Two months ago yesterday my father died of cancer. After several months of complicated and debilitating treatment and years of decline, his passing was remarkably peaceful and painless. So, in some sense, it was a welcome event for our family. We were, of course, sobered by the finality of the event, but at 73, my father had lived a full life and we were relieved to see him released from his suffering. When this outlook also prevailed during his memorial services several days later, it provided an interesting opportunity for reflection on core Mormon doctrine. Doctrine that we believe provides “real life answers” to one of life’s most difficult questions: Where do we go when we die?
To the uninitiated observer my father’s funeral was casual, even celebratory. My best friend from High School travelled, at his insistence, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area from LA to attend the service, apparently expecting some pageantry. His Middle-Eastern heritage also had him primed for a dramatic scene. But the contrast between expectation and reality was almost humorous to him: “During the eulogy I couldn’t remember whether I was attending a roast or a funeral!” I explained in reply that our unceremonious take on funerals was inextricably connected to our faith. Because of our knowledge of the plan that God has for us, we don’t get very worked up over old-age death. However, while our services may be void of pomp and circumstance, they are also fraught with meaning.
For many people the question, “where do we go when we die?” has more to do with state of being than location. “Where do we go” is of secondary importance to “what will it be like.” The focus of this post is the latter concept. We believe that we lived with our Heavenly Father before coming to earth and that after we die we will be reunited with our families, heavenly and earthly, in the hereafter. This belief is not necessarily unique to Mormons. Various surveys have shown that most of the country’s religious devout believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones after death, in spite of the fact that their religious creeds claim the contrary, declaring marriage to be only “until death do you part.” What is unique to Mormons with regards to this issue is the harmony between doctrine and belief, and the conviction in this belief.
Only Mormon doctrine provides the logic behind this nearly universal human yearning for reuniting. The key lies in the restoration of the sacred authority to seal in heaven that which is sealed on earth. We affirm that the keys the Savior promised to Peter, lost for centuries, have now been restored to the earth, allowing husbands and wives, brothers and sisters to partake of a fuller joy in the hereafter than could be experienced as lone, stolid individuals. Our family is still adjusting to our loss, but when I am tempted to despair I am buttressed by my mother’s unshakable faith in this principle. Her certainty comes from a lifetime of refining our faith through sacrifice, obedience, and concerted effort to understand divine truths through personal revelation.