“Where is David?” I had asked this question many times before, so I already knew the answer.
“In heaven.” My mother smiled sadly. She added, “If we live righteously, someday we can be with him again.”
David was my oldest brother. He had died before I was born. Even though I’d never known him in life, I had seen him in photos and home movies. I felt close to him.
I had another older brother, Jeff. He was barely a year older than I was, but while I was timid and shy, Jeff was fearless. In our backyard was the tallest tree in the neighborhood. I liked to look up its trunk into its vast reaches, where it seemed to touch the clouds. I imagined myself at its top, but I couldn’t even reach its lowest branches. This didn’t stop Jeff. He stood up on our little red wagon and scrambled up the trunk like a monkey, disappearing into the thick foliage. From the leafy shadows his voice beckoned to me. “Come on. Come see what it’s like up here.”
I shook my head. It looked too dark and dim up there, like the inside of a cave or a long tunnel. I was afraid to follow him.
I wondered if David would have climbed the tall tree as fearlessly as Jeff. Would he have raced Jeff to the top? I would never know, because while Jeff was climbing the tree’s topmost branches, David was in heaven.
“Where is heaven?” I asked my mother later that day. “Is it far away? What does it look like?”
“Prophets tell us that those who have died are not far from us, so heaven is very near,” my mother explained. “Joseph Smith said that it is so beautiful we would do anything to get there. Jesus described it as having many mansions and assures us that He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. It must be a wonderful place—even more wonderful because Jesus is there, waiting for us.”
“And so is David,” I said.
“Yes, he is.” My mother patted my cheek, and I saw tears of hope in her eyes.
I accepted my mother’s answers even though it was hard for me to imagine such a place. Heaven must be like the beautiful earth I knew, but much more glorious and beautiful. But if it was so close, why couldn’t I see it?
Jeff got a camera for his ninth birthday. It was an inexpensive kind, but he loved that camera and took pictures of everything. His favorite subject was nature: birds, our family dog, vacation scenes. One day he put two snapshots into my hands. “Look,” he said, with unconcealed excitement.
“What is it?” I turned the snapshots up and down, trying to see something recognizable.
“It’s the view from the top of the tree,” he said, his face lit with enthusiasm. “Since you couldn’t climb up, I took some pictures for you.” He pointed to each snapshot. “This one is looking towards the mountains. See the church steeple sticking up through the trees?”
“Wow!” I breathed. Now I could see clearly what I was looking at: treetops, rooftops, and an endless sky. It was a whole new world, a totally different perspective, something I had never seen or even imagined.
He pointed to the second snapshot. “This one is looking the other direction. On clear days you can see all the way to the ocean.”
I was awestruck and grateful. It was one of the greatest gifts I had ever received. My older brother had gone to places I could not go and brought back to me a glimpse of their beauty. It was truly amazing.
And he had given me another gift as well. That experience helped me to understand how there could be a heaven—a place of glory just beyond my reach. I might not be able to see it, but it was there. I felt certain of this. And I felt equally certain that someday I would stand hand in hand with my brothers, gazing upon the wonders of heaven, in glorious living color. And Jesus would say, “Come. See the place that I have prepared for you.”
“The world of spirits … is a place of paradise and happiness for those who have lived righteous lives.”
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Eternal Family,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 66.