My dad passed away last week after a relatively short illness of less than six weeks. Dad’s death, about four years after my mother’s death has brought our family closer together. For example, although we always communicate via email at least weekly, I feel a greater desire to stay closer to my brother, who lived with dad over the last year and is now all alone. Death does that to you.
My sisters were wonderful all through dad’s sickness. They took time off from work to be with dad day after day, week after week. I think that’s an amazing demonstration of love on their part. My dad deserved it. I have written about him previously. He was the most unselfish, kind and gentle person I have ever known. Even when dying, he didn’t want us to fuss over him.
A priesthood blessing
As dad was passing through the last few days of his illness, he kept asking my sisters to open the door. At first, they thought he meant that literally and would open the door to the room widely. But he kept saying, “No, the door isn’t open.” Finally my one sister understood what he wanted and called on the priesthood brethren to come give him a blessing and release him from this life.
I wish I could have been there that night but distance kept me away. How grateful I am to know that there are good faithful holders of the priesthood who are willing to come bless a dying man. In less than thirty minutes after the blessing in which he was told that he had completed his mission on this earth, he breathed his last breath and then passed quietly into the spirit world.
Visits from the spirit world
I know you’ve probably read many accounts over the years of people who have been visited by loved ones from the spirit world. If not, I’ll refer you to some sources at the end of this essay. Dad told us many times that mother came to visit him after she died. He spoke often of having talked with her during the last few weeks of his illness. She was anxiously awaiting him there.
The LDS faith is not the only one that teaches of an afterlife, but I think we are fairly unique and precise in our explanations of the spirit world. We have a wealth of teachings and scriptures that attest to the reality and the purpose of the spirit world. It is a place of gathering and waiting for those who have died and have not yet learned all that is needed in preparation for resurrection.
What the spirit world is like
At the time of physical death, the spirit leaves the body and goes to the spirit world, where we will continue to learn and progress. In the spirit world, memories of this life and the knowledge we have gained on Earth will remain with us. Death will not change our personality or our desire for good or evil. We will be about as happy or as unhappy there as we are here and now.
The spirit world is not our final resting place. We are simply there for a time, learning, growing and preparing for the day when our bodies and spirits will be reunited or resurrected, never to die again. That is an amazing thought to contemplate and one that gives me great hope and joy. I am confident that the separation of death is only temporary. We will one day become immortal.
The work of the spirit world
In what is one of those unique teachings of the LDS faith, we believe that there is a great work going on in the spirit world. It is a work of gathering and organizing. It is also a work in which we can be involved here upon the earth. Of course I refer to the work of family history research. Participating in this work now can bring us close to family members living in the spirit world.
Countless thousands of individuals have testified of help they have received from beyond the veil as their hearts have been turned to their fathers in seeking them out. This desire to discover and learn more about the lives of our ancestors is called the Spirit of Elijah and refers to the mission of the prophet Elijah. This is one of the things that was restored through the prophet Joseph.
Seek knowledge of the spirit world
The prophet Joseph taught that we should study diligently about the spirit world. “It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night… If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject.”
Unfortunately, most of us are so busy with the cares of this world that we rarely study or ponder what our life will be like in the spirit world. For many us, our daily work consumes way too much of our energy. We busy ourselves with tasks that have little meaning in the eternities. There is a time for everything, and that includes time to meditate about those in the spirit world.
Seeking out our ancestors
A large part of our faith is temple worship service. I like to call it that because it is a place where we go to be closer to the spirit world and to give service in providing proxy ordinances for those who are living on the other side of the veil. While we don’t worship our ancestors, we are taught that we cannot be made perfect without them. We must be sealed to them in an unbroken chain.
My mother understood this concept well. She was consumed with family history research almost from the day she joined the church. She spent more than half of her life seeking out and finding the names and pertinent dates of our family members. Most of her efforts were directed towards her maternal ancestors, and often told me of special help she received as she sought them out.
The Spirit of Elijah
As mother came closer to death, her sense of urgency in completing the ordinances for those she had discovered was profound. In an almost daily ritual she would call or email and ask me if I had completed the work for some family members that she had submitted. In all, mother was responsible for the ordinances of over 25,000 family members over a forty year period of time.
While I have not been as intense about this passion as my mother, I also keenly feel this sense of urgency to ensure that the ordinances are performed for family members waiting in the spirit world. This is the Spirit of Elijah that is prompting me to do all I can to fulfill my promise to my family, made before I came to this world. That spirit can help each of us if we pray for it.
The door to the spirit world
I loved my dad. I still do. I know where he is. He is with my mother and his own parents. He is nearby. We believe that the spirit world is here on this earth and that the spirits of those who have departed are not far from us. They are concerned for our happiness and welfare. I know dad is at peace now and that is not just an idle wish. I feel it deep within my heart and soul.
Dad suffered a bit before he died but endured it valiantly. He passed through death as he passed through life – without complaint. But dad knew that it was time to go and knew that there was a door through which he must pass. In his case, he needed to hear the words of the brethren of the priesthood telling him that he had completed his life’s work; that he could go through that door.
Summary and conclusion
All men must die. We know that. No matter how much we may get caught up in the things of this world while we are here, there comes a time in everyone’s life in which we contemplate death and what comes next. I am grateful for a faith that teaches me not only of the purpose of life and where I came from, but what will happen to me after I die. I will continue to live.
Death is not the end. It is only a doorway through which we must pass. It is one step in the eternal scheme of things. There is so much more to come after we get to the other side. We continue our journey, learning and preparing for that glorious day of resurrection, when we come forth as perfect, immortal and eternal beings, never to die again. I look forward to that day.
For more about the spirit world (from my library):
1. Visits from Beyond the Veil by Marlene Bateman Sullivan, Horizon Publishers, 2002
2. Spirit World Manifestations by Joseph Heinerman, Magazine Printing and Publishing, 1978
3. Temple Manifestations, by Joseph Heinerman, Magazine Printing and Publishing, 1974
4. The Gateway we call Death, by Russell M. Nelson, Deseret Book, 1995
5. Life after Death, by Robert L. Millet, Deseret Book, 1999
6. Beyond the Veil – vol 1, by Lee Nelson, Cedar Fort, 1988
7. Beyond the Veil – vol 2, by Lee Nelson, Cedar Fort, 1989
8. The Journey beyond Life, by Michele R. Sorensen, Family Affair Books, 1988
9. Life Everlasting, Duane S. Crowther, Bookcraft, 1967
10. Beyond Death’s Door, Brent L. and Wendy C. Top, Bookcraft, 1993