Latter-day Saint Life

President Nelson's Beautiful General Conference Message He Shared 3 Months After His Daughter's Death


As we begin gearing up for general conference, we will be highlighting past conference talks to help us review, remember, and grow closer to the Spirit so that we can better recognize the Lord's voice and direction this coming October. The following is a small portion of a talk given by President Russell M. Nelson in April 1995. (Read the full talk here.)

There are no words to describe the grief that is felt by parents when their children pass away. There's just an unspeakable anguish that comes when we watch our children, whether they be a toddler, teenager, or adult, leave this world before we do. 

Though some may feel like they are alone in this experience, there is someone all Latter-day Saints know who has watched a child pass away—President Russell M. Nelson. 

On January 29, 1995, President Nelson's daughter Emily Nelson Wittwer passed away from cancer that had spread to multiple parts of her body. She was 37 years old and a mother of five children. To add to the heartbreak, President Howard W. Hunter had passed away from cancer just 33 days before.

"My tears of sorrow have flowed along with wishes that I could have done more for our daughter and for our President," President Nelson shared in his April 1995 general conference address "Children of the Covenant." 

Addressing the Church just three months after his daughter's death, President Nelson's grief was intense. "If I had the power of resurrection, I would have been tempted to bring them back," he says, adding, "Though one of the ordained Apostles, each of whom is entrusted with all the keys of the kingdom of God, I do not hold keys of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ holds those keys and will use them for Emily, for President Hunter, and for all people in the Lord’s own time."

Even during this time of unspeakable grief, President Nelson also shared a profound message of hope for the members of the Church by defining what it means to be children of the covenant.

Noting in his address that as children of the Abrahamic covenant we have been promised the priesthood, President Nelson also shares that through the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel we can receive eternal life.

"The new and everlasting covenant of the gospel allows us to qualify for marriage in the temple and be blessed to 'come forth in the first resurrection' and 'inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, . . . to [our] exaltation and glory in all things'" (D&C 132:19), President Nelson says.

Through obedience and commitment to the gospel and its ordinances, we then become "lawful heirs, according to the flesh" (D&C 86:9) and will be blessed, "if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel" (D&C 86:11), no matter how much adversity we may face in this life. 

"Rewards for obedience to the commandments are almost beyond mortal comprehension," President Nelson shares. "Here, children of the covenant become a strain of sin-resistant souls. And hereafter, President Hunter, Emily, other children of the covenant, and 'each generation would be linked to the one which went on before . . . [in] the divine family of God' (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1965, p. 10). Great comfort comes from the knowledge that our loved ones are secured to us through the covenants."

Closing his remarks, President Nelson promised, "With that doctrine implanted deeply within our souls, the sting of death is soothed and spiritual protection is provided. Children of the covenant will be blessed—here and hereafter—I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

What a beautiful testimony from our prophet and a reminder for us about the comfort the gospel can bring as we strive to be obedient to God's commandments. 

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