To all who suffer anguish of soul, there is healing through Jesus Christ.
Two examples of the depths of human suffering help us understand that we are not alone in our grief, and the Savior’s healing love is our rescue.
In the final days of the Vietnam War, Operation Babylift evacuated thousands of orphans from Saigon, bound for loving adoption in the United States and other countries.
Particularly heart-wrenching was the crash of a C5A Galaxy transport on April 4, 1975, shortly after takeoff from Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airbase. Though some survived the crash, at least 78 infants died in this goodwill rescue effort.
War has a way of magnifying tragedy layered upon irony.
As the Civil War ground to a close, its most infamous prison camp was liberated at Andersonville, Ga. Of the nearly 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned at Andersonville, 13,000 died of starvation and disease, most living like rats in muddy holes with no sanitation or fit food.
Many of Andersonville’s returning POW’s were too sick to walk. They were granted free passage north on the riverboat Sultana, which they boarded on April 24, 1865. Three days into the trip, the Sultana’s boilers exploded near Memphis, Miss., killing 1,547 passengers — dozens more than the 1,512 who died when the Titanic hit an iceberg.
This greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history was overshadowed by three events: President Lincoln’s shooting 13 days earlier, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the capture and death of John Wilkes Booth at a Virginia farm house the day before the Sultana sank.
Healing our grief
It is difficult to imagine the depth of grief for the mothers, wives and loved ones of the Andersonville survivors. Their emaciated sons and sweethearts, finally free from the horrors of war, would never know hearth, home and hugs again. Dreams of freedom were torched to ash on a muddy river as an obscure footnote in history — a byline of tragedy amidst the consuming tragedy of the Civil War.
It is equally hard to imagine the grief of the adoptive parents and loved ones of the babies who died escaping war in Operation Babylift.
Yet, there is one who suffered beyond all human comparison, whose grief was not only individual, but universal. Jesus Christ died for us, in part, so that we might not be consumed by our own suffering, so that we might let go of our individual grief.
Said one Book of Mormon prophet: "And he shall go forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind ... He will take upon him the pains and the sickness of his people ... that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people" (Alma 7:11-12).
May we forgive one another, even of the seemingly unspeakable. Remember that the Savior forgave even his crucifiers. By forgiveness we cultivate gratitude, especially in fields furrowed with trials and grief.
As we lay our burdens upon the Savior, healing replaces heartache and comfort soothes the comfortless. "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows ... and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).
God is aware of every victim of war and every traveler tried in the crucible of human suffering. He gave his only begotten son to comfort all who grieve and rescue humanity from sin. Elder Merrill J. Bateman, an emeritus general authority, has taught, "As part of his redeeming power, Jesus can remove the sting of death or restore the spiritual health of a struggling soul."
From the Civil War to Vietnam, from the Willie and Martin Handcart companies to our individual trail of tears, suffering plagues humanity but need not consume our souls.
As we trust our Savior’s love and relinquish our grief through Jesus, he can heal us. Our pain need not become a character trait, and our "afflictions shall be but a small moment" (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7).
To all who grieve, there is hope for the hopeless through Jesus Christ. Though wars ravage nations, though grief weighs heavy on the soul, the savior bids us peace and rest in the love of his enfolding arms.
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the QC Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran.