Brigham Young was a man well acquainted with life and death.
There were several times when Brigham Young's life was spared or his health inexplicably restored, according to BYU professor of Mormon History Donald Q. Cannon ("Brigham Young on Life and Death").
For instance, during his time with Zion's Camp, cholera swept among the men and he watched "other men die like flies, but his own life was spared" ("Brigham Young on Life and Death"). And in the fall of 1842, Brigham Young faced a mysterious and deadly illness. Here's the account in his own words:
"November 26, 1842. I was suddenly attacked with a slight fit of apoplexy [a loss of consciousness]. Next morning I felt quite comfortable; but in the evening, at the same hour that I had the fit the day before, I was attacked with the most violent fever I ever experienced. The Prophet Joseph and Elder Willard Richards visited and administered unto me; the Prophet prophesied that I should live and recover from my sickness. He sat by me for six hours and directed my attendant what to do for me. In about thirty hours from the time of my being attacked by the fever, the skin began to peel from my body, and I was skinned all over. I desired to be baptized in the river, but it was not until the 14th day that brother Joseph would give his consent for me to be showered with cold water, when my fever began to break, and it left me on the18th day. I laid upon my back, and was not turned upon my side for eighteen days.When the fever left me on the 18th day, I was bolstered up in my chair, but was so near gone that I could not close my eyes, which were set in my head—my chin dropped down and my breath stopped. My wife [Mary Ann], seeing my situation, threw some cold water in my face, that having no effect, she dashed a hand full of strong camphor in my face and eyes, which I did not feel in the least, neither did I move a muscle. She then held my nostrils between her thumb and finger, and placing her mouth directly over mine, blew into my lungs until she filled them with air.This set my lungs in motion, and I again began to breathe" ("Brigham Young on Life and Death").
Brigham Young wasn't the only latter-day prophet to have such close experiences with death. For instance, Joseph Smith was once attacked by an apostate from the Church, William Law, who "attempted to kill Joseph and fired a pistol at him six times at close range. It misfired six times, and he then pointed it at a post and all six shots discharged properly" (Remembering Joseph" by Mark L. McConkie, 73-74).
While it's clear that the Lord's prophets have often been preserved to perform sacred works, it is also clear that these near-death experiences provided Brigham Young with unparalleled insight into the nature of the spirit world.
Insights Into the Spirit World
Brent L. Top, professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, in an interview explained a little more about how these experiences influenced Brigham Young:
"I am not sure that the early Brethren spoke more often or more extensively on the subject than leaders today, but clearly there are some very fascinating teachings by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Jedediah Grant, Orson and Parley Pratt, and others. I am convinced, as are some other scholars, that Brigham Young had near-death experiences, one of which happened right before the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847. That may be one of the reasons he talked so much about the spirit world. I think you see evidence of his personal encounter with the spirit world in this particular statement:
"'I can say with regard to parting with our friends, and going ourselves, that I have been near enough to understand eternity so that I have had to exercise a great deal more faith to desire to live than I ever exercised in my whole life to live. The brightness and glory of the next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered with this clog of dirt we are carrying around here so that when we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and to be careful lest we fall down. . . . But yonder, how different! . . .
"Here, we are continually troubled with ills and ailments of various kinds, . . . but in the spirit world we are free from all this and enjoy life, glory and intelligence.'"
In an article written by Top, he elaborates more on what Brigham Young taught about the life that awaits us after death:
"Though the spirit world will, as Brigham Young taught, appear just as natural as do things here on earth, it will be suffused with 'inexpressible glory.' . . .
"That spiritual power and glory enables spirits, at least righteous spirits, to possess capacities and experience conditions that we cannot have in the quite same way in this fallen world with mortal bodies. That explains some of the most remarkable teachings of the early Brethren.
"For example, Brigham Young taught that when we enter into paradise we will be 'free to travel with lightning speed.' He compared this spiritual movement, including what we today call 'time travel,' to lightning or electricity (or perhaps we could add fiber optics, satellites, and internet). These, Brigham said, 'furnish a fine illustration of the ability and power of the Almighty. . . . When we pass into the spirit world we shall possess a measure of this power.' . . .
"There is another aspect of this enhanced capacity of righteous spirits in the spirit world that I really look forward to—increased ability to learn and retain knowledge. President Brigham Young stated, 'I shall not cease learning while I live, nor when I arrive in the spirit- world; but shall there learn with greater facility.' Orson Pratt explained this ability by declaring: “Instead of thinking in one channel, knowledge will rush in from all quarters; it will come in light like the light which flows from the sun, penetrating every part, informing the spirit, and giving understanding concerning ten thousand things at the same time; and the mind will be capable of receiving and retaining all.'"
For more incredible insights into what prophets and apostles have taught about the spirit world, check out Life After Death: 6 Insights into the Spirit World.
Death is not the end of our existence—just a change in our being. It is something that has been partially experienced and thoroughly documented by many individuals around the world. In this inspiring look at near-death experiences, authors Brent and Wendy Top illustrate how numerous recorded accounts of near-death experiences relate to Latter-day Saint teachings.