My husband, Bob, and I just had a weird realization: We’re the only living members of our nuclear families. Bob had just one brother, and I had just one sister. Both are deceased, as are our parents. All our aunts and uncles are gone as well, and many of our cousins.
We have four children, but no grandchildren so far. This leaves us in a strange world of endings and closed doors, a tightly pruned family tree. Sometimes I feel like an endangered species (though this did not keep me from hijacking the cute kids across the street as their faux grandparents).
But are we really a lone canoe, floating towards a waterfall? If we were each single, would we feel a disconnect with the Latter-day Saint world of mega-families and clans with dozens of members, like a small village posing for the family reunion photo?
No way. Our little family here on earth is not the whole picture, not by a long shot. What this does is motivate me to find all the branches and twigs I can, on the other side of the veil. We can link to a giant net of fascinating ancestors. Do I feel pressure to do it all? Yes, but it’s a good kind of pressure: I know ancestors are going to help me since Bob and I are all by ourselves in this!
And God accomplishes His objectives. There are thousands of people whose remote lines intersect with ours, and who have already taken the names of some of our ancestors through the temple. I feel as if it’s one gigantic jigsaw puzzle that the whole world is working on.
In this last, wonderful General Conference, we were reminded countless times about the importance of temple covenants—not just for us, but for our kindred dead. Every time you take a name there to receive all the beautiful covenants, you are gathering Israel. You are keeping the promise you made in the premortal world, to find them. You are becoming a Savior on Mount Zion. Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis told us, “We have each received from our Heavenly Father the mission of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil.”
In addition, we grow personally from finding these ancestors. As Elder Gerrit W. Gong just told us in the Saturday afternoon session, “Connecting with ancestors can change our lives in surprising ways. From their trials and accomplishments, we gain faith and strength. From their love and sacrifices, we learn to forgive and move forward.”
But there’s another source of family for me. It’s the same source we all have: Our brothers and sisters who fill this world. Every single human is related to you and to me. I don’t always do this perfectly, but I try to view every person I see as my brother or my sister. Then I try to treat them with immense respect, curiosity, and an eagerness to get to know them. Even the angry, even the rude. In fact, those groups need more love than the kind ones because they’ve been hurt, perhaps judged unfairly, perhaps damaged.
I’m not saying this is always easy, but it’s 100 per cent worth the effort to take a deep breath, summon love, and see them as God’s children. It’s amazing the calming effect this has on people. They often drop their defenses when they sense sincere interest. You might just make a friend, or find someone who’s searching for truth.
It’s also a cinch that we’re going to bump into folks we knew in the pre-mortal world. Wouldn’t it be cool to feel that instant connection with an old friend? I no longer see stadiums or freeways filled with a bunch of strangers; I see them filled with my relatives. When somebody needs help, I jump in, because that’s what I’d do for a brother or sister. They may not reciprocate but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I’m aware of our familial connection, and I’m acting, as best I can, like family.
In addition, Bob and I both have dear friends who feel more like family, so that’s how I see them. And when you have that level of love for others, you absolutely want to share the greatest joy in your life—the living, breathing gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, if they’re not interested, it’s okay. God will handle that. You just continue loving them as much as before.
I don’t feel a void in my life, nor envy for those with huge families. I’m happy for them. Because when you get right down to it, they’re my family, too.