This is a guest post by IDIAT, a M* commenter.
January’s Ensign has two articles – one on the grieving and mourning process, the other introducing us to President Joseph Fielding Smith. I had already looked over JFS’s time line in the priesthood manual. Let me summarize some milestones in his life, drawing from the manual, Ensign article and Family Search.
Born 7/19//1876. Marries Louie Emily Shurtliff 04/26/1898. They have two children, then she dies during her third pregnancy 03/30/1908. (Married about 10 years). Marries Ethel Georgina Reynolds on 11/02/1908. They have 7 more children and she dies 08/26/1937 after a four year illness. (Married second time about 29 years). Marries Jessie Ella Evans 04/12/1938, no children born of this marriage, and she dies 08/13/1971. (Married about 33 years). JFS was sealed to all three wives.
A couple of things stand out. First, in both his second and third marriages, he re-married about 7 months after the death of deceased wife. I think by most people’s standards, that’s pretty quick. The first remarriage he had two children, ages 6 and 2. Our sympathies would be with a young father aged 32 (or mother for that matter) who needed help raising children. Still, JFS was the first son of a polygamous father who ultimately had many children. In fact, JFS wasn’t about the same age as his father’s last wives. Surely, with all that extended family around, someone could have stepped in and helped raise the children. Sister Reynolds was only 19 when she married JFS. Perhaps he already knew Sister Reynolds, so that they skipped through much of the courtship stuff. Anyway, when Sister Reynolds dies at age 48, their youngest of 7 children is 16.
The same pattern is repeated when the second wife dies. Sister Evans was 36, and JFS was 62. Again, JFS manages to meet, court and marry Sister Evans about 7 months after second wife’s death. By the account in the Ensign article written by his grandson, they were very different, but managed to make their marriage work. No children were born of the third marriage. The priesthood manual says Sister Reynolds died “after a four year illness.” Perhaps they were implying that JFS had 4 years to grieve so that by the time Sister Reynolds actually passed away, he was mostly through the grieving process and ready to move on quickly.
In “Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith,” compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith (1976 Deseret Book Co.) pp. 119 – 120, the Prophet was asked: Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one? He answered: No, not at the same time But they believe that if their companion dies, they have the right to marry again. But we do disapprove of the custom, which has gained in the world, and has been practiced among us, to our great mortification, in marrying in five or six weeks, or even in two or three months, after the death of their companion. We believe that due respect ought to be had to the memory of the dead, and the feelings of both friends and children.” But, in a footnote in the text, we read:
“Notwithstanding this remark about due respect for both the living and the dead, the Prophet varied from this view in counseling his brother Hyrum. Hyrum Smith’s wife Jerusha, died in October, 1837, leaving an infant daughter and a large family of small children. The Prophet told his brother Hyrum that it was the will of the Lord that he should marry without delay and take as a wife a young English girl, named Mary Fielding, who had joined the Church through the preaching of Elder Parley P. Pratt in Toronto, Canada. Hyrum accepted this counsel from the Prophet and Mary Fielding became his wife and the mother of President Joseph F. Smith, who was born November 13, 1838.”
According the Ensign article, the grieving and mourning process is unique to the individual. Social protocol used to be a widow or widower was to wait a year before dating again. Modern input is for the grieving to date and/or remarry whenever they feel inclined to do so. One more example. Bryant S. Hinckley, father of President Gordon B. Hinckley, was married four times. First to Christina Johnson in 1893 and had 11 children. Married 1893 – 1908. Christina died after 14 years of marriage (Due to physical stress of having 11 children in a 14 year period?) Then about nine months later to Ada Bitner in 1909 and had 4 children ( including President Hinckley) Ada died in 1930. Then in early 1932 he married May Green, who died 1943. Finally, he married Lois Anderson in 1944. The “waiting period” between each successive marriage ranged from 9 months to about 18 months. We could well argue that had Bryant not remarried, we wouldn’t have had Gordon B. Hinckley. Still, I believe in his biography even President Hinckley struggled to understand why his father remarried so quickly after his own mother’s death.
By all accounts, it seems JFS and Bryant Hinckley were good, honorable men. But their propensity to re-marry (along with more modern apostolic example) almost seems to imply it is good to be married as much of our adult life as is reasonably possible. Or does it? I don’t know if we’ve ever actually been told to be married as much as possible. Elder Scott certainly doesn’t fit that pattern. Also, in each case, the wives beyond the first knew their groom was previously sealed to another wife. For those who think we’ll have unfettered agency in the next life, what are the implications of knowingly entering into a sealing ordinance in mortality knowing your spouse is sealed to another person? Would one expect to “renege” on the sealing ordinance on the afterlife when one had consented to it in mortality, knowing full well one’s spouse was sealed to another?