“What happens when we die?” This is one of the pressing questions about life that people all across the world grapple with every day. Most of the time, we don’t think about it. People we don’t know die, people far away and unconnected with our own lives. Then, when someone we love and care about is facing death or suddenly taken from us, or we ourselves are facing death, this question looms bigger than ever before. Sometimes, the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be overwhelming or even paralyzing. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon Church,” offers an explanation of what happens when we die that brings family and friends peace, hope and comfort.
The Spirit and the Body
Latter-day Saints, also called Mormons, believe that the body and spirit are two separate things. Our bodies are like a glove; objects that can’t move or touch or feel unless there is a hand in them. Our spirits are like the hand; the living thing that gives life to the glove. When we go out into the cold, we put gloves on and move our hands inside them. When we take gloves off of our hands, our hands haven’t stopped existing. We’re just not using the gloves anymore, and the gloves no longer feel or move.
Our spirits and bodies are like the hands and the gloves. Just as our hands existed before we put on gloves, so did our spirits exist before we were born. When we were born, our spirits entered our bodies. Our bodies were alive then, and could touch and feel and experience everything that life has to offer, just like our hands when we have the gloves on. When we die, our spirits will return to heaven, leaving our bodies on earth, like when we take off our gloves and leave them behind. Our bodies can’t touch or feel or move then, because there is not a spirit inside of them, like the inanimate gloves lying in the closet. This is physical death: when the spirit leaves the body. But just because our spirit has left our body does not mean that our spirit has ceased to exist.
Mormons believe that when a person dies, his or her spirit goes to a place called Paradise, a place like heaven where spirits learn about and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here, spirits wait for the day when they will be reunited with their bodies, an event called resurrection. Mormons believe that everyone who has ever lived on the earth will be resurrected; our spirits and bodies will be reunited. It doesn’t matter how “righteous” or “wicked” a person has been; we all will be resurrected regardless of our actions and beliefs on earth. When we are resurrected, our bodies will be perfect. We won’t be sick, or have other physical problems. Our bodies are restored to their perfect state.
There is Hope
Death is very hard to cope with, even when we know that our spirits live on. The person we loved so much, maybe a grandmother, father, or best friend, is no longer with us. We can’t see them and talk to them every day. When we graduate from college, get married, or have children, they won’t physically be there to share in our joy. Even if the deceased was very ill, or old, or ready to die, coping with their death is still very challenging for family members and friends.
However, there is hope, because we know that their spirit lives on. We know that one day they will be resurrected, and we will be able to see them again. They are not suffering; they are happy in Paradise, and with other family members’ spirits who have also died. Death is part of Heavenly Father’s plan for each of us. Just like birth is the way for us to come into this world, death is the way for us to leave it.
Boyd K. Packer, an apostle and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ, says that “death and happiness are not close companions in mortality, but in the eternal sense they are essential to one another. Death is a mechanism of rescue,” the means by which we leave this life and continue on in our journey back home to be with God, our Heavenly Father (Funerals—A Time for Reverence, October 1988). There is hope because we know that our departed loved ones live on, and that we will see them again.
Megan is a graduate of BYU-Idaho and recently married member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is a writer and avid reader, and loves music, hiking, and her family.