Joseph F. Smith was no stranger to the sorrow and void that occurs when death takes a loved one from mortal life.
He was 5 years old when his father, Hyrum Smith, and his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, died as martyrs on June 27, 1844, at the Carthage jail in Illinois. He was 13 when his mother, Mary Fielding Smith, died on Sept. 21, 1852.As a pioneer lad crossing the plains, he certainly grieved as many friends and traveling companions were laid to rest in shallow graves. But perhaps no death grieved him more than that of his little daughter, Mercy Josephine, who was not quite 3.
Of her death, he wrote: "My soul has been and is tried with poignant grief, my heart is bruised and wrenched almost asunder. I am desolate, my home seems desolate and almost dreary. . . . I cannot help but feel that the tenderest, sweetest and yet the strongest cord that bound me to home and earth is severed. . . .
"I look in vain, I listen, no sound, I wander through the rooms, all are vacant, lonely, desolate, deserted. I look down the garden walk, peer around the house, look here and there for a glimpse of a little golden, sunny head and rosy cheeks, but no, alas, no pattering little footsteps. No beaming little black eyes sparkling with love for papa; no sweet little inquiring voice asking a thousand questions, and telling pretty little things, prattling merrily, no soft little dimpled hands clasping me around the neck, no sweet rosy lips returning in childish innocence my fond embrace and kisses, but a vacant little chair. Her little toys concealed, her clothes put by, and only the one desolate thought forcing its crushing leaden weight upon my heart - she is not here, she is gone!" (Life of Joseph F. Smith, by Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 455-456.)
And while President Smith understood the pangs of death, he also understood the significance of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Near the end of his own life, President Smith indicated he had spent much time in prayer and mediation, reflecting "upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world." In his final general conference address, on Oct. 4, 1918, he said, "I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and of determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously. . . ." (Conference report, October 1918.)
Just the day before, on Oct. 3, President Smith had sat in his room in the Beehive House, located in downtown Salt Lake City. While pondering the scriptures, he received a vision, of which he made a written record and submitted it to his counselors and to the Council of the Twelve. They unanimously accepted it as a revelation from God. On April 3, 1976, the general conference of the Church formally accepted this vision as scripture, which was later included in the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 138.
In the vision, President Smith saw the righteous dead assembled in paradise and Christ's ministry among them. He also saw that the righteous dead of this day will continue their labors in the world of spirits.
It was also revealed to President Smith: "Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy." (D&C 138:17.)
On Nov. 19, 1918, less than two months after he received the vision, President Smith died at age 80. Perhaps many can understand the extent of the comfort he derived from that marvelous vision. Certainly it helped soften the sorrow he felt over the loss of his father and beloved uncle, his mother and his cherished daughter.
We should recognize the value and importance of "pondering over the scriptures." (D&C 138:1.) "To ponder," according to the dictionary, means to "weigh mentally; think deeply about; consider carefully."
In pondering the scriptures it is important that we, just as President Smith did, dwell "in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith, and of determination." In so doing, "the eyes of our own understanding" of the scriptures may be opened.