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What Happens to Loved Ones Who Die and What Is the Purpose of Death: 5 Comforting Insights from President Nelson

In his book  The Gateway We Call Death, President Russell M. Nelson shares profound insights about understanding and coping with that inevitable event of passing from this life to the next. The following excerpts from his book tell precious truths and inspiring stories that may help us “no longer feel that death is always that foe to be feared” but instead a “potential friend to be understood.” [1] 

1. Mourning Fulfills Divine Purpose

Though we mourn today, tomorrow we will wish to bring comfort to others. Instead of being ministered unto, we will become the ministers of soothing "balm" in the "Gileads" of our own neighborhoods (see Jeremiah 8:22). Our experience with sorrow will make us more compassionate and capable in our desire to ease the suffering of another.

Teaching of eternal perspective will be an essential part of our aid. The Prophet Joseph Smith conveyed that point of view when he spoke at the funeral of a loved one. He offered this admonition: "When we lose a near and dear friend, upon whom we have set our hearts, it should be a caution unto us. . . . Our affections should be placed upon God and His work, more intensely than upon our fellow beings."[2]

Divine purpose is fulfilled in mourning and in receiving ministrations of those who proffer assistance. Moreover, any who provide comfort to those in mourning will receive their own reward. Recognition of this desire is one of the prerequisites for baptism and admission into the Church:

"Now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
"Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?" (Mosiah 18:8-10).

In that spirit, the converted Christian commits his or her life to help others and to lighten the load of those who mourn.

2. Reunion with Little Children

President Joseph F. Smith penned one of the most exalting and expansive statements on the condition of children who depart from mortality's veil of tears at an early age. He wrote:

"They will inherit their glory and their exaltation, and they will not be deprived of the blessings that belong to them; for, in the economy of heaven, and in the wisdom of the Father, who doeth all things well, those who are cut down as little children are without any responsibility for their taking off, they, themselves, not having the intelligence and wisdom to take care of themselves and to understand the laws of life; and, in the wisdom and mercy and economy of God our Heavenly Father, all that could have been obtained and enjoyed by them if they had been permitted to live in the flesh will be provided for them hereafter. They will lose nothing by being taken away from us in this way. . . .
"Joseph Smith, the prophet, was the promulgator under God of these principles. He was in touch with the heavens. God revealed himself unto him, and made known unto him the principles that lie before us, and which are comprised in the everlasting gospel. Joseph Smith declared that the mother who laid down her little child, being deprived of the privilege, the joy, and the satisfaction of bringing it up to manhood or womanhood in this world, would, after the resurrection, have all the joy, satisfaction and pleasure, and even more than it would have been possible to have had in mortality, in seeing her child grow to the full measure of the stature of its spirit. . . .
" . . . When the mother is deprived of the pleasure and joy of rearing her babe to manhood or to womanhood in this life, through the hand of death, that privilege will be renewed to her hereafter, and she will enjoy it to a fuller fruition than it would be possible for her to do here. When she does it there, it will be with the certain knowledge that the results will be without failure; whereas here, the results are unknown until after we have passed the test." [3]

Sweet and innocent children surely return to their loving Father in Heaven. Earthly parents understandably wonder what those children will be like in their subsequent reunions. While I cannot answer such questions fully, precious insights can be gained from another statement of President Joseph F. Smith:

"The spirits of our children are immortal before they come to us, and their spirits, after bodily death, are like they were before they came. They are as they would have appeared if they had lived in the flesh, to grow to maturity, or to develop their physical bodies to the full stature of their spirits. If you see one of your children that has passed away, it may appear to you in the form in which you would recognize it, the form of childhood; but if it came to you as a messenger bearing some important truth, it would perhaps come as the spirit of Bishop Edward Hunter's son (who died when a little child) came to him, in the stature of full-grown manhood, and revealed himself to his father, and said, 'I am your son.'" [4]

Parents who have surrendered the sweetest and smallest flowers from the family's garden need to remember our loving Heavenly Father. He has promised a special reward to those who now suffer in silence, who spend long days and longer nights through their trying times of bereavement. Our Creator has promised glory. He said, "For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand" (D&C 58:4).

That promised glory includes the blessing of reunion with each little child who has left the family circle early to help surviving members of the family to draw nearer to God. Those little children still live and are a heritage of the Lord.

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