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Post-Mortal Life

By Catherine Pavia

Merle Burton Bennett Matthews, my grandma

My one and only experience with post-mortal life occurred when I was a 19-year-old college student, studying abroad in Vienna.

One week of the study abroad, we had a long weekend, so a small group of us decided to make the most of it by heading to Venice for the weekend. On our last day in Venice, the others hit the beach to relax before taking the last train back to Austria, but I wanted more, so I got up early and took the first train down to Florence for the day. After a glorious day at the Academy museum, the Duomo, and the Ufizzi, I got on the last train back to Austria. Except that it wasn’t a train going back to Austria. It took me some time to realize this, at which point I also realized that I was almost out of lire (the Italian currency at the time) and that I had no idea how to find my way to a train that was going back.  I sat in my seat, looking out the window and panicking about what to do when a train pulled up at the station in the window right next to me, I saw my fellow friends who were coming from Venice. I quickly hopped off my train and into theirs.

This might seem miraculous—and it was—but I didn’t write much about it in my journal that night. Instead I wrote this: “Thursday, August 17, 1995, The night before I went to Florence, I dreamed that I saw Grandma Matthews. She looked younger, but not an age that I could pin or anything. If didn’t matter. She was so happy—her smile, her eyes were Grandma’s. She told me she’d look out for me the next day. I remember asking her other things, but I don’t remember anything about her answers except she’d look out for me. The dream happened 2 distinct times. Nothing like that has ever happened to me.”

Nothing like this has happened to me since, but I thought immediately of it when the girls’ camp director asked me to speak at girls’ camp this week about post-mortal life. This experience with my Grandma, who had passed away a few months before I left for Austria, illustrated to me in a very personal way that the spirit world is close—we are not separate from them; that we continue our social interactions and family life there; that our spirit bodies look similar to our mortal bodies but are free from physical defects and disabilities; and, most importantly, that those in the spirit world love us, are concerned about us, and, as my Grandma said, look out for us. Brent L. Top said,

“It is clear from the Prophet [Joseph]’s teachings that there is a salvational connection between the spirit world and this mortal existence. We read that those in the spirit world ‘cannot be made perfect’ without us and that ‘neither can we without our dead be made perfect’ (D&C 128:15, 18).  We know that this relates specifically to the work that goes on in our temples. But I think there is more to it than merely doing our genealogy and performing ordinances for those who did not have the privilege in this life.  We do work for them, but they are doing work for us.”

I have thought about this as all of my grandparents have since gone home (Alma 40:11), or “changed,” which is the term that Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish scientist and religious philosopher, and many others who have told about their encounters with the spirit world say that departed spirits in the spirit world use. But even still, when the girls’ camp director asked me to give a talk to the young women about post-mortal life, I didn’t understand it: Why talk to teenagers girls about this subject? I thought. Shouldn’t we talk to them about self-worth or overcoming trials or dealing with insecurities, etc.

But as I’ve studied this week, I’ve realized its value. For me, for teenage girls, for everyone. Brent L Top said, “Gospel insights about dying teach us a great deal about living. . . . Our knowledge of what it will be like then and there helps us to know what we should be like here and now.” I’ve recommitted myself to putting more effort into daily repentance, into examining my thoughts, actions, and inactions at the end of each day. I want to do my own day-end review before the life review that will be coming at judgment (Alma 5: 18; 11:43; Mosiah 4:30; Alma 12:14; D&C 1:3). I found this quote from Elder Marvin J. Ballard very interesting:

“It is my judgment that any man or women can do more to conform to the laws of God in one year in this life than ten years when they are dead. . . . It is much easier to serve the Lord when both the flesh and the Spirit are combined as one. . . . We will find that when we are dead every desire, every feeling will be greatly intensified. Therefore, every man and woman who is putting off until the next life the task of correcting and overcoming the weaknesses of the flesh are sentencing themselves to years of bondage, for no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection until they have completed their work, until they have [repented] and overcome [evil] (quoted in Duane S. Crowther’s Life Everlasting, 22-23]

Studying post-mortal life has reminded me about what else is really important in addition to repentance: Relationships. People. Definitely not things. President Harold B. Lee said, “What we are hereafter depends on what we’re after here.

I began my study of this subject half-heartedly, as I mentioned. I was not particularly interested in the subject. But I found that my spirit responded immediately to my study. My spirit recognized the truths and thrilled to them. It has been a powerful reminder to me not to neglect the needs of my spirit, even as I spend the bulk of my days giving my mind and body what they need. Joseph Smith said that death and post-mortal life “is a subject that we ought to study more than any other.”  Our spirits want to remember why we chose mortality and what the rewards are and will be.

(Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from Brent L. Top’s What’s on the Other Side: What the Gospel Teaches Us about the Spirit World.)

About Catherine Pavia

(Prose Board) has worked as a cherry sorter, file girl, piano teacher, writer, editor, and college professor. She currently works full-time as the art director, events planner, chauffeur, and referee for her four children. She spends a good deal of her time running—be it down the supermarket aisle after an escaped child, around the living room in a heated game of flag football, or on early-morning runs/therapy sessions with her neighborhood friends. She earned her BA and MA in English from BYU and her PhD in English from UMass Amherst.

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