Although President Joseph F. Smith knew firsthand the anguish, loneliness, and love that attend the death of a child, his teachings on the salvation of little children were inspiring and reassuring. Between 1869 and 1898, he buried nine little children of his own.
Following the death of his firstborn child, Mercy Josephine, on 6 June 1870, he expressed his great sorrow: “O God only knows how much I loved my girl, and she the light and the joy of my heart. The morning before she died, after being up with her all night, for I watched her every night, I said to her, ‘My little pet did not sleep all night.’ She shook her head and replied, ‘I’ll sleep today, papa.’ Oh! how those little words shot through my heart. I knew though I would not believe, it was another voice, that it meant the sleep of death and she did sleep. And, Oh! the light of my heart went out. The image of heaven graven in my soul was almost departed. … Thou wert a heavenly gift directly to my heart of hearts.”1
On 6 July 1879, Joseph F. Smith wrote in his journal of his grief at the death of his daughter Rhonda: “I took her on a pillow and walked the floor with her, she again revived but only lingered about an hour and died in my arms at 1:40 a.m. Now God only knows how deeply we mourn. This is the 5th death in my family. All my little ones most beloved! O! God help us to bear this trial!”2
But he found comfort in the knowledge that, through the Atonement of the Savior, all was well with his beloved children. At the death of his daughter Ruth, on 17 March 1898, he received a glorious revelation: “O my soul! I see my own sweet mother’s arms extended welcoming to her embrace the ransomed glorious spirit of my own sweet babe! O my God! For this glorious vision, I thank Thee! And there too are gathered to my Father’s mansion all my darling lovely ones; not in infantile helplessness, but in all the power and glory and majesty of sanctified spirits! Full of intelligence, of joy and grace, and truth.”3
With little children who are taken away in infancy and innocence before they have reached the years of accountability, and are not capable of committing sin, the gospel reveals to us the fact that they are redeemed, and Satan has no power over them. Neither has death any power over them. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and they are saved just as surely as death has come into the world through the fall of our first parents. …
… Our beloved friends who are now deprived of their little one, have great cause for joy and rejoicing, even in the midst of the deep sorrow that they feel at the loss of their little one for a time. They know he is all right; they have the assurance that their little one has passed away without sin. Such children are in the bosom of the Father. They will inherit their glory and their exaltation, and they will not be deprived of the blessings that belong to them; for, in the economy of heaven, and in the wisdom of the Father, who doeth all things well, those who are cut down as little children are without any responsibility for their taking off, they, themselves, not having the intelligence and wisdom to take care of themselves and to understand the laws of life; and, in the wisdom and mercy and economy of God our Heavenly Father, all that could have been obtained and enjoyed by them if they had been permitted to live in the flesh will be provided for them hereafter. They will lose nothing by being taken away from us in this way. …
With these thoughts in my mind, I take consolation in the fact that I shall meet my children who have passed behind the veil; I have lost a number, and I have felt all that a parent can feel, I think, in the loss of my children. I have felt it keenly, for I love children, and I am particularly fond of the little ones, but I feel thankful to God for the knowledge of these principles, because now I have every confidence in his word and in his promise that I will possess in the future all that belongs to me, and my joy will be full. I will not be deprived of any privilege or any blessing that I am worthy of and that may be properly entrusted to me. But every gift, and every blessing that it is possible for me to become worthy of I shall possess, either in time or in eternity, and it will not matter, so that I acknowledge the hand of God in all these things, and say in my heart, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord” [see Job 1:21]. This is the way we should feel with regard to our children, or our relatives, or friends, or whatever vicissitudes we may be called to pass through.4
Would we be satisfied to see the children we bury in their infancy remain as children only, throughout the countless ages of eternity? No! Neither would the spirits that did possess the tabernacles of our children be satisfied to remain in that condition. But we know our children will not be compelled to remain as a child in stature always, for it was revealed from God, the fountain of truth, through Joseph Smith the prophet, in this dispensation, that in the resurrection of the dead the child that was buried in its infancy will come up in the form of the child that it was when it was laid down; then it will begin to develop. From the day of the resurrection, the body will develop until it reaches the full measure of the stature of its spirit, whether it be male or female. If the spirit possessed the intelligence of God and the aspirations of mortal souls, it could not be satisfied with anything less than this. You will remember we are told that the spirit of Jesus Christ visited one of the ancient prophets and revealed himself to him, and he declared his identity, that he was the same Son of God that was to come in the meridian of time. He said he would appear in the flesh just as he appeared to that prophet [see Ether 3:9, 16–17]. He was not an infant; he was a grown, developed spirit; possessing the form of man and the form of God, the same form as when he came and took upon him a tabernacle and developed it to the full stature of his spirit.5
Every spirit that comes to this earth to take upon it a tabernacle is a son or a daughter of God, and possesses all the intelligence and all the attributes that any son or daughter can enjoy, either in the spirit world, or in this world, except that in the spirit, and separated from the body, they lacked just the tabernacle of being like God the Father. It is said that God is a spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth [see John 4:24]. But he is a spirit possessing the tabernacle of flesh and bones, as tangible as a man’s and therefore to be like God and Jesus all men must have a body. It matters not whether these tabernacles mature in this world, or have to wait and mature in the world to come, according to the word of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the body will develop, either in time or in eternity, to the full stature of the spirit, and when the mother is deprived of the pleasure and joy of rearing her babe to manhood or to womanhood in this life, through the hand of death, that privilege will be renewed to her hereafter, and she will enjoy it to a fuller fruition than it would be possible for her to do here. When she does it there, it will be with the certain knowledge that the results will be without failure; whereas here, the results are unknown until after we have passed the test.6
The spirits of our children are immortal before they come to us, and their spirits, after bodily death, are like they were before they came. They are as they would have appeared if they had lived in the flesh, to grow to maturity, or to develop their physical bodies to the full stature of their spirits. If you see one of your children that has passed away it may appear to you in the form in which you would recognize it, the form of childhood; but if it came to you as a messenger bearing some important truth, it would perhaps come as the spirit of Bishop Edward Hunter’s son (who died when a little child) came to him, in the stature of full-grown manhood, and revealed himself to his father, and said: “I am your son.”
Bishop Hunter did not understand it. He went to my father and said: “Hyrum, what does that mean? I buried my son when he was only a little boy, but he has come to me as a full-grown man—a noble, glorious, young man, and declared himself my son. What does it mean?”
Father (Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch) told him that the Spirit of Jesus Christ was full-grown before he was born into the world; and so our children were full-grown and possessed their full stature in the spirit, before they entered mortality, the same stature that they will possess after they have passed away from mortality, and as they will also appear after the resurrection, when they shall have completed their mission.
Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: “You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.” There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.7
If we have received the testimony of the spirit of truth in our souls we know that all is well with our little children who pass away, that we could not, if we would, better their condition; and least of all would it better their condition if we could call them back here, for the reason that so long as man is in the world, clothed with mortality, surrounded by the evils that are in the world, he runs chances and is subject to risks, and there are responsibilities resting upon him which may prove fatal to his future prosperity, happiness and exaltation.8
It is a very difficult matter to say anything at a time of sorrow and bereavement like the present that will give immediate relief to the sorrowing hearts of those who mourn. Such griefs can only be fully relieved by the lapse of time and the influence of the good spirit upon the hearts of those that mourn, by which they can obtain comfort and satisfaction in their hopes of the future. … I have learned that there are a great many things which are far worse than death. With my present feelings and views and the understanding that I have of life and death I would far rather follow every child I have to the grave in their innocence and purity, than to see them grow up to man and womanhood and degrade themselves by the pernicious practices of the world, forget the Gospel, forget God and the plan of life and salvation, and turn away from the only hope of eternal reward and exaltation in the world to come.9
The prophet Elijah was to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to their fathers, foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, for the redemption of the dead and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.10
If we live and turn away from the truth we will be separated throughout the countless ages of eternity from the society of those we love. We will have no claim upon them, and they will have no claim upon us. There will be an impassable gulf between us over which we can not pass, one to the other. If we die in the faith, having lived righteous lives, we are Christ’s, we have the assurance of eternal reward, being in possession of the principles of eternal truth and shall be clothed with glory, immortality and eternal lives. While we sojourn in the flesh we pass a great portion of our life in sorrow; death separates us for a short time, some of us pass behind the vail, but the time will come when we will meet with those who have gone, and enjoy each other’s society forever. The separation is but for a moment as it were. No power can separate us then. God having joined us together we have a claim upon each other—an undeniable claim—inasmuch as we have been united by the power of the priesthood in the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is better to be separated in this life for a little season, although we have to pass through deprivation, sorrow, trouble, toil, widowhood, orphanage and many other vicissitudes, than to be separated for all eternity.11
We are begotten in the similitude of Christ himself. We dwelt with the Father and with the Son in the beginning, as the sons and daughters of God; and at the time appointed, we came to this earth to take upon ourselves tabernacles, that we might become conformed to the likeness and image of Jesus Christ and become like him; that we might have a tabernacle, that we might pass through death as he has passed through death, that we might rise again from the dead as he has risen from the dead. … The thought of meeting my children who have preceded me beyond the veil, and of meeting my kindred and my friends, what happiness it affords! For I know that I shall meet them there. God has shown me that this is true. He has made it clear to me, in answer to my prayer and devotion, as he has made it clear to the understanding of all men who have sought diligently to know him.12
[To Elder Joseph H. Dean in Oahu, Hawaii, President Joseph F. Smith wrote:] I heard with deep sympathy of the death of your baby at home. I knew how to sympathize, for I passed thro the same kind of bitter experience myself while there. I would have written you, but I judged you by myself and refrained from doing so. Under such circumstances I feel more like going into some distant quiet, lonely retreat, where no eye but that of God beheld me, and there, alone, feel and sense my grief, God only knowing it. … Time, and time only—that great healer of wounds—can touch my soul, and I think you would no doubt feel the same. But when the first poignant throes of grief are passed and the soul is calmed by time and fate, then a word fitly spoken may touch the tender chord of fellowship flowing from heart to heart in kindred sorrows. The Lord truly knows best and we know that the innocents who have been recalled from earth, so soon after their coming untainted by the sordid elements of this fallen world return to Him from whom they came, pure and holy, redeemed from the foundation, by the sacrifice of one who said “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” My most earnest, heartfelt prayer is, O! God help me to live and be worthy to join my innocent children in their home with thee!13
What blessings are promised to little children who die before the age of accountability? (See also D&C 29:46.) How can this bring us comfort and hope when we mourn the death of a little child?
If a little child dies, what is the state of his or her spirit? When will the child’s body develop and mature?
Who will be responsible for raising a child who dies young? What blessings are promised in the next life to righteous parents whose children died young?
How can understanding the principles of the plan of salvation comfort and assist those who are grieving for the death of a little child?
How can the sealing ordinances of the temple bring comfort and hope to parents when a child dies? What must we do to be reunited with our little children who have died?
How can “a word fitly spoken” bring comfort to a sorrowing soul at the death of a loved one? How can we prepare to speak such words?