As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we possess a sacred knowledge of life and death. We know that we are eternal beings with a pre-existence in the presence of our Father, and a life hereafter that will transcend the dim limitations of this mortal day. Yet death — and what lies beyond — is still the great, last mystery for each of us — each one, individually, who must cross the unknown abyss and make that journey alone.
We grieve at death — but we grieve mainly for ourselves, for that which has been taken from us, which for us, in this moment, is no more. We grieve for our own loss and suffering.
We also have a deep yearning to know and to understand. Despite spiritual experiences with death and the dead that may be precious to us, we have not been there ourselves, and we are afraid. When my mother died in late 2001, she was afraid. We wanted to talk about what she was experiencing; she did not. We honored that. She said to me the day before her death, “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go anywhere. Susan, come with me!” One of the remarkable hospice workers told me that even the most strong and spiritual of her patients, as death approached them, were afraid.
To accept that mortal fear is perhaps the first step toward wisdom. Kahlil Gibran said in his book "The Prophet," “You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?” Oliver Wendell Holmes stirs us with his statement in "Death and Dying Quotes," “Death twitches my ear. ‘Live,' he says, ‘I am coming.’ ”
LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “We are limited in our visions. With our eyes we can see but a few miles. With our ears we can hear but a few years. We are encased, enclosed, as it were, in a room, but when our light goes out of this life, then we see beyond mortal limitations ." (see “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball”, p. 13).
The veil that guards our mortal limitations was partially lifted when the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed new light and knowledge to the Saints in the King Follett funeral sermon, assuring them of the continued life and growth of their loved ones who had died; sharing with them his vision of the resurrection when he saw men and women rising from the grave and joyfully greeting one another. “And may we contemplate these things so?” he asked. “Yes, if we learn how to live and how to die” (see “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”, p. 175).
Even the state of our bodies when they return to the earth is illuminated by President Brigham Young as shared in “Discourses of Brigham Young.” “Death only separates the spirit and body, and a principle of life still operates in the untenanted tabernacle. There is not a particle of element which is not filled with life every material part and portion pertaining to the temporal organization that constitutes the man will clothe his spirit again. The particles of this earth that now compose this body will be rearranged, and the spirit will be clothed with an immortal tabernacle.”
And where is the spirit world? President Young answered that vital question, too. “Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they go beyond the boundaries of the organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where is the spirit world? It is incorporated within this celestial system. Can you see it with your natural eyes? No. Can you see spirits in this room? No if the Lord would permit it, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes.”
This is knowledge that sings! That speaks to the best and most eternal in our nature. We can only project a little, imagine a little — but our faith ought to rejoice exceedingly! For President Young said, “We have more friends behind the veil than on this side, and they will hail us more joyfully than you were ever welcomed by your parents and friends in this world, and you will rejoice more when you meet them than you ever rejoiced to see a friend in this life” (see “The Best of Brigham Young,” by Susan Evans McCloud, Covenant Communications).
We are human. Some reluctance, some anxiety is natural. But to have such glimpses of the joys and experiences that await us! This was expressed powerfully by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said, “The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts and emotions." (as quoted in "Joseph Speaks,” by Sterling H. Redd, Horizon Publishers, from “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”).
When my mother died, despite the intense pain and loneliness with which I struggled at our parting, I felt the day of her death should be marked as sacred. Also as “wondrous” — for I felt strongly that this was the day of her birth, her re-birth into eternity. It was her returning, after a lengthy and hazardous sojourn, back home.
Death: A wonder. A miracle. A natural promise and progression. A blessing.
President Young also said in “Discourses of Brigham Young,” “When we pass into the spirit world, we shall possess a measure of (the Almighty’s) power. Here, we are continually troubled with ills and ailments of various kinds. In the spirit world we are free from all this and enjoy life, glory, and intelligence; and we have the Father to speak to us, Jesus to speak to us, and angels to speak to us — and we shall enjoy the society of the just and the pure who are in the spirit world until the resurrection.”
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnal. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.