She is gone now, my beloved niece, the lovely Melinda of joyful heart. Born into a family where laughter is a constant, Melinda Rodriguez Powell, took her leave from mortality this past Thursday, the 26th of February 2015, at the very young age of thirty seven. I was driving home from the San Antonio Texas Temple a bit after 2:00 PM when I received a heartbreaking call from my sister, Mary (Rodriguez), tearfully, informing me that her dear Melinda had collapsed while shopping. “Chris, I know the Lord won’t give us more than we can handle, but this is very hard, so very hard!”
Melinda, the youngest of Robert and Mary Rodriguez’s girls, was given to checking in daily on her parents, and she had done so earlier that day. Shawn and Kayla, Melinda’s precious teen age children, have lost the sweet mother they doted on, for in addition to being their mother, she was their best friend. Husband Brian will mourn her loss, as one who has lost a cherished companion. For Melinda’s brothers and sisters, Dolores, Elizabeth, Robert Jr, Miguel, and Joseph, (and Joseph’s wife Mindy, who does not cease to weep) and numerous nephews and nieces who adored her, there is a vacuum. All the world it seemed, loved her dearly, for always and ever, there came from the lovely Melinda, words of uplift and joyous laughter. Who can remember her, save they hear her carefree laughter, and joy bubbling over? What room was not brightened by her entrance? What heart was not uplifted by her presence?
Such was the lovely Melinda, gullible in her trust that all the world was every bit as kind as she was, for she loved everyone. Her little nephews and nieces, upon whom she poured out so much affection (she had messaged a happy birthday to nephew Mason that morning), each of these will miss her terribly.
My dear and beloved ones, and her elementary school students and parents, and fellow teachers gathered here today, and all who knew her, we have all been touched and grieved at her passing, but Melinda’s journey is one we shall all take, for it is a part of life. We do not know, nor can we at the present understand why she was taken at so young an age. We can trust completely that our kind and loving Heavenly Father, does know, and in His wisdom has taken her home. We may rest assured that she is most precious unto Him, for her sweetness and joyous laughter are dear to Him as well.
She is gone now, but she is not dead! No, she is not dead! When she laid her mortal body down, it was that her spirit vacated her body, much as when one removes his or her hand from a glove. The glove is laid down, but the hand is still very much alive. So it is with one’s spirit. One lays the body down, but the spirit is very much alive. She has gone to another place, another room as it were. We would be permitted to see her, were it not for the veil which has been drawn over our eyes, for she is present here this day, observing the proceedings leading to the burial of her mortal remains, anxiously waiting to move on. No, she would not return, for this vail of tears is behind her now.
We came into this life to die, and we die that we might live! As I have written elsewhere, “ah, that great God and Father of us all who loves us more than we can begin to understand, has in mind for us a great plan of happiness. Death is part of that plan, for except we die, we could never know a fullness of joy”. We read “Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness.” (1)
We lived in the presence of our Heavenly Father prior to coming here. We lived there as His spirit children. So did the Lord declare unto Jeremiah: “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (2)
In His presence, when that great plan of happiness was announced, our joy could not be contained: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (3)We were the morning stars, the sons of God, shouting for joy! And the great plan? We would come to an earth provided for us, and our spirits would take on a body. The glove I referred to earlier represents the mortal body: The hand represents the spirit. When the spirit enters the body at birth, it is as the hand entering the glove. When we are called to leave, as in Melinda’s case, it is as if the hand is removed from the glove; the spirit leaves the body, but continues onward until the day of resurrection, when it will be reunited with the body, never again to be separated.
When we left our Heavenly Father’s presence and took on a body, we came here to be tested, to see if we would be obedient to God’s laws. We would make mistakes, we would sin. Knowing this, God would provide a Savior, even Jesus Christ, to redeem us from our sins, and this on condition of repentance. This principle of repentance, is alluded to in the first chapter of Isaiah, in the Old Testament: “Wash you make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well…relieve the oppressed…plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (4) Does it not behoove us to follow sacred counsel, while yet the sun shines?
Do you suppose, in that instance prior to coming here, that we would express a desire to live within earth’s bounds forever? No! Such defies reason! In that instance, our hope would have been not to be left here any longer than was necessary! Death in this life then, from that greater view there, would be seen as an escape from what we call “life” here, to greater living! We would willingly come here then, but only upon an assurance that we would not be left here perpetually!
Consider a busy airport, and passengers arriving there. Those of you who have been there have seen the joy with which arriving passengers are greeted by family and friends. Yes, we grieve here for the absence of our lovely Melinda, but on the other side of the veil which separates us from them, there is the joy and rejoicing one sees at an airport, only a thousand times a thousand more intense and joyful, for the lovely Melinda has come home, finally! Oh, she loves deeply and is concerned for her Kayla and Shawn, but her joy is such that she understands they will be cared for. Yes, she is experiencing the sort of joy that is beyond our comprehension, for those relatives gathered to welcome her there, far outnumber the large crowd gathered here today.
The first station in the life following this one is named paradise. A prophet named Alma wrote: “Concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me … that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, … are taken home to that God who gave them life…The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace.” (5)
Yes, we are here but for a season, and then the Lord will call us home, for it would be a tragedy to be able to extend our lives indefinitely within this earthly existence of trials and tears. Well did the Psalmist declare, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (6)
Following our departure from this life, we will some time future be resurrected into a new beginning, to prepare us for judgment, for, we read the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: “…my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works…” (7)
Let us then use our time here well, mending fences and repenting where necessary. Then, the event we call mistakenly call “death” will be but a departure through a celestial door to a joyous reunion with those we have loved, indeed a door to greater living. All who have heard this message this day, and those who read these words, must consider with soberness the following message, and may it sink deep into each heart:
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (8)
Let us then consider our ways, let us look within ourselves deeply, and resolve to make the needed changes, that we might come unto Christ, not with mere lip service, for God will not be mocked, but with deeds fit for repentance. We may then look forward to our departure from this life in a spirit of confidence and even joy. We may then consider the inspired words of the poetess:
“Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward into souls afar,
Along the psalmist’s music deep,
Now tell me if there any is,
For gift or grace surpassing this:
‘He giveth His belovèd sleep?” (9)
Then that death as it is erroneously called, at its proper time, is an event to be looked forward to, when we see it in this light. Yes, we miss terribly our lovely Melinda whom we have loved, and this is as it should be, that the future reunion might be all the sweeter. She has gone on, but she is not far, as if in another room. In a most sacred way, she brought this large crowd together. She too heard these words, for she was present, and she approved of them. When death beckons us, we shall see her again, and it shall be much like that scene at an airport, when long separated family members gather, and the joy that ensues.
Until that day which must come to each of us, when we shall see thee again, beloved Melinda of our heart and soul, we bid thee adieu, for we love thee, precious child, oh yes, we love thee, more than heart can bear! In the hallowed name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(1) Alma 42:8, The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. (2) Jeremiah 1:5 (3) Job 3:4, 7 (4) Isaiah 1:18 (5) Alma 40:11 (6) Psalms 116:15 (7) 3 Nephi 27:14 (8) Alma 34: 32-34 (9) “He Giveth His Beloved Sleep” Elizabeth Barrett Browning