“Chapter 5: Comfort in the Hour of Death,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant (2011), 42–50
“Chapter 5,” Teachings: Heber J. Grant, 42–50
Comfort in the Hour of Death
The peace and comfort of our Father in Heaven can be a healing influence for all who mourn the death of loved ones.
From the Life of Heber J. Grant
“In times of sickness or death,” wrote Lucy Grant Cannon, a daughter of President Heber J. Grant, “father’s fortitude has been remarkable. When his son [7-year-old Heber Stringham Grant] was bedridden for over a year, and during the last months of his life so often in very great pain, father would sit by his cot for hours at a time and soothe him. He would be in his room and with him as much as he could, and when he passed away father was resigned to his going although he knew that as far as earthly posterity is concerned he would probably have no son to carry his name. His great faith, which to us has seemed absolute, has been a strength and a stay to us all our lives.”1
When President Grant spoke of the sorrow that comes at the death of loved ones, he spoke with empathy born of personal experience. In addition to his son Heber, six other immediate family members preceded him in death. When he was nine days old, he lost his father. In 1893, his wife Lucy passed away at age 34 after a three-year struggle with a difficult illness. The death of 5-year-old Daniel Wells Grant, his only other son, followed two years later. In 1908, shortly after President Grant and his wife Emily completed a mission in Europe, stomach cancer claimed Emily’s life. One year later, President Grant mourned the passing of his mother. In 1929, eleven years after he was set apart as President of the Church, his daughter Emily passed away at age 33.
President Grant felt these losses keenly. During Lucy’s illness, he wrote in his journal: “Lucy feels that she cannot possibly get well and we have had some serious conversations today and have both shed tears at our contemplated separation. I can’t help fearing that her life is not going to be spared.”2
Despite the realization of such fears, President Grant found hope and peace as he relied on the truths of the gospel. He said that he never attended a funeral of a faithful member of the Church without thanking the Lord “for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the comfort and consolation that it gives to us in the hour of sorrow and death.”3 He spoke of experiencing this “comfort and consolation” at the death of his son Heber: “I know that when my last son passed away (I have had only two) there was in my home at that time a peaceful influence, a comfort and a joy that is beyond the comprehension of those who know nothing of the Gospel and of the peace that it brings into our hearts.”4
Teachings of Heber J. Grant
Eternal truths can comfort us when loved ones die.
How bitter must be the suffering and grief of those who see nothing beyond the grave except the beginning of eternal night and oblivion. For them that thus believe, death hath its sting and the grave its victory. To them, even the glory of this earth is but the last flickering of a candle in unending blackness.
But, to the man of faith, death is but the taking up again of the life he broke off when he came to this earth.5
I can never think of my loved ones, my dear mother and those who have passed away, as being in the grave. I rejoice in the associations they are enjoying and in the pleasure they are having in meeting with their loved ones on the other side.6
We are of course never quite prepared for death no matter when it comes. I know that in my own case I had made up my mind that inasmuch as my mother had such splendid health she would live to be at least a hundred years of age, and it was a great shock when she died twelve years earlier than that.
I am always grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan of life and salvation, but I am never so grateful for the truth as I am upon occasions of this kind [funerals]. The perfect and absolute knowledge that we as Latter-day Saints have of the divinity of the work in which we are engaged, the absolute assurance that when life ends, if we have been faithful we are to have the pleasure and the privilege of going back into the presence of those whom we have loved and who have gone on before, and that we shall be associated with our Heavenly Father, our Redeemer, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Patriarch Hyrum and all of the great men and women who have devoted their lives to this cause, brings a peace and a happiness upon occasions of this kind into our hearts, which I am sure no language that I possess or that anybody else possesses can fully explain.7
To a Latter-day Saint, while death brings sorrow into our homes and our hearts, that sorrow is more or less of the same nature that we feel when we are temporarily called upon to part with our dear ones who are going out into the mission field or who are moving away for some time. That awful anguish that I have seen exhibited by those who know not the truth, I believe never comes into the heart of a true Latter-day Saint.8
I regret ofttimes, in the times of distress and trouble that come to those whom we admire and love, that we are not able to lift from their shoulders the sorrow into which they are plunged, when they are called upon to part with those they cherish.
But we realize that our Father in heaven can bind up broken hearts and that He can dispel sorrow and that He can point forward with joy and satisfaction to those blessings that are to come through obedience to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, for we do understand and we do have conviction that it is the will of our Father in heaven that we shall live on and that we have not finished our existence when these bodies of mortality are laid away in the grave.
It is a very great blessing that in the providences of the Lord and in the revelations that have been given by our Father in heaven, we have the assurance that the spirit and the body, in due time, will be reunited, notwithstanding the unbelief that there is in the world today—and there certainly is great skepticism and unbelief in relation to this matter. But notwithstanding this, we have assurance through the revelations that have been given by the Lord our God, that that is the purpose of God, that the body and the spirit shall be eternally united and that there will come a time, through the blessing and mercy of God, when we will no more have sorrow but when we shall have conquered all of these things that are of a trying and distressing character, and shall stand up in the presence of the living God, filled with joy and peace and satisfaction.9
The Lord strengthens us as we acknowledge His hand and accept His will.
There are very many things in this world that are inexplicable. It is a difficult thing for me to understand why in the providences of the Lord, … the only two boys I had should both be called away and that my name should end with me so far as this world is concerned. On the other hand, the Gospel is of such an uplifting character that, notwithstanding the loss of these two sons, I have never had the least complaint in my heart nor felt to find fault. There is something about the Gospel that causes men and women to acknowledge God in life and death, in joy and sorrow, in prosperity and in adversity. The Lord has said that he is pleased with those only who acknowledge his hand in all things [see D&C 59:21].10
I can testify of my absolute knowledge that nothing short of the Spirit of the Lord ever could have brought the peace and comfort to me which I experienced at the time of [my son] Heber’s death. I am naturally affectionate in my disposition. I loved my last and only living son with all my heart. I had [built] great hopes on what I expected him to accomplish. I expected to see him a missionary proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I hoped that he might live to be a power for good upon the earth; and yet, notwithstanding all these aspirations that I had for my boy, I was able, because of the blessings of the Lord, to see him die without shedding a tear. No power on earth could have given to me this peace. It was of God. And I can never speak of it or write of it without feelings of gratitude filling my heart, far beyond any power with which I am endowed to express my feelings.11
May we always remember, because it is both true and comforting, that the death of a faithful man is nothing in comparison to the loss of the inspiration of the good spirit. Eternal life is the great prize, and it will be ours, and the joy of our Father in heaven in welcoming us will be great, if we do right; and there is nothing so great that can be done in this life by anyone, as to do right. The Lord will hear and answer the prayers we offer to him and give us the things we pray for if it is for our best good. He never will and never has forsaken those who serve him with full purpose of heart; but we must always be prepared to say “Father, thy will be done.”12
I was thoroughly convinced in my own mind and in my own heart, when my first wife left me by death, that it was the will of the Lord that she should be called away. I bowed in humility at her death. The Lord saw fit upon that occasion to give to one of my little children a testimony that the death of her mother was the will of the Lord.
About one hour before my wife died, I called my children into her room and told them that their mother was dying and for them to bid her good-bye. One of the little girls, about twelve years of age, said to me: “Papa, I do not want my mamma to die. I have been with you in the hospital in San Francisco for six months; time and time again when mamma was in distress you [have] administered to her and she has been relieved of her pain and quietly gone to sleep. I want you to lay hands upon my mamma and heal her.”
I told my little girl that we all had to die sometime, and that I felt assured in my heart that her mother’s time had arrived. She and the rest of the children left the room.
I then knelt down by the bed of my wife (who by this time had lost consciousness) and I told the Lord I acknowledged His hand in life, in death, in joy, in sorrow, in prosperity, or adversity. I thanked Him for the knowledge I had that my wife belonged to me for all eternity, that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored, that I knew that by the power and authority of the Priesthood here on the earth that I could and would have my wife forever if I were only faithful as she had been. But I told the Lord that I lacked the strength to have my wife die and to have it affect the faith of my little children in the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I supplicated the Lord with all the strength that I possessed, that He would give to that little girl of mine a knowledge that it was His mind and His will that her mamma should die.
Within an hour my wife passed away, and I called the children back into the room. My little boy about five and a half or six years of age was weeping bitterly, and the little girl twelve years of age took him in her arms and said: “Do not weep, do not cry, Heber; since we went out of this room the voice of the Lord from heaven has said to me, ‘In the death of your mamma the will of the Lord shall be done.’”
Tell me, my friends, that I do not know that God hears and answers prayers! Tell me that I do not know that in the hour of adversity the Latter-day Saints are comforted and blessed and consoled as no other people are!13
Death is a necessary part of mortal experience and a step in our eternal progression.
May the peace and comfort of our Father in heaven bring its healing influence to all who are called upon to mourn and to bear affliction. And may we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life. We all have them, even though our troubles differ. I have not had the same kind of trials that others have had to undergo, yet I have had my full share. When, as a young man, I lost my wife and my only two sons, I was earnestly trying with all my heart to keep the commandments of the Lord, and my household and I were observing the Word of Wisdom and entitled to the blessings of life. I have been sorely tried and tempted, but I am thankful to say that the trials and temptations have not been any greater than I was able to endure, and with all my heart I hope that we may never have anything more to endure than we will be blessed of the Lord with the ability to withstand.14
We of this Church have been told of the Lord that before we came to this earth we had a life running back to the remotest stretches of eternity; that as spirits we lived out an existence before we came here, in which we prepared ourselves for life on the earth; that then, having kept our first estate, we came to this earth to obtain knowledge, wisdom, and experience, to learn the lessons, suffer the pains, endure the temptations, and gain the victories of mortality; that when our mortal bodies give up life, our spirits return to take up again the spirit life which we left to come to earth life, and we thereafter go on, building upon the achievements of our first spirit-life, our first estate, and of our mortal life, or second estate, progressing through the endless eternities that follow, until we reach the goal the Lord set: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48.]15
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
When we mourn the loss of a loved one, what principles of the plan of salvation can we turn to for comfort?
President Heber J. Grant told of his daughter who, in the hour of her mother’s death, received comfort from “the voice of the Lord from heaven.” What are some other ways in which the Lord comforts us? How have you been comforted when you have lost loved ones?
What blessings come from acknowledging the hand of the Lord in our lives, even when we experience trials?
President Grant said that “being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.” Why is it important to understand this principle? In what ways can trials lead to blessings?
How can we prepare now to be receptive to the “peace and comfort of our Father in heaven” and His “healing influence” in our times of trial and sorrow?