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David O. McKay Diaries – “Death”

Below you will find diary entries on the topic of “Death.” You can view other subjects here.

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Sat., 10 Feb., 1951:

“At 2 p.m. attended the funeral services of Mr. Gilbert Burnester (Bert) Heal, 63, editorial director of the Salt Lake Tribune.  Held in 1st Congregational Church.

I was disappointed in the remarks made by two prominent representatives of the Latter-day Saint Church [Levi Edgar Young, and Arthur L. Beeley, dean of the School of Social Work, University of Utah], neither one of whom took advantage of their opportunity to stress the comfort that comes from the reality of the immortality of the soul.”

Wed., 11 Apr. 1951:

“11 a.m.–Mr. Jules Dreyfous and Mr. L. O. Campbell, representing the Paris Company, called at the office, and presented in memory of President George Albert Smith, a gift of money for the Society of the Sightless.  In accepting the gift, I said: ‘In behalf of President George Albert Smith, who according to our belief is still living, I thank you for this contribution.'”

June 14, 1956


(As Given at meeting in the Salt Lake Temple, June 14, 1956)

In a meeting of the General Authorities June 14, 1956, following the singing of the hymn ‘O My Father,’ Elder Marion G. Romney mentioned an occasion when he was in the Australian Mission when he was impressed to sing that hymn before a group of people, which impression he failed to follow, and for which he felt sorry, as he was sure that much good might have been accomplished thereby.

Commenting upon this experience, President McKay said it is a great thing to be responsive to the whisperings of the spirit, and we know that when these whisperings come, it is a gift and our privilege to have them.  They come when we are relaxed and not under pressure of appointments.

President McKay then took occasion to relate an experience in the life of Bishop John Wells, formerly a member of the Presiding Bishopric.  A son of Bishop Wells was killed in Emigration Canyon on a railroad track.  Brother John Wells was a great detail man, and prepared many of the reports that we are following up this day.  His boy was run over by a freight train.  Sister Wells was inconsolable.  She mourned during the three days prior to the funeral, recieved no comfort at the funeral, and was in a rather serious state of mind.

One day, soon after the funeral service, while she was lying on her bed relaxed, still mourning, she claims that her son appeared to her and said, ‘Mother, do not mourn.  Do not cry.  I am all right.’  He told her that she did not understand how the accident happened, and explained that he had given the signal to the engineer to move on, and then made the usual effort to catch the railing on the freight train, but as he attempted to do so, his foot caught in a root and he failed to catch the hand rail, and his body fell under the train.  It was clearly an accident.  He said that as soon as he realized that he was in another environment, he tried to see his father, but he could not reach him; that his father was so busy with his duties in the office he could not respond to his call; that, therefore, he had come to his mother.  And he said to her, ‘You tell father that all is well with me, and I want you not to mourn any more.’

The President said that the point he had in mind was that when we are relaxed in a private room we are more susceptible to those things; that so far as he was concerned his best thoughts come after he gets up in the morning and is relaxed and thinking about the duties of the day; that impressions come as clearly as if he were to hear a voice, and those impressions are right; that if we are worried about something, and upset in our feelings, the inspiration does not come.  If we so live that our minds are free from worry, our consciences are clear, and our feelings are right towards one another, the operation of the Spirit of the Lord upon our spirit is as real as when we pick up the telephone; but when they come we must be brave enough to take the suggested action.  The Lord will approve it and the Brethren will approve it, and we know it is right.

The President said it is a great consolation in this upset world today to know that our Savior is directing His work.  He then said:  ‘I value that testimony!’

President McKay then mentioned a letter that he had received from a man who is a member of the Youth Committee of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the headquarters of the branch over which he presides being in Denver.  He said that they are preparing a program that will interest the Youth, and he had been impressed with the attitude of our church in regard to the young people.  The writer said:  ‘We are ready to draw up our plans, but we are in the dark,’ and then he asked several questions, and asked for help to draw up their plans.  He said that if we had any books or any study courses he would appreciate it if we would send them to him.

The man further said he had been impressed with our people because he had stayed in some of the motels which he was sure were conducted by our people because he found copies of the Book of Mormon there.  He further said that a Church that could produce such results in young people as our Church does would be a good guide for them.**

The President commented that these people are in the dark, but if we continue to do our duty we will not be in the dark.  The Light of the world is guiding us.  He reiterated to the Brethren that when the Inspiration comes they should follow it, and that they would be sustained in it.

**The writer of this letter is Mr. Nathan Straub, member of the Faithful Youth Challengers, Department of the Young People of the Church of God (Seventh Day), with headquarters at Denver, Colorado.  Post Office Box 2370.”

Tues., 10 May 1960:

“Following our meeting with Mr. Johnston, we continued the meeting of the First Presidency.  

Departure of the Spirit from the Body

I commented upon the departure of the spirit from the body as an occasion for looking up to God rather than down to the mortal remains, and recounted an experience of being present with David Eccles and Bertha Eccles when Stewart Eccles passed away in an Ogden Hospital.  As David Ecceles, Bertha Eccles, and I were in the room at the bedside of Stewart, we heard Stewart quietly, but clearly and plainly speak, saying, ‘Yes Father, I recognize you, Father.  May I come back?’  (His father had passed away years before).  Bertha was crying.  She said, ‘Oh, Brother McKay, administer to him.’  I answered, ‘It is too late; he is gone.’  In just a few moments Stewart’s heart stopped, and he was dead.

President Clark related his standing at the coffin of Mr. Knox, his friend in Washington, for whom he had deep affection.  ‘As I went up to look at him, something said to me – I would not say it was an audible voice – ‘What you love is not here; it is gone.’ I said to Pres. Clark, ‘I know that feeling, and it is real!’

Tues., 28 June 1960:

“Note by cm   Thoughts on Immortality

During this dictation hour, in a very thoughtful mood, President Mckay stated that he feels that man is now entering into the spiritual phase of this earthly existence – that the physical part of man has just about reached its height in development.  Furthermore, that he feels that man himself will some day prove immortality – that he is now on the brink of new and unheard of discoveries.

The President said that he is confident and sure of man’s immortality and related the incident of the Eccles boy who lay on his death bed unresponsive to this life, his vocal chords silenced, and yet President McKay and others in the room distinctly heard him say:  ‘Yes, father, I recognize you – hello father.’  His mother – Bertha Eccels – standing nearby, said:  ‘Oh, President McKay, administer to him; he is going!’  I answered:  ‘It is too late; he is gone; he is now responding to the spiritual life.'”

Tues., 12 June 1962:

9:00 a.m.

Met by appointment at their request, Brother and Sister Malan Johnson of Salt Lake City, parents of Elder Bryan Thomas Johnson who was killed, along with his companion, in an auto-train collision in Australia while on a mission.

I offered such consolation as I could to these good people.  They manifested a lovely spirit, and I was glad to meet them and talk with them, giving them assurance of the activity of such a missionary on the Other Side.  I said that no one can measure the good their son had accomplished in his seemingly short life, stating that ‘our echoes roll from soul to soul, and go forever and forever.’

Thurs., 2 Sept. 1965:

10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Was engaged in a four-hour meeting of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve in the Sale Lake Temple.


I told the Brethren that I have gained in health, and that I have been greatly blessed.  I said that the Lord has been very close in my work at home, and that I have never felt nearer to Him than I have during my recent illness.

Referring to the comment by Elder Marion D. Romney regarding a manifestation from the Lord (*See below), I said that I wished to add that the Lord is very close to this Council and to what is going on.  I said that it is remarkable that non-members recognize something in the work of the Twelve Apostles of this Church that has not been realized or experienced in any other way.  I said that the Lord has not forgotten us, and if we continue as we are, recognizing His nearness, the work of the Lord will expand as much as it has ever expanded heretofore.  I asked the blessings of the Lord upon the Brethren, and prayed that the spirit of unity and oneness might be in their daily affairs.  I said that I knew that the Lord is near us and would help His Church; that it is His Church and He will lead us as we should be led.  I said that I knew that the Lord is near us and would help His Church; that it is His Church and He will lead us as we should be led.  I said that that is one of the greatest blessings that the members of this Council can enjoy.  He is real; He answers our prayers in reality.

I then told the Brethren that it is a joy to be with them, and asked the Lord’s blessings upon them.

*Statement by Elder Marion G. Romney, to which President McKay Referred Above

Elder Marion G. Romney, referring to his sermon at the funeral of Brother Harold B. Lee’s daughter, Maurine Wilkins, said that he must give the credit to the Lord for his remarks on that occasion.  He said that he read statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith about death and the necessity for certain ordinances to be performed and the glory of the resurrection, and that as he read those statements from the cards he had, he did not see anything but he had a vision of what the Prophet was talking about such as he had never had before.  He stated that he had used those quotations in many talks, but somehow or other, the veil of his mind was opened and he was filled with the Spirit and the Lord did the talking.  He said he appreciated what his Brethren had said regarding his remarks, but he did not want to accept any of the credit himself.  He said, ‘we are not alone, there is communication, and the veil is very thin.’

Tues., 30 Nov. 1965:

Statements About This Life and the Other Side

I remarked to Clare that this life is a ‘veil of tears’, and she answered, ‘Yes, it is, and sometimes I wish I were out of it.’  As I stood up to go, I said, ‘I have come to the point where I think it would be glorious to be on the Other Side.’

Clare looked shocked and said, ‘President McKay, that is the first time I have ever heard you say anything like that — you must not say that — it is all right for me to say it, but you must not — it will be good-bye for me when you go.’  Then she added, ‘If you will stick it out, I will, because I cannot imagine it here without your being here.’  I said, ‘Well, it is a pretty wonderful old world, and I like it.’  She exclaimed, ‘Well, that’s more like it — that sounds more like the real you!’

I smiled, and got into my wheelchair, and Brother Wright wheeled me to the elevator and down to the garage where I got into the car and was taken to the apartment.”