My Relationship to the Deceased
It always makes me sad when I hear children say they haven’t a father or mother, meaning the parent has died. Of course they have a father and a mother. God gave them those parents and intended for them all to be a family. I find that of all the great eternal truths that have been lost to most over the centuries, this is one of the saddest to have lost. My relationship to my deceased family members is still strong.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often misnamed the “Mormon Church”), I believe that most people know in their hearts that God meant families to be together forever. At funerals, we frequently hear people talking about how the deceased is with her husband again or reassuring the grieving that everyone will see each other again in Heaven. God has planted in our hearts the knowledge that families are meant to be forever.
One of God’s first acts was to create families. He made it very clear to Adam that his wife was to be a priority in Adam’s life. God intended families to play a defining role in the world’s structure, and he gave parents a powerful love for their children. Why would anyone who believed Heaven is wonderful and joyful believe he would enjoy being there without his family? Should our first assignment in Heaven be to fall out of love with our spouses and children and to endure a divorce? Of course not. If Heaven has everything it needs to make me happy, it has to allow me to continue to be part of my family while I’m there. Our hearts know it because God put it in our hearts. I knew it long before I ever heard of Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and even wrote a story about it in school as a child.
My parents are both dead. I grieved, of course, and I still miss them and what their presence on earth meant to me. I carry with me the lessons they taught me. I am reassured, however, to know they are in Heaven, waiting for me to join them someday. I know this through Mormon doctrine. Someday the long, complex talk of books and history they enjoyed sharing with me will resume, not among people who dimly remember caring about each other once, but as a family. Family is a concept already placed in our hearts and what is in our hearts and our minds will go with us when we die.
What is my relationship to my deceased parents today? Before my mother died, I was living across the country. She had experienced a stroke and could no longer talk or really communicate with me directly. Today, she can’t communicate with me directly, either, but that doesn’t make her any less my mom than when she was on Earth. In time, we’ll be together, the effects of her stroke will be gone, and we’ll pick up where we left off—only in a happier place.
Latter-day Saints (or “Mormons”—a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believe that death is the third stage of eternal life. The first stage took place before we were born, when we lived with our Heavenly Father and prepared for the second stage, which is taking place here on Earth. The third stage is our eternal lives after death. Mormons believe that we came to Earth to learn the gospel, to gain bodies and families, to develop faith, to make choices, and to be tested.
In order to return home to God, we have to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and work to demonstrate the depth of our faith and love: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
However, most of the world’s population never had an opportunity to learn of Christ. Many lived before He was born or in places that did not receive the gospel. Many today, although they have heard of God, have not found the fulness of the gospel—there are thousands of churches and it can be overwhelming for a person to find where God wants him or her to be. Others never received a confirming testimony from the Holy Ghost. There is no way for anyone to judge who has or has not received that confirming testimony.
Since we have been commanded to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and to be baptized, this creates a problem for Christians who believe God is fair and loving. For Mormons, however, there isn’t a contradiction at all. Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) believe God took all that into consideration when He made His plan. He allowed for people who die without the gospel to be taught it after death. (The New Testament tells of Jesus preaching to the spirits who have died.) He arranged for members of His church to be baptized by proxy for those people, if—and only if—those people choose to accept the gospel. Even when a person knows something is true, he sometimes rejects it. Mormons have no way of knowing who did and did not accept the gospel, and so the names are never counted on church records as members. If a person rejects the ordinances done on his behalf, it is as if they never happened.
Before my father died, I asked him and my mother about these proxy baptisms. They were not Mormons. My father said, “If it’s true and they’re valid, I’ll be desperate to have them done. If they aren’t, God isn’t going to pay any more attention to them than He does to anything else that isn’t true. I have nothing to lose, so go right ahead.”
For Mormons, this process of providing proxy baptisms is an act of love for their ancestors. It would be utterly cruel to condemn a newborn baby for dying before baptism when God chose the time of death for the child. It would be cruel to forever condemn a person born where no word of Jesus ever came—when God chose the place and time the person was born. God is not a cruel God. He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever. He has provided us with every opportunity to receive the gospel and to choose whether or not to accept it. For me, the proxy work I do for my ancestors is a work of love for them, a service to give to the family I will have for all eternity.
While Mormons don’t have patron saints, they do have a connection to those who have died. We are all part of God’s large and wonderful family and families are supposed to take care of each other—so we do.