family is my family, just as much, I feel, as my wife’s family is my family. That being said, in context with Ella and her experience when she died, what might be the experience of this dear aunt lost this week on the other side?
For me the answers are clear. She is with family. She is with people who love her. And she is happy.
Does that lessen the sense of loss?
Good heavens, no.
It has been more than three years since I lost my Mom. I miss her more and more every day. I cannot count the times I have wept over missing her.
But at the same time, as hard as it is for me to explain, I’ve become closer to my Mother since she died.
I very firmly believe it comes from working on her family especially in these efforts of family history. This, I believe, is something I very much still hold in common with Mom.
I would give anything to have another conversation with her. I would give anything to tell her once again how much I love her.
But as Ella explained to those in her life that grieved, I feel Mother would be unhappy to know of my continued mourning.
Those moments, and they surely come, I find are more about me than about her. And by that I mean I want her back, I want her here during moments that are important to me. That makes the sting of death truly sting.
What gives me relief is that my Mother is with those she once lost – and that I too, have truly not lost anyone and never really will.
Yes, there is separation, a part of God’s plan to help us learn and grow in knowledge and in love. But those moments of separation are indeed merely moments on an eternal time line.
I will continue to be fascinated with the next life and, in a small way, live in envy of those who have already made that transition.
I know I too will someday go through it, as we all must. But it is not something I dread. In fact, I think of it with great rejoicing and give thanks to our Savior who makes such things possible.
Ella Jensen lived to tell the story. My mother, in her dying days, had moments while here with others on the other side, too. I witnessed it.
I believe it is part of the dying process and I’m convinced those we’ve lost this year all experienced the same. It is part of living, of this earth’s experience for each of us.
And in the end I think we will be surprised at all we can count as family. Whether they comes as in-laws or as distant relations like Ella, we are all family.