This story originally ran on LDS Living in September 2017.
The Lord has offered my family and me many tender mercies of spiritual communication that not all people will receive. However, I also know that the spirits of our loved ones are closer than we often times know, no matter who we are.
In May of 2012, my daughter Holland was diagnosed with a brain tumor, shortly after her third birthday. The 14 months that followed were a roller coaster of hospital stays, brain surgeries, new diagnoses, chemo treatments, and many trials of faith until she ultimately passed away in August 2013. Although this was easily the greatest trial our young family had ever faced, the lessons we learned were irreplaceable and a new journey began for our family.
Becoming Better After Trials
We each face trials and difficulties in this life that will overwhelm us at times. During those times, we need to remember that we can grow from them. God allows bad things to happen to good people to make good people great. Our trials or hardships are not because God is punishing us. The truth is these hardships allow us to better trust in God and learn His will for us. If we turn our will over to God we will become better through the trial. If we do not we will become consumed by them.
We each have the choice to become bitter or better. The simple difference in these two words is “I” and "be." If I focus on how a trial will affect only me, then I will quickly find myself bitter at the world and God for treating me so unfairly. But if I choose to focus on what I can be as a result of this trial, I will find that I am becoming better. We need to ask why God would have us go through this and how we can help others. And that is how we can become better.
For our family, the question of “why?” has many answers. It has allowed us to serve others and offer them comfort in their times of pain and heartache. It has given us a greater love for our other children. It has allowed us to feel the spiritual world around us. It has allowed us to trust in Jesus Christ and more fully understand His Atonement. All of this can be summed up in the fact that it has expanded our view of life, death, and the plan of salvation.
Understanding Death in Context
God does not view life as only our first breath to our last breath. He views life as eternal. The plan of salvation has given us such wonderful truths. One of the greatest truths is that life did not start when we were born and it will not end when we die. Armed with this truth we can realize that the Atonement overcame sin and death—meaning we don’t have to be afraid of dying because Christ has already taken care of that and we don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes because Christ has given us a way to take care of that as well.
God does not send us death to punish us or to make us miserable. Death is merely a transition from one state to another. God does not mourn our physical deaths; in fact, He often rejoices when we enter back into His presence. Grief is healthy, but when it consumes us it is often because we don’t see life as God does.
The death of a child may be hard, but it is simply a transition from one form of existence to another. If you are a parent of adult children, think back to when those children were babies. Do you mourn the fact that they are not babies anymore? No, of course not. You may miss the innocence and adorable moments when they were small, but you are glad they are who they are now. You are glad that they have grown and they have become something better than they once were. I don’t mean to trivialize the death of a child because I certainly know that it is one of the greatest mortal trials we will be asked to face. The separation, grief, anger, confusion and even guilt families experience is very real and meaningful. However, it’s encouraging to know that the children we lost do continue to grow and learn in the presence of the Lord.
With an eternal viewpoint, we can now look at our daughter and rejoice in where she is now. She is where God needs her to be. Sure we miss who she was; sure we miss our daily interactions with her; sure we miss the memories we will never had the chance to make, but we are grateful for who she is now—and that is something we can know because she has not left us spiritually.
Feeling My Daughter Near
The day after my daughter’s death I was saying a prayer on my parents’ front porch as the sun was rising. And in that moment of peace and tranquility, I heard her voice—it was as close to audible as ever a spiritual voice had been to me. I knew I was hearing it with my spiritual ears. She said many things to me in that moment, but one lesson that has continued to remain with me was the fact that she was with the Savior and if I wanted to visit her I would need to go to the temple, not her grave. Her grave was simply the place where her body laid in wait for the moment of resurrection. Her living essence was now only in the spirit.
And from that day on I have attended the temple every week seeking to hear her voice again. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. The Lord, in an answer to a prayer, once told me that I would hear her voice when I needed it not when I wanted it. Once, in a moment of desperation, I pleaded that I could see her, feel her, truly hear her with my physical ears. The Lord’s response has taught me a valuable lesson that has changed the way that I view the world around us. He said, “You are a being of physical body and spiritual body. She is only a being of spirit right now, and yet you wish that she would be more like you. You have a spirit and she has a spirit; you need to learn to be more like her.” I needed to use my spirit to communicate with her just as I always had.
When a baby is first born, they have no way to verbally communicate and yet a mother knows when they are hungry, wet, sad and happy. She can know what that baby is feeling and thinking without it saying a word. The mother and the baby have a spiritual connection that exists beyond the physical relationship they share. Think also of a time where you and another person had a deep spiritual conversation. You may have connected in a way that superseded the words that you were using to communicate. That is because that spiritual feeling of peace and comfort is your spirit communicating with their spirit. The truth is we all engage in spiritual communication in this life, whether we identify it as such or not. And when our loved ones die, that spiritual connection only dies if we refuse to acknowledge it. Many times we are so overcome with grief and pain we are numb to the spiritual communications they are trying to make with us.
Misunderstanding the Sealing Power
Many people often mistakenly think that the sealing to our loved ones is payable upon resurrection, but the sealing power carries throughout this life and into the next and all the spaces in between. This is true not just of our loved ones in this life but of our ancestors as well. Each name on a slip of paper we take to the temple is one more spirit we empower to help us on this mortal journey.
President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 18; or Ensign, June 1971, 33). There is also the well-known quote from President Brigham Young that taught us that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, all around us (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 279). I have come to learn for myself that this is true. Not just with my daughter, I felt the spiritual presence of grandparents, uncles, friends, other relatives, and ancestors that have guided me through times of trials and joy.
I know that the Lord has offered my family and me many tender mercies of spiritual communication that not all people will receive. However, I also know that the spirits of our loved ones are closer than we often times know. This is regardless of whether we acknowledge them or not. You may not hear a spiritual voice as I have, but if you let go of your pain and grief and focus on the will of the Lord and what He is trying to teach you, I know that He will give you what you most need to be comforted and feel the love of the spirits that are all around you.
Bryan Young is the author of Meant for Heaven: A Little Girl’s Journey to Paradise. This is not the story of a family losing a daughter; it is a story of eternal life and all that lies beyond. Through powerful experiences, tears, and prayers, Bryan and his wife, Aleta, now know for certain that departed loved ones are closer than we think. Available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com. For more information visit his website: MeantForHeaven.com.