Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Heart Mormon Funerals

As a volunteer organist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it has been my privilege and honor to have attended scores of Mormon funerals over the years, both of those I didn’t know personally, and those I did, including those of my first husband and father. There is never a funeral that I attend that I don’t leave feeling a powerful resolve to improve my life and I feel fortunate that I am able to attend so many funerals. Although they are sad occasions, sometimes even tragic, I look forward to the services and am always uplifted.

Here is the time line of an average Mormon funeral….

Usually in the morning, before the funeral, there is a viewing of the body in a special room in the church. The open casket is placed near one wall of the room and there are chairs set up around the walls for those who would like to sit and visit. There is a large space for standing and gathering in the middle of the room. Sometimes there are row of chairs set up, facing the casket. At some point, either before or after the public viewing, there is a private family viewing of the body and a family prayer is said on behalf of the deceased.

Before the casket is closed, final religious garments are placed on the body, then the casket is transported to the chapel, via pall bearers who are usually young men related to the deceased.

As the casket is brought in, the congregation stands while reverent music is played on the organ. As the organist, I’ll have usually asked if the deceased had a few favorite hymns, and these I will play during this time.

Once the casket is set up in the front of the chapel, the congregation is asked to be seated and the funeral begins with an opening hymn, chosen by the family, and a prayer.

The bishop of the ward (Mormon congregation where the deceased attended) introduces the speakers and musical numbers, then the first eulogy or life sketch is given. This is usually done by a very close member of the family to the deceased, such as a son or daughter. In some cases, even a spouse of the deceased will give the eulogy, or the parents of a deceased child, but this is not always the case. These life sketches are always tasteful, personal, and often humorous. It is not unusual for Mormon funeral attendees to smile and laugh as anecdotes of the deceased’s life are shared. At my father’s funeral, for instance, where I gave the primary eulogy, I remember seeing my mother laughing so hard she was crying as I told of my father’s top ten life rules. They're HERE if you want to see.

I am always completely inspired by listening to the eulogies of the dead. The best parts of their lives are brought out and I always find myself wanting to live up to my potential so I can be worthy of such a description. For instance, I recently attended a funeral of a man who passed on in his nineties. As his son shared parts of his life, his mother’s values were also elaborated upon and I remember him saying something that has stuck with me. Most of the women here in Mexico have full-time maids, a practice I haven’t adopted, but this son told that his mother never did, that she “did her own work”. He said it with such pride, that I wondered if my children would feel the same about me, even though they somewhat resent the fact that they have to help with all of the housework now. Perhaps it just gave me the encouragement to continue on this path even though it’s not the easy one.

Then there was the funeral of a beloved lady who was also in her nineties who passed away a few weeks ago. Three of her children spoke, and they all mentioned how she always had a pot of soup on the stove, for family and friends alike, and usually had a chocolate cake on the counter. I have thought of this every time I’ve made a pot of beans since, and honestly, I think I’ve made a few more treats than before, too, just to have something tasty when the kids bring friends over.

After the primary eulogy is given, there are sometimes one or two more life sketches, one or more musical numbers, often sang by family members, especially groups of children, such as the deceased grand/great-grandchildren, then a talk on the plan of salvation is given by a member of the ward bishopric, or another member of the ward chosen by the family.

To end the funeral, the bishop closes the meeting with another hymn chosen by the family and a prayer. The congregation is then asked to rise, and the organist plays an appropriate piece as the casket is removed by the pall bearers, such as God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

Once the casket is wheeled or carried out the door, the congregation is excused to leave and the casket is lifted into the hearse. Here in our town, the hearse is an available SVU. The funeral procession then makes its way to the cemetery, where the family gathers under a canopy and others stand behind. Another prayer is said and the grave is dedicated, usually by the Bishop or a member of the family. At this point the casket is either lowered into the ground, as we chose to have it done in our family, or it is left for the cemetery workers to lower in later, and the funeral is over.

The family members then drive back to the church, where members of the Relief Society, the women’s organization in our church, will have prepared a meal for the family. This is always a special time where love abounds and family members can begin the process of moving forward.

Mormon funerals are completely personal, and almost everything is done by family or close friends. My mother-in-law's funeral yesterday was no exception. It was probably one of the best services I have ever attended. Scores of friends and family filed into the viewing room and greeted and hugged us. There were little girls spinning in their dresses in the middle of the room, and curious boys peeking above the edge of the casket to get a last look at Grandma. She would have loved to see the children doing what children do. There were tears, especially during the excruciating moment immediately before the casket was closed, but there were also smiles, and laughter, and warm embraces upon meeting people we hadn’t seen in years.

During the service the congregation was favored to hear three of my mother-in-law’s sons speak, the first of whom was John. They are all terrific public speakers and their talks reflected not only events in my mother-in-law’s life, but feelings and emotions and the effect she had had in their lives. One woman even said that as my husband spoke, it was as if he was showing us all his soul. We laughed, even Dad, and we cried, especially Dad, as we remembered all the wonderful things about a woman who has had such a huge effect on all of our lives.

The services were closed with the singing of this song, which John said was the best part of the day...

I can’t describe how the grave-side service went because I was nursing Baby Hippo in the car, but there was a good feeling there and family pictures were taken with the flower-covered casket.

We returned to the church for the family meal where we were all able to relax and began to recover from four grueling days of preparations. Our family had the fortune of sitting with the missionary couple who are staying in our home, and my mother and I had a wonderful time talking to the wife as her husband tried to keep the food the twins and Baby Hippo were eating contained to their plates, or at least to our table.

I came home from attending my mother-in-law’s funeral with a firm resolve to improve my life. I want to be a friend to all, to remember everyone’s birthday in town, to plan my day out the night before, and to be positive and happy, even if life is treating me unfairly. Thank you, Mom, for a life well lived. In the six short years I knew you, you had a huge impact in my life, more than you ever knew, I think, especially when it comes to homemaking and organization, and you are sorely missed.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. My sister and I are finally getting skinnier!
See how we're doing it HERE! :)


Judy Whatilivefor said...

Mormon funerals really do have their own atmosphere. I love that there is laughter at almost every funeral I've been to, because the time is spent rejoicing in the deceased person's life...there are tears and pain, but joy is there too.

Unknown said...

What a great summary of an LDS funeral. I too always feel better about the loss of someone after attending them. I feel motivated and a desire to move forward and be better.
I'm sorry for your and your husband's loss.

bethany said...

What the heck is a Hurst? I believe you were thinking of a "hearse".

Luvmy9 said...

Jen, my thoughts have been with you and John and his family the past several days. I know it was a shock and a loss to everyone. I was glad to read your comments about the funeral. I love Mormon funerals, too.

Hesses Madhouse said...

Beautiful post! I agree. I always leave funerals learning how I could be better. We really have so many wonderful people around us with so much to offer to enrich our lives. I feel that way about you. Thank you for all you share. It makes me a better person.

Mom2my10 @ 11th Heaven said...

Thank, Beth. I totally need a professional proof-reader. Want to sign up for the job? :)

Nikki said...

You wrote that so well. I was surprised when I went to my first funeral non Mormon funeral. I was 14 and it was decidely different.

My prayers are with you and your family. :)

Bethany said...

I would love to do that. I have always wanted to be an editor, or a really mean English teacher. However, for my time, effort, and expertise, I would expect some sort of compensation.

Mom2my10 @ 11th Heaven said...

What might that compensation be, dearest daughter?

Anonymous said...

This is a very inspiring post.
I don't have a religion,neither my relative and i can see now how it is missing in my life.
When my grand-mother died years ago, she had a non-religious funeral, without any connection between people and no hope. Just the death and the sadness.

Anonymous said... they eat funeral potatoes and ham at the family dinner in Mexico? I sure hope not. If they have beans and tortillas, I'm moving in with you. At my daughter's funeral, there was not one thing there that I could eat. Not one....

Kelli said...

I wish I lived closer so I could have hugged you and laughed and cried with you....

Cathy said...

So sorry for your loss.

Pablo Smith said...

It's funny that Beth caught that out of everything! She is so cute. I loved this post, Jen. It's so true how great mormon funerals are, huh? They are as uplifting and bonding as weddings. Wish I could have been there.