My dear brethren and sisters, since our last general conference, my sweetheart—my beloved wife for 59 years—passed away. While I was at home on a rare Saturday with no assignment, we had worked together. She had washed our clothing. I had helped to carry it, fold it, and put it in place. Then while we were sitting on the sofa, holding hands, enjoying a program on television, my precious Dantzel slipped peacefully into eternity. Her passing came suddenly and unexpectedly. Just four days earlier, our doctor’s report at a routine checkup indicated that her laboratory tests were good. After my efforts to revive her proved fruitless, feelings of shock and sorrow overwhelmed me. My closest friend, angel mother of our 10 children, grandmother of our 56 grandchildren, had been taken from us.
Dantzel was not only a loved and loving companion. She was a teacher: by her noble example, she taught faith, virtue, obedience, and mercy. She taught me how to listen and to love. Because of her, I know all the blessings that can come to a husband, father, and grandfather.
With deep gratitude, I acknowledge the tremendous outpouring of love from dear friends across the world. Countless letters, calls, cards, and other messages have been sent. All tributes expressed loving admiration for her and sympathy for us whom she left behind. Those messages came in such large numbers that we, regretfully, were unable to respond to all of them individually. May I thank each and all for your great kindness toward us. Thank you so very, very much. Your expressions have brought much comfort through this time of heartache for our family. We really love dear Dantzel! We miss her!
From her sudden departure we can learn a very important lesson: now is the time to prepare to meet God. Tomorrow may be too late. Prophets through the ages have so declared: “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. … Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.”1
Yet many do procrastinate.2 A prophet warns us: “Ye cannot say … that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will … possess your body in that eternal world.”3 Another prophet adds, “He that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still.”4
Great is the knowledge that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain … in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.”5 From the Prophet Joseph Smith we also learn that “God has … a time … appointed … when He will bring all His subjects, who have obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, into His celestial rest. This rest6 is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. … God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest.”7 Sister Nelson was so prepared!
That glorious goal seems mighty distant if one is discouraged by worldly trouble and gloom. I remember when a friend having a difficult day exclaimed, “Oh, why was I ever born?” God’s plan answers his question. We came into this life to acquire a physical body. We may fall in love and be married. We may have children and experience the trials of mortal life. (Please forgive me for mentioning children and the trials of life in the same breath. I sense that they are both part of our growing process.) The Church was restored—the earth was created—so that those families could be sealed in holy temples. Otherwise, the whole earth would be “utterly wasted.”8
We came to be tried, to be tested, and to choose.9 Our decisions determine our destiny. We are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator …, or to choose captivity and death.”10 Those who choose the Lord’s way will likely endure persecution.11 But their reward is certain. Those who prove faithful “shall inherit the kingdom of God, … and their joy shall be full forever.”12 Sister Nelson has earned that reward. What comfort that brings to me and our family!
Trials and tests apply to rich and poor alike. Years ago, I was asked to perform an operation upon a very wealthy man. A surgical biopsy confirmed that he had an advanced cancer that had spread throughout his body. As I reported this news, his immediate response was to rely upon his wealth. He would go anywhere or do anything to treat his condition. He thought he could buy his way back to health. But he soon passed away. Someone asked, “How much wealth did he leave?” The answer, of course, was, “All of it!”
His priorities were set upon things of the world. His ladder of success had been leaning against the wrong wall. I think of him when I read this scripture: “Behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is … too late.”13
In radiant contrast, Sister Nelson prepared throughout her life for the time when she would return to God. She lived each day as though it were her last. She cherished every hour, knowing that time on earth is precious.
Some people live as if there were no day of reckoning. Others waste today’s time with a disabling fear of tomorrow or a paralyzing preoccupation over mistakes of yesterday. Each of us might well heed the words of a poet, as posted on a sundial:
The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour,
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,—
The NOW on which the shadow stands.14
Now is the time. But how do we prepare? Begin with repentance! Scripture declares, “If ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; … no unclean thing can dwell with God.”15 He gave this simple rule: “Except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.”16
Now is the time to show reverent respect for one’s physical body. It serves as the tabernacle for one’s spirit throughout all eternity. Physical appetites are to be controlled by the will of one’s spirit. We are to “deny [our]selves of all ungodliness.”17 We are to “forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, [and] live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.”18
Because of frequent and frightening calamities in the world, some people doubt the existence of God. But, in fact, He is trying to help us. He revealed these words: “How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and … tempests, … earthquakes, … great hailstorms, … famines and pestilences of every kind, … and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!”19
His hope for us is eternal life. We qualify for it by obedience to covenants and ordinances of the temple—for ourselves, our families, and our ancestors. We cannot be made perfect without them.20 We cannot wish our way into the presence of God. We are to obey the laws upon which those blessings are predicated.21
God’s plan is fair. Even those “who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.”22 His plan is also merciful. He “will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”23
Now is the time to align our goals with God’s goals. His work and His glory—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”26—can become ours. Of temple marriage the Savior declared, “If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, … [they] shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, … exaltation and glory in all things.”27 We are to emulate the example of the Lord, to love as He did, to pray as He did, and to endure to the end as He did.28
Death is a necessary component of our eternal existence. No one knows when it will come, but it is essential to God’s great plan of happiness.29 Thanks to the Atonement of the Lord, eventual resurrection is a reality and eternal life is a possibility for all humankind.30 That possibility becomes a reality as we obey God’s law. He said, “Except ye shall keep my commandments, … ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”31 One day we will be judged by the Lord32 and go to our own mansion prepared in our Father’s heavenly house.33 Celestial glory awaits those who have been faithful to God’s gentle commands.34
Brothers and sisters, we live to die and we die to live—in another realm. If we are well prepared, death brings no terror. From an eternal perspective, death is premature only for those who are not prepared to meet God.
Now is the time to prepare. Then, when death comes, we can move toward the celestial glory that Heavenly Father has prepared for His faithful children. Meanwhile, for sorrowing loved ones left behind—such as our family and me—the sting of death is soothed by a steadfast faith in Christ, a perfect brightness of hope, a love of God and of all men, and a deep desire to serve them.35 That faith, that hope, that love will qualify us to come into God’s holy presence and, with our eternal companions and families, dwell with Him forever. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.