I am a first-time dad. Now, perhaps more than ever, I want and need an eternal family.
The principle of eternal families changed my life before I was even born. When my dad asked my mother to marry him, she expressed her convictions about going to the temple in a letter that has been invaluable to our family. Part of that letter reads:
“Temple marriage is forever. It lasts beyond death. Children born to parents [who] married in the temple [and] who live up to their vows will rejoin their parents in heaven. The family unit is preserved for time and eternity. Steve, I believe as clearly as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow that this is true. And I also believe that as much as my Heavenly Father loves me, as much as He loves you, He could not preserve any other kind of relationship beyond death because He is a God of truth, bound by His word.
“Steve, if I love you this much, and I have known you only two and a half years, how much more will you mean to me as time goes by? If I can’t answer you now because I can’t face what the consequences might be, how could I ever, ever face them later?
“Without the covenant of God, two people can build their lives together, only to see it all snatched away in an unexpected nightmare. There can be no peace of mind.”
Those words supplied the added encouragement my father needed to join the Church. My mother committed to marriage, and my parents were sealed in the temple for time and eternity. My father’s testimony was strengthened by the peace of mind found through temple marriage—a peace of mind that would become very meaningful years later.
Early on a Saturday morning, 19 December 1987, my family piled into our van to make the four-hour trek from Shelley, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to finish our Christmas shopping and to see the lights on Temple Square. The trip felt routine. We had made it several times before, and I quickly fell asleep in the backseat.
After less than an hour I awoke in terror as the van jerked to the left, then to the right. Suddenly I was thrown from the vehicle and landed on my backside on the cold, snow-covered roadside. Only moments before, my mother had fastened my one-year-old sister into her car seat after feeding her but failed to buckle her own seatbelt. I sat rubbing my hip, listening to our van tumble in the background and trying to recall the circumstances in which I had fallen asleep.
When the van came to a rest, everything was silent for a moment. Then, as I caught sight of our mangled van, I began to realize what had happened, though still not understanding the magnitude of the tragic event.
Bruised slightly and quite confused, I walked to the wreckage and my family. Everyone appeared to be in pain. I stepped close to my mother, who sat leaning against the van’s tire, and asked how she was. The indecisive phrase “I don’t know” satisfied my frightened mind.
Within minutes an emergency helicopter arrived to rush my mother and five-year-old brother, Josh, to a nearby hospital. I climbed into one of two ambulances that carried the rest of my battered family to the emergency room. Suffering from a mere scrape on my back, I was the least injured.
My family dispersed into various examination rooms for individual treatment before we were reunited an hour or so later in a small hospital room at the request of my father. I looked around the room at family members whose medical treatments were temporarily postponed and began to worry about the effects of this unthinkable tragedy. Two of our family were missing: Josh, who I later learned was in a coma in critical condition, and Mom.
The words my father then spoke will never fade from memory.
“Mom is dead,” he mumbled beneath his tears.
My heart sank, and my eyes also filled with tears. The room was silent for a few moments as these words sank in.
“Who’s going to cook for us?” nine-year-old Sarah asked.
Dad replied with the best words of comfort he could think of under the circumstances. “I don’t know. We’ll work something out.”
Christmas was different that year, falling only six days after the accident. We postponed celebrating the holiday until Josh had recuperated enough to join the family. Then, on our special Christmas morning, my seven brothers and sisters and I gathered in a circle around the tree with my dad to open presents. As was tradition in our family, the youngest, my one-year-old sister, picked the first present to open. She chose a gift my mother had prepared for the family before her death.
Dad removed the wrapping paper from a framed cross-stitch that read, “The circle of our love is Forever.” The implication of that simple phrase brought peace to my family in that time of trial, and the meaning behind the words has bound us together ever since with the knowledge that we will see our mother again.
Today, nearly 17 years later, I’m reminded of the powerful truth of eternal families as I begin to build my own. Now my constant reminder to live my life worthily comes not only from my desire to see my mother again but also from my desire to live forever with my wife and baby boy.
I frequently reflect on the comforting words of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2).
The cross-stitch we unwrapped many years ago still hangs on my family’s living room wall, reminding me and my siblings of our beloved mother, providing continued hope in the divine plan of our Heavenly Father, and bringing us peace of mind because of the promise of eternal families made possible by the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.