In the past, I’ve always had a matter-of-fact feeling about death. I knew and understood that it came to all of us. No matter how rich, poor, humble, powerful, beautiful, or ugly – we will die. Often, death is stated in the scriptures as “going the way of all the earth.” No one who is born will escape the occasion of death.
Two of my grandparents died while I was young. I wasn’t particularly close to them, so it was just another passing. For some reason, when my grandparents died, they didn’t bring us (kids) to the funeral. I think that may have added to my unemotional response to death.
When I was in my twenties, my maternal grandfather died. We didn’t really know him growing up. In fact, I probably saw him once in a twenty-plus year span. When he passed, I felt a good deal of sorrow for those who would be missing him, but I didn’t feel much of a loss. My life hadn’t really been impacted.
The rather robotic feelings I had about death doesn’t mean I lacked sympathy for those who experienced the death of someone close. I could understand why they were sad, even though I hadn’t experienced it myself.
Then, last year, my little brother passed away. He was only 18 years old. He fell from the bumper of a car (it was going slowly down the drive-way. In a sick twist of irony, my brother had never been a risk-taker). He was a big boy – 6’4″ and broad. I’m not sure how much he weighed, but he was very athletic. He fell down hit his head, and in an instant, he was gone.
In a recent General Conference talk, President Thomas S. Monson stated:
“Among all the facts of mortality, none is so certain as its end. Death comes to all; it is our ‘universal heritage; it may claim its victim[s] in infancy or youth, [it may visit] in the period of life’s prime, or its summons may be deferred until the snows of age have gathered upon the … head; it may befall as the result of accident or disease, … or … through natural causes; but come it must,’1. It inevitably represents a painful loss of association and, particularly in the young, a crushing blow to dreams unrealized, ambitions unfulfilled, and hopes vanquished.
What mortal being, faced with the loss of a loved one or, indeed, standing himself or herself on the threshold of infinity, has not pondered what lies beyond the veil which separates the seen from the unseen? – Thomas S. Monson
When my brother passed, my first thoughts went out to my father who is not LDS and who experienced a very tough year last year. I wondered how, without the comfort of the gospel, he would cope. I thought of my step-mom, my sisters, my brothers. We were all living in different parts of the country. I was worried about them, and I wanted to see them.
I said a prayer, and I realized that, though the death of my brother was sad in many ways, I didn’t need to fear. Sean was okay.
I understood concepts of the Spirit world: that though he had passed from this mortal realm, his Spirit was still alive. Though Sean was not LDS and had never really learned the gospel, I also felt comforted by the revelation given to Joseph F. Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” – Doctrine and Covenants”>Doctrine and Covenants 138:30-34
I knew that there were people, members of my family who had preceded Sean to the Spirit World. I knew that many of them had the gospel, and that they would be able to welcome Sean into the next phase of his life. I also knew that he would be taught the principles of the gospel. I knew that his death was not the end, but just the next step in his progression.
This knowledge brought much comfort.
The day after hearing about the passing of my brother, I embarked on a journey (with my family) to Massachusetts. We celebrated the life and mourned the death of my brother. It was a strange event, fraught with many emotions. I felt sadness and regret. I also was comforted and hopeful. I recognized the reality: that our mortal lives are not going to last forever. We grow, we age, we die. Sometimes, we die before we even grow or age. We need to spend our lives wisely – strengthening our relationships: with God, our families, and good friends. We will all eventually pass on to the next part of our eternal lives.
From this event (and a few others that have happened in the past year), I have become keenly aware that once a soul passes to the Spirit world, we aren’t separated from them. Though we can’t physically communicate with them, we are connected. Of course, we have the potential to become eternal families, but I learned that our connection is more immediate than the far-off implication of an “eternal family.”
Elder Scott teaches:
“Another example of revelation is this guidance given to President Joseph F. Smith: ‘I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. … We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors … who have preceded us into the spirit world. We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break. … If this is the case with us in our finite condition, surrounded by our mortal weaknesses, … how much more certain it is … to believe that those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond … can see us better than we can see them; that they know us better than we know them. … We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; … their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.’2
Relationships can be strengthened through the veil with people we know and love. That is done by our determined effort to continually do what is right. We can strengthen our relationship with the departed individual we love by recognizing that the separation is temporary and that covenants made in the temple are eternal. When consistently obeyed, such covenants assure the eternal realization of the promises inherent in them.” – Richard G. Scott
The families and friends that have passed on before us, though dead in a mortal sense, are still alive in a spiritual sense. They continue to love us – and perhaps in a better way, as they are not troubled with the temptations of the world. They pray for us, they root for us, they think about us. In the Spirit World, they continue to progress, and this progression blesses us, too. Even though we are physically separated from our families, our relationships can grow as we remember them and live worthy of the companionship of the Spirit – who strengthens these bonds.
Knowing the Plan of Salvation – and that even death and the Spirit World are part of it – brings me so much comfort. I’m thankful for a wise God who created such a merciful plan.
What have you – either through study or personal experiences – learned about death and the Spirit World? How is knowledge of God’s Plan of Salvation comforting when you think on these topics?
1. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. (1916), 20.
2. Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1916, 2–3; see also Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 430–31.