Our perspective on death comes from our understanding that we existed before this life, that we came here to gain physical bodies and the necessary experiences that come with mortality, that death is just a passage into another phase of our existence, and that we will all gain resurrected physical bodies in the next life. Physical death, then, is not an end. It is a temporary separation, painful but not hopeless. What happens, though, to babies or children who die before they have fully matured? Will parents ever have the opportunity to raise the children they have lost?
We turned to the words of Joseph Smith, who we recognize as a prophet. He and his wife Emma were no stranger to death. They had eleven children: nine of their own, and adopted twins. They lost their first three babies (one singleton, one set of twins) soon after birth. They then adopted twins, one of whom died of measles at eleven months old. They lost another son at 14 months, and yet another the day he was born.
These are some remarks he made about mothers who have lost children (taken from this week's lesson Words of Hope and Consolation at the Time of Death):
At the funeral of two-year-old Marian Lyon:
We have again the warning voice sounded in our midst, which shows the uncertainty of human life; and in my leisure moments I have meditated upon the subject, and asked the question, why it is that infants, innocent children, are taken away from us, especially those that seem to be the most intelligent and interesting....A question may be asked—"Will mothers have their children in eternity?" Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid....Children…must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.
President Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church, reported:
Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: "You will have the joy, the pleasure and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit"...and that it would be a far greater joy than she could possibly have in mortality, because she would be free from the sorrow and fear and disabilities of mortal life, and she would know more than she could know in this life.
Joseph Smith spoke to Mary Isabella Horne and Leonora Cannon Taylor, who each lost a young child in death. Mary recalled:
He told us that we should receive those children in the morning of the resurrection just as we laid them down, in purity and innocence, and we should nourish and care for them as their mothers. He said that children would be raised in the resurrection just as they were laid down.Our society fears death as the worst thing that can happen. It is The End, but with no happy ending. For us, though, there are worse things than death, as this comment from Joseph Smith illustrates:
More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy.
Our discussion was very lively and raised a lot of good questions and ideas. How does this knowledge affect the way we treat our passages into and out of life? How we treat those with physical disabilities? How does it influences our mourning process? It's still just as hard to lose a loved one, even if we know we will see them again. We talked about what happens with miscarriages and stillbirths (short answer: we don't know exactly but I imagine it's the same as for babies who die after they are born). One woman who'd had a miscarriage joked, "If that's the case, when I die and am resurrected, I'll be pregnant!"
I hadn't thought about that!