Banner of Heaven
My Letter to Royle McKay  June 8, 2005

SeptimusH — June 8 @ 1:47am

Dear Royle,

You don’t know me, but I have to tell you what I think before I hurt someone. I wouldn’t even know who you are if my mom hadn’t sent me the new church manuals this year like she does every year. She figures if I don’t go to church I might read them anyway and while browsing through the manual about your father I read about your death.

The way you died really upsets me. I know what pleurisy is like. It hurts like a bitch. I had a case of it four years ago and each breath I took felt like a knife in the ribs and the doctor even told me it was a minor case. I cannot imagine what it was like for your two and a half year old body to be racked by pleurisy on both sides. The thought of you not having the words or even the strength to express the pain you were in just makes me sick.

But what gets me, what really makes me livid is what your father wrote: “The end came at 1:50 A.M, without even a twitch of a muscle, ‘He is not dead but sleepeth’ was never more applicable to any soul, for he truly went to sleep. He did not die.”

That’s a lie. You didn’t fall asleep, Royle. You died. And I know your dad was a good man, and fine there’s a resurrection, and sure kids that die so young go to the Celestial Kingdom, but that’s no comfort to me. Death is not sleep and you and I both know you died.

I’m sorry. You were cheated of your mortal existence–that deserves anger, that deserves rage, it even deserves hatred in my book. You didn’t fall in love or kiss a girl for the first time. You didn’t get married, or see your kids get married, or hold a grandchild on your knee. I imagine your dad did everything to please God and for what, to have his two-year old die an agonizing death. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing your dad shook his fist at the sky? I would. Shouldn’t your death be marked with someone, somewhere being mad as hell? If it wasn’t significant for them to get angry about then it’s significant enough to me now to record how I really feel. Why should Mormons think it’s right or even healthy to attempt to live, or pretend to live anger-free lives?

That’s what I’m really furious about. This doctrine, or culture, or whatever that minimizes our mortal lives to a mere blip in a spectrum of eternity, that makes us equate dying with a nap. Mortality isn’t just some test where we should sacrifice happiness here in the hopes of eternal reward. It’s more than just that. Somedays I wonder if it’s not all we get. Either way it’s a fine state of being and living is where it’s at, and when a kid like you dies before things have even begun I reserve the right to be royally pissed off.

We diminish tragedies like what happened to you, Royle when we don’t get angry. When we don’t scream out that it’s wrong. And I just want you to know, Royle, that I for one am angry about what happened to you. It breaks my heart.

Sincerely,

Sep

21 Comments

  1. For its next Greatest Hits cover, Banner of Heaven will provide its unique stamp on the ever popular and much lauded standard, Death of a Child.

    John Mansfield — June 8, 2005 @ 6:50am
  2. Sep (I clicked on your name–The Shining still scares me to this day and I watched it with my back turned, the sound off, and my husband telling me what was happening)–

    Good post. I don’t know, I guess I could say something illuminating and uplifting, but I actually felt that way for a long, long, time after my kids died. Really mad. I’m better now, trying to use my grief to bless others, but I will miss them until I die.

    I got really mad in Relief Society a couple of years ago when the teacher put us in a circle during a lesson on adversity and asked us to share our feelings, singling me out. I said, “it sucks.” Some of the the sisters went on to say how they felt it was a blessing and a sign of God’s love when people have terrible things happen to them. That just about made me blow a gasket. I wanted to say, “let’s trade blessings, I can do without this love.”

    I think people who die go to a good place, it’s those of us who are left behind who are in torment.

    annegb — June 8, 2005 @ 8:33am
  3. I agree with you, annegb and with Septimus. Hobbes said that, “Life in an unregulated state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Life in a regulated staet of nature is often this way, too.

    DKL — June 8, 2005 @ 8:41am
  4. Good point, Septimus. The Spinozist sympathizes with you to some extent. I haven’t had President McKay’s terrible experience, but I think my response would be different. The only response I could imagine in myself in attempting to deal with the grief is a (probably fruitless) attempt to muster gratitude for the time I did have with a lost loved one, however short, trying to recognize that any life in this universe is rare, precious, and on loan—that whatever time we do get, ourselves and with others, is a priceless and undeserved gift—one that may be all the more precious for being cosmically unintended.

    On a side note, as long as we’re talking about being mad as hell at premature death, I confess to being mildly annoyed that this group blog’s posts are making “More Islands and Atolls” at ldsblogs.org over-crowded, flushing out the Spinozist’s posts before their time. (Words of Neil Diamond come to mind: Done Too Soon.) In accordance with the sentiment I expressed above, I should be grateful for whatever I get for free from ldsblogs.org; but given your meteoric rise, I can’t help hoping that they’ll bump you up a level soon, to leave more room for us little guys.

    In the meantime, I’ll take advantage of the opportunity your post provides of pointing out a couple of my posts that touch on your subject matter here: A Redeeming Place at the Table, which quotes the very same line from the Pres. McKay lesson manual; and A More Sustainable and Inclusive Motherhood, which has an interesting quote from Brigham Young related to focusing on this life and not just the next.

    Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) — June 8, 2005 @ 8:47am
  5. I understand the sentiment in your post but I don’t really think it’s…what’s the word I want…appropriate? to tell a grieving father how to react to his son’s death.

    I was angry at God when my brother and sister died. It took me a long time to figure that out. I’m sure President McKay was angry, too–it’s all part of grieving (maybe not at God, but I’m sure he was angry). I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry at God for things like that, I think He understands.

    Some people find comfort in a doctrine, or culture, or whatever, that teaches us we don’t cease to exist when we die. Which is what I take President McKay’s words to mean. If he and others find comfort in the thought that their dead loved ones aren’t permanently gone, but merely “sleeping” until they see them again, I’m not going to tell them they should express some rage instead.

    Of course, the real point of your post is that Mormons don’t express their anger in a healthy way, and I’m not sure I side with you on that, but I may.

    Susan M — June 8, 2005 @ 9:38am
  6. I’m sympathetic to your point here, Sep, but I just can’t get past my repugnance at your first sentence: “I have to tell you what I think before I hurt someone.”

    Miranda PJ — June 8, 2005 @ 10:19am
  7. John M., your comment #1 seems a little crass — harboring resentment?

    Steve Evans — June 8, 2005 @ 10:23am
  8. So, wait — it’s a BAD thing that President McKay wasn’t possessed of unfocused, overwhelming rage?

    Oooookay.

    Why should Mormons think it’s right or even healthy to attempt to live, or pretend to live anger-free lives?

    Well, given that the self-confessed alternative is to be mad enough to hurt someone…

  9. I gotta say, I totally get you on this one, John Mansfield.

    But with Septimus et al, I appreciate the anger that can come with death and I’ve felt plenty of it. And the sometimes vapid efforts at rationalizing what can only be senseless and random, of attributing divine will to the vicissitudes of mortal life, have driven me up the wall. My heart goes out to those suffering such loss.

    But the only true consolation I’ve found, after the grief, after the anger, is the abiding hope that wherever my loved one is, it’s a better place and that keeping that person here would have been an ultimately selfish act.

    Justin H — June 8, 2005 @ 11:54am
  10. When my son died, we got a load of crap (yes, I said that word and I mean it) from people who thought that we weren’t mourning properly. Christ had given us warning that my son was going to die and He comforted us. But because I didn’t shake my fist at the sky or cry and throw myself on the ground, I was judged to not be mourning properly.

    Perhaps David was able to see his son pass from suffering to peace and take comfort in that.

    I still miss not being able to see my son leave for and return from a mission. I put my missionary name tag on him before we closed the casket. I miss not being able to be a witness as he kneels at the altar across from his wife-to-be. I miss the grandchildren that I long to spoil. But I am comforted that Christ was aware of my son during his time of greatest trial. I place my faith in God and it almost fills the empty place in my heart. Almost. The longing will not leave until I can hold him in my arms again. But I know that Christ makes it possible for that to happen. Then my tears will be dried. I feel for those who did not receive the comfort that I received. I do my best to comfort them, but I know that I am a poor substitute for their missing loved one.

    Floyd the Wonderdog — June 8, 2005 @ 1:04pm
  11. You’re right, Floyd, people grieve differently. I’m very sorry about your son, and I applaud your support of your wife in not forcing her to move. I tried to drown my sorrows in booze and pills when my first husband and son were killed, and there were people who thought I didn’t care because I refused to fall apart in front of people. I felt if I let my grief out, it would destroy me and I still had an infant to raise.

    But when that infant killed himself at the age of 18, I really got mad. I thought I had had my quota and this was God’s overkill. I bitched and moaned to everybody who would listen and let my grief run wild.

    So I can relate to a lot of feelings. I’m only now, 14 years later, achieving some peace and forgiving God and understanding.

    We had a discussion on Times and Seasons about whether death was evil or not. I do not feel it’s evil, I think it’s a necessary and natural part of life and those who die, in general, are in a better place (I wish I was there a lot of the time), but it is terrible to lose people we love.

    One of the greatest things about the gospel is our doctrine of life after death and the existence of the spirit world. Perhaps, well, surely, David O McKay understood that better than most and was able to accept it more readily.

    But I never fault anybody who’s angry. My neighbor couldn’t understand my years of raging at the heavens until her teenage daughter was killed in a car accident. CS Lewis expresses this ambivalence very well in his book “A Grief Observed.”

    annegb — June 8, 2005 @ 2:14pm
  12. I appreciate everyone’s thougtful responses, especially those who’ve had true tragedies in their lives.

    And I stand corrected. It was presumptuous of me to tell other people how to grieve. I didn’t really intend to do that and realize now I was wrong. I myself have never lost a loved one in my immediate family and I don’t know what it’s like. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing where there’s no real way to know what it’s like, or how you’d react until it happens to you. I can only imagine what it’s like and hopefully I’ll never have to do anything more than that.

    I suppose my better point is that even the most firm conviction of the existence of an afterlife should not diminish the value we place on this mortal life, that and the fact there is a very real condemnation and effort to delegitamize even justified anger in Mormon communities. I cite this post as an example.

    I also want to say I don’t really want to hurt anyone. I just got carried away.

    SeptimusH — June 8, 2005 @ 3:25pm
  13. Your third paragraph says it all, Septimus, I think that’s a really good point.

    I don’t know that you got carried away, for some reason, I took that story the same way, it sounded like he didn’t care, and I’ve wondered sometimes when I hear stories like that, as if the people involved didn’t value their children. I’m sure that’s wrong, it’s just the impression.

    You gave us good food for thought.

    annegb — June 8, 2005 @ 5:12pm
  14. but I don’t really think it’s… what’s the word I want… appropriate? to tell a grieving father how to react to his son’s death.

    Got to admit, that my first response to people doing that is a great deal of anger. It is one of the few things that really pushes buttons and gives me some primal rage, which would shock my secretary who thinks I’m not capable of it.

    His wife grieved all of her life over that loss. To attack the poor man because of the way he chose to remember his loss and to deal with it is unconcionable.

    My thoughts. I’ve buried three children. Just had to explain it all again (we added another attorney to the office, and the typical background questions came up) — I’d hate to have someone expressing their anger due to the way I talked about what happened to me.

    Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 8, 2005 @ 7:20pm
  15. The longing will not leave until I can hold him in my arms again. But I know that Christ makes it possible for that to happen.

    Well said Floyd, well said. I had my doubts about the way the manual edited things to make it appear that David felt no pain, no distress and no anguish at the death (he felt all, and keenly), but it is important to realize the Christ redeems us, he does not pre-empt life for us.

    Interesting posts. As for anger, save it for people who badger people like annegb for not putting on a show for them. Yes, we may have anger, but no, we shouldn’t have to make a public display for th eamusement of others.

    Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 8, 2005 @ 7:55pm
  16. I’m starting to realize how wrong-headed my post really was. Let me just apologize once again.

    SeptimusH — June 8, 2005 @ 11:10pm
  17. I think the whole issue if anger is an interesting one and I’d like to see a discussion on it.

    I repressed all my feelings as a child and as a result I rarely feel any anger. You know how they say unresolved anger turns into depression? I seem to skip the anger stage altogether and just get depressed. So when I find myself depressed and can’t blame it on hormones or whacked blood sugar, I have to remember to ask myself, is there something I should be angry about?

    So as someone who rarely gets angry, I tend to think anger is overrated. But then, I’m all about emotional conservation. Who has the emotional energy to get angry? Not me.

    And those of you who’ve lost loved ones, let me just say I’m really sorry for your losses. I really admire all your strength.

    Susan M — June 9, 2005 @ 9:16am
  18. annegb- Knowing more about your background makes your comments about my unrighteous bishop more meaningful. That bishop castigated a sister in our ward who turned to alcohol for consolation after her husband died. After I heard that (and that she hadn’t seen an HT for over a year) I demanded that I be assigned as her HT. She had a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear for her pain and grief. She’s off the sauce now, but won’t come back to church because of the unrighteous bishop. Three months ago the new Bishop mandated a shake up in assignments. She threw out the new HT. I mentioned to the bishop that she would let me in her house. I’ve been reinstated as her HT. Her grief took a different path than mine. I had the unrighteous bishop to hate and so I didn’t feel a need to take out my anger on God. Now I’ve worked through my anger and just pity the unrighteous ex-bishop.

    No matter how we deal with our pain, we still feel the loss all our lives. The widows in the ward confide their continued feelings of loss to me.

    SeptimusH- I’m glad you learned from our discussion. I apologize if I was a bit strong in my response.

    Floyd the Wonderdog — June 9, 2005 @ 9:38am
  19. annegb- Knowing more about your background makes your comments about my unrighteous bishop more meaningful. That bishop castigated a sister in our ward who turned to alcohol for consolation after her husband died. After I heard that (and that she hadn’t seen an HT for over a year) I demanded that I be assigned as her HT. She had a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear for her pain and grief. She’s off the sauce now, but won’t come back to church because of the unrighteous bishop. Three months ago the new Bishop mandated a shake up in assignments. She threw out the new HT. I mentioned to the bishop that she would let me in her house. I’ve been reinstated as her HT. Her grief took a different path than mine. I had the unrighteous bishop to hate and so I didn’t feel a need to take out my anger on God. Now I’ve worked through my anger and just pity the unrighteous ex-bishop.

    No matter how we deal with our pain, we still feel the loss all our lives. The widows in the ward confide their continued feelings of loss to me.

    SeptimusH- I’m glad you learned from our discussion. I apologize if I was a bit strong in my response.

    Floyd the Wonderdog — June 9, 2005 @ 9:38am
  20. Great post. Thanks so much to those of you who shared. I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how horrible it would be to lose a child. I lost my mom two years ago and it was very hard, but for some reason, it seems like it would be far worse to lose a child. Your posts and my thoughts of late have made me kiss the sleeping foreheads of my sons that much more tenderly of late. I think perhaps you’ve hit it on the head, SeptimusH — people grieve differently. I noticed this even among my 10 siblings when my Mother died. We all handled it differently.

    Daniel — June 10, 2005 @ 4:51pm
  21. I’ve got to admit that my reaction to the David O McKay story was different, and I felt his reaction appropriate.

    Here’s why: He has seen this tiny child suffer incredibly, for years. There is nothing he can do, and yet it continues. When his son finally dies, the pain and suffering dies too. I probably would have felt relief had I been in his place.

    Why was there no anger? I can offer a couple of guesses. First, David O McKay was a man very much in control of himself, and he found some other avenue for that feeling. Second guess–he’d already been through that anger while watching his son suffer, and had reconciled himself to the ultimate outcome. I had a similar reaction when my paternal grandmother died. She had Alzheimer’s the last few years of her life. When she finally died, I did not grieve, because my grandma had been gone for many years.

    None of my children lived for more than a couple of hours, and so all I can do is guess. I know I stll get angry. Haven’t been to church on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day for years.

    alamojag — June 12, 2005 @ 11:28pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Comments are closed for this post.

Best Viewed with
Firefox: Safer, Faster, Better
Generated in 0.191 seconds (65 queries) | Powered by WordPress