This is the first in a two-part series excerpted from Brent L. Top's book, What's on the Other Side. Read the first part here.
There is another kind of reunion with departed family members. It sometimes occurs even before we enter into the spirit world. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the more righteous a person is “the clearer are his views”13 and the more he will understand God. Perhaps we can take that statement and say that the more righteous one becomes, the thinner the veil becomes. Under the influence of the Spirit, we may at times feel that the spirit world and those we love who are there are very close indeed. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that our departed loved ones “are not far from us”14 and that they continue to feel deeply about us. I am reminded of a story about Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s father, Oscar W. McConkie Sr. When he was close to death, Brother McConkie called his family together at his bedside to express his love and give some departing counsel. He told them, “I am going to die. When I die, I shall not cease to love you. I shall not cease to pray for you. I shall not cease to labor in your behalf.”15
It makes perfect sense to me that just as we continue to think about and love those who are separated from us by death, they continue to think about and love us. President Joseph F. Smith taught:
“Sometimes the Lord expands our vision from this point of view and this side of the veil, that we feel and seem to realize that we can look beyond the thin veil which separates us from that other sphere. . . . [And we would understand that] those who have passed beyond, can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see them from our sphere of action. 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 begin to realize more and more fully, as we become acquainted with the principles of the Gospel, as they have been revealed anew in this dispensation, that we are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors, to our friends and associates and co-laborers 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 are associated and united to them by ties that we cannot break, that we cannot dissolve or free ourselves from. . . . And therefore, I claim that 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; they can comprehend better than ever before, the weaknesses that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths. They see the temptations and evils that beset us in life and the proneness of mortal beings to yield to temptation and wrong doing; hence their solicitude for us and their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.”16
Angels Round About You
What a comforting thought it is to know that we are not alone in facing our challenges or dealing with our difficulties. President Ezra Taft Benson testified that “there are people over there who are pulling for us—people who have faith in us and who have great hopes for us, who are hoping and praying that we will measure up—our loved ones (parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and friends) who have passed on.”17 In Doctrine and Covenants 84:88, the Lord promised: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." You have probably read that passage many times, as I have. Perhaps you have wondered too: Who are those angels? Because of the restored gospel’s teachings about the spirit world and eternal families, we know the answer. President Joseph F. Smith taught it clearly. He said: “When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred [and] friends. . . . In like manner, our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and -worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given to them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh.”18
That makes perfect sense. If there is to be help from beyond the veil it will come from those who know and love us best and who desire to help us most. Do you realize what a blessing that can be to us as parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters? Sometimes we know when the veil is being parted in our behalf, but most times we don’t. Whether that help, that reunion, with loved ones is seen or unseen, it is real. Speaking specifically to parents who have children who have strayed from the path of righteousness, President James E. Faust not long before his own death gave this comforting assurance: “Perhaps in this life we are not given to fully understand how enduring the sealing cords of righteous parents are to their children. It may very well be that there are more helpful sources at work than we know. I believe there is a strong familial pull as the influence of beloved ancestors continues with us from the other side of the veil.”19
A Wandering Child and Personal Experience
I believe that I am a beneficiary of that promise. An experience in our family demonstrated to me that perhaps this kind of spiritual guidance and help from loved ones on the other side is what the Lord meant when he promised that he would “cause the heavens to shake for [our] good” (D&C 21:6).
Like many parents in the Church, we have had our share of challenges raising our children. Each child brings his or her own unique challenges. One of our children had veered quite a ways from the strait and narrow path and it seemed like nothing we did as parents could draw her back into the gospel fold. There was one thing, however, that could, and that was the influence of loving grandparents. Our daughter had a special relationship with my parents, particularly my father. She had so much love and respect for him. He seemed to be able to influence her in ways that we as her parents could not. Shortly after my father passed away, I left the hospital and went to his home. I stood all alone in his living room. My feelings were extremely tender as I gazed upon an anniversary photograph of my Mom and Dad taken on their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Mom had died only eighteen months before Dad. Hoping that they were both nearby, I spoke to them and told them how much I continued to need their influence in our family, particularly in the life of our teenage daughter. I hoped that, if they could, they would be able to part the veil in some way and touch her heart and help her find her way back. Several years and many miracles later, that daughter was married for time and all eternity in the Nauvoo Temple. While I don’t know all that they were able to do from that side of the veil, there is no doubt in my mind that they were part of the “heavens [shaking] for [our] good.” Though I did not see my Mom and Dad that day in the sealing room, the veil was very thin. I knew they and many others of our dear departed loved ones were with us, rejoicing with us, beaming with pride, and in some measure taking a little credit—credit I was glad to give them.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that those on the other side of the veil “cannot be made perfect” without us and “neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” He often spoke of a “welding link” between the dead and the living (D&C 128:15, 18). It is clear from the Prophet’s teachings that there is a salvational connection between the spirit world and this mortal existence. We know that this relates specifically to the work that goes on in our temples. But I think there is more to it than merely doing our genealogy and performing ordinances for those who did not have that privilege in this life. We do work for them, but they are doing work for us in ways that we may not always recognize. The work of the Lord, for our salvation and theirs, goes forth “nobly and boldly” on both sides of the veil. And all of this is for the intent to prepare us for the greatest and most glorious family reunion.
Lead image from Wikimedia Commons
Learn more with What's on the Other Side?
The Prophet Joseph Smith observed that death and the spirit world are subjects "we ought to study more than any other. . . . If we have claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject."
Brent Top, a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, highlights the wealth of information the scriptures and latter-day prophets and apostles have provided to us about death and the spirit world—its location and conditions, the nature of departed spirits, and the work performed for and by those there. Removing much of the mystery and fear associated with dying, this book demonstrates that knowing what life will be like after death can help inspire us to live better lives here and now.
^13. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 2:8.
^14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 326.
^15. Cited in Millet, When a Child Wanders, 133.
^16. Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1916, 2–3.
^17. Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 31.
^18. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 435–36.
^19. Faust, “Dear Are the Sheep That Have Wandered,” 62.