SALT LAKE CITY – Danielle Cahoon brought her entire family to the public viewing Thursday for the Mormon church's deceased president to pay their respects and recapture a warm feeling she experienced at a previous viewing for another prophet of the faith.
"It was such a special spirit. We remembered that spirit, and I wanted all of my children to experience that and get a chance to say goodbye," said Cahoon, 39, of Saratoga Springs, Utah. "Even though we are sad that he is gone, we know and believe in eternal families, so it's more about paying our respects and saying, 'Until we meet again.'"
The Cahoons were among 10,000 people who had come to Salt Lake City by mid-afternoon to pay tribute to Thomas S. Monson, who died Jan. 2 at age 90 after nearly 10 years leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As head of the nearly 16 million-member faith, Monson was considered a prophet who led the church through revelation from God.
Boys and their fathers wearing suits and ties and girls and their mothers wearing their Sunday-best dresses solemnly stood in line inside the church conference center in a hallway lined with paintings of church leaders, waiting their turn to say goodbye.
They walked by slowly in single-file lines on each side of a large wooden casket adorned with elaborate floral bouquets. In front of the casket was an American flag in a shadow box, a nod to Monson's naval service.
The viewing, open until Thursday night, is a key component of how the religion mourns deceased presidents. In 2008, an estimated 58,000 people came to a two-day viewing for President Gordon B. Hinckley.
A funeral is scheduled Friday at the 21,000-seat arena in the same conference center. Top church leaders are expected to honor Monson's life.
The next president has not been named yet, but the job is expected to go to the next longest-tenured member of the church's governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson, per church protocol. No date has been set for the special meeting of the Quorum in which Nelson will be anointed.
Monson spent more than five decades serving in top church leadership councils — making him a well-known face and personality to multiple generations of Mormons.
He served as a counselor for three church presidents before assuming the role of top Mormon leader in 2008. He guided the church through growth and a period of increased scrutiny about its history and doctrine.
Melanie McFarlane said she learned important lessons from Monson as she went through high school.
"I admired that he was so service-orientated, and I want to be like that in my life," said McFarlan, who came with her young son and a friend. "So I thought respecting him in this way was the least I could do."
Amanda Wilcoxen attended with her sisters and children to experience what she called an important day. She lamented that some people are fixated on the controversial elements of Monson's presidency, including his role leading the faith's involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008.
"He should be known for all the good things that he did," Wilcoxen said. "He led a huge church nationwide and all the service our church does; he's just a great man."
Fifth-grader William "Liam" Richens took the day off from home-school to come with his whole family.
"It was sad, it was amazing, it was beautiful," he said.