For several years Lois (not her real name), who is a devout Latter-day Saint, has been a close family friend. Despite the fact that Sally and I dropped out of the Mormon church when we were teenagers and Lois knows it, she sometimes shares with us stories about her church and its impact on her everyday life. Recently Lois, who is our age, told of her father who is now 93 and ailing. Because Lois’s parents were also raised devout Mormons her mother and father were married in a temple ceremony for “time and all eternity.” It is necessary in their religion to attain the highest degree of Mormon heaven, the Celestial Kingdom,* where they are promised they will live in the presence of God.
Lois’s mother died several years ago. Her father did not really want to re-marry after his wife died, but a lady in his Mormon congregation wanted to marry him. They reached an accommodation. Since an LDS man can have several wives “sealed” to him, he is allowed to re-marry in a temple ceremony and those women will be with him and his first wife in heaven. Sounds weird, but it’s a legacy of their early belief in earthly polygamy as applied to the afterlife. It gives something of a lie to official Mormon statements that the modern church eschews polygamy. On this earth, that is. So Lois’s dad, who probably figures his late wife won’t appreciate seeing him in heaven with another wife in tow, had a prenuptial agreement with the second wife that they not be sealed for time and all eternity, but a “‘til death do us part” marriage.
The old man is ill, needs transfusions quite often, and is ready to die. The second wife is prolonging the inevitable by making sure he gets medical care. The other problem is while he may not wish to be sealed to the woman for time and all eternity, when he dies she can petition her ecclesiastical authorities to be sealed to him. According to Lois this is causing the old man quite a bit of distress.
“Do you think when I get to the other side I can clear this whole thing up?” he asked Lois. In other words, even if wife #2 is sealed to him can he break that bond somehow with a heavenly divorce?
Lois has an opinion that no, what God hath joined together, et cetera, et cetera, and poor Dad will end up in heaven with some baggage in the form of that second wife. To us outside the Mormon church it seems an odd thing to worry about, but they are serious about it. There are temple divorces on earth, and they can happen for purposes of adultery, abuse and abandonment and all the other reasons people are divorced on earth. But he can’t get a preemptive divorce for his heavenly state. I can just imagine the poor guy, sick and old, lying in bed, thinking of the consequences of him dying and showing up at heaven’s door, then trying to explain to his wife that sooner or later she will have a sister-wife..
It is a complication of applying earthly standards to a heaven and afterlife, especially if one strove to deserve such a reward during one’s entire life. Had I been Lois in that situation I would have comforted her elderly father by telling him I’m sure he'll be able to work it out. But then, I don’t share her faith, and of course she was being honest with him to the best of her knowledge of their shared beliefs.
It does make my own problems, which involve all-too-earthly vexations, seem minor by comparison to what this old gentlemen is worrying about. A belief in an afterlife usually involves a belief that one will be free of earthly cares, not pick up other problems — like an unwanted wife — in heaven.
*Temple marriage is not a right for an LDS couple; they have to be worthy. It creates some problems amongst family members who aren’t, and are not allowed to witness the actual wedding ceremony because they are excluded from the temple. They can be deemed unworthy for a variety of reasons, from very serious to what I think is almost frivolous, like drinking coffee, but that’s their religion. A local humor columnist, who is also LDS, opined that it means you could be in heaven not with family members like parents and siblings you might really like to be with because they weren’t worthy, but people whom you hated on earth who were.