I know that those who die are not gone, but are still near and very much aware of us. Joseph Smith (founder and first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) said that the spirits of the righteous “are not far from us.” Brigham Young, second president of the LDS Church said, “Where is the spirit world? It is right here.” On another occasion he said, “Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes,… as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes.”[i]
Prior to 16 year old Sarah VanKomen’s funeral (See Sarah’s drawing in the “For They Shall Be Comforted” Collection), LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland asked if he could asked if he could meet with Sarah’s family in the family prayer before the funeral, and these are some of the things he shared with them. “You think Sarah’s influence was great before. Well, you just sit back and watch. You haven’t seen anything yet. Sarah’s role in your life will be even greater now than it would have been if she were still here. And it’s now your responsibility to live your life in such a way that you’ll know when she’s here and you’ll understand what she’s trying to tell you.”
The prophet Joseph F. Smith said, “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 them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, of reproof and instruction to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh.”[ii]
He also taught that family members who die “do not cease to love us…We live in their presence. They see us and are solicitous of our welfare. They love us now more than ever, for they see the dangers that beset us.”[iii]
Another witness of this spiritual influence was provided by Pres. Gordon B. Hinkley. “How marvelous a gift, that if we live worthy we shall have the right to the company of angels. Here is protection, here is guidance, here is direction- all of these from powers beyond our own natural gifts.”
Joseph Smith was asked about the awareness of those who have died concerning us here. He said, “They know and understand our thoughts, feeling, and emotions, and are often pained therewith.”[iv] This caused me to consider their reaction to our grief in their absence. Might we have a delicate responsibility to seek the Savior’s peace for the sake of our departed loved ones?
One day I was drawing a picture of a young man and his sister, who both died suddenly in an auto accident, I recalled a conversation I’d had with another woman whose teenage daughter had died a few years earlier. She said it was especially difficult to deal with reminders of her daughter that came up unexpectedly. Unlike birthdays and holidays, which she emotionally geared up for, the random occasions when she was suddenly reminded of her daughter were the hardest, and often resulted in unanticipated heartache and tears. It made me sad to think that a sudden reminder of her daughter would be painful rather than joyful. I assure you that my thoughts were in no way critical, but were motivated solely by a longing to see her grief lessened.
I pondered over that conversation as I drew, and it was as though the spirit of the young man in the drawing read my thoughts. He then seemed to entered the conversation by saying, “Please tell my mom and dad, that when those unexpected reminders come not to cry, because it means I’m there. When that happens tell them to just talk to me, because I’m there!”
The message was clear and almost pleading. It opened a completely new perspective to me. I realized that those who pass on have a desire to be a part of our lives and to continue the loving relationships they enjoyed with us on Earth. But if we feel sadness and pain every time they try to make us aware of their presence, they would be hesitant to do so. I believe we can actually encourage the continuation of that association by seeing those occasions as sweet experiences of interaction, and I’ve since tried to share this with everyone I know.
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[i] Discourses of Brigham Young ( 1954), 376-377.
[ii] Journal of Discourses, 22:351 and Gospel Doctrine Manual, 435-36
[iii] Quoted by Elder Richard G. Scott at Inis Hunter’s funeral and reported in the Deseret News 10/23/07
[iv] History of the Church, Vol. 6, 378