Mormons love to pride themselves on their vast knowledge of the afterlife. Most likely, this is entirely due to the influence of section 76, which does presume to tell us where we will all wind up (depending on our actions here on earth). To be honest, I don't find it nearly as explicit as most people seem to. While, I don't believe Dante is the equivalent of Joseph Smith, I do think that Catholic beliefs about the afterlife are clearer than our own (though, perhaps, slightly more complicated).
I have a father who isn't a member of the church. The family I grew up in isn't sealed. My father is in his 70's now, the age at which one reads obituaries, even in towns where you don't know anyone. His mortality is beginning to concern him; it has always concerned me. I don't know why my Dad isn't religious exactly. He will pray, but he doesn't like to do it. He has said that if he were to join a religion, it would be ours, but I know that he is very suspicious of our religion.
Recent study has convinced me that some commonly held LDS ideas about the afterlife are wrong. Specifically, I have come to believe that the time of our probation extends into the afterlife. We can repent up until the point where we are resurrected, I think. This gives me hope for my dad.
Perhaps this strikes you as defeatist or condescending. On my mission, I got fed up with my father. I wrote him a long letter, explaining why he ought to find out if the church is true and trying to answer any possible concerns that he might have had. The letter got enveloped, stamp, and began the journey to the mail box. On the way, I was told not to send it. I was told that the rush wasn't great, that I had to be patient. My father's relationship with God and religion is complex. I see now that I hastily written, if heartfelt, letter was not going to do away with his questions.
I have a notion regarding my father's ambivalence to religion. His father died when he was thirteen. He loved his Dad. His father's death disrupted his whole family. It changed his relationship with his mother, sisters, and brothers. I imagine my father pleading with God in prayer for his father's life, for his family. I don't blame my dad for his skepticism.
There is probably nothing more emotionally affecting than the death of a close loved one. The hope that the Gospel brings is actually fairly universal (your beloved has gone to a better place seems to be a religiously ubiquitous response to death). Unfortunately, that can only do so much for the benefit of the people who remain in this not-better place, dealing with a life that is clearly worse for the loss.
To those people, what can we offer? A testimony that helps me through tough times cannot be given to another. While I find answers in the gospel, they are of the sort that cannot be spelled out. And besides, I admit to never having suffered great loss. It is likely that I would find the gospel's answers inadequate (and possibly offensive), too.
It is a universal problem of those in pain that they can never be understood. Interestingly, testimony and pain are both lost in transmission. The best we who haven't lost can do seems to me to be to be there when the grieving need us and to get out of the way when they need to be left alone.
Somehow, we have gone this week from talking about life after death (of which we know very little) to death, which even I understand is painful. Perhaps this is appropriate. The dead, we believe, have gone beyond the veil of mortal interest and mortal care. It is the living whom we must help.