A Mormon Girl Walks Into a Funeral… Walks Out on Mormonism


Posted March 19th, 2017

Bob is joined by special guest Kat, his sister, who recently resigned from Mormonism after attending their grandmother’s Mormon funeral. Something happened at the funeral, something both shocking and routine: a bishop’s talk. Bob recreates the talk word for word, and the two of them discuss what happened after reminiscing about growing up Mormon.


  • Thomas Moore

    Just wanted to add my experience and information… I also was uncomfortable at a “Jack Mormon” child’s (never baptized) funeral. I was also offended by the call of repentance to the mourners (family and non) and a call to reactivity. Then I read the Church Handbook’s instructions on funerals. Well, the Bishop did exactly what the church requested/demands of the Bishop or SP who is directing the funeral. read 18.6.4–Funeral Services. https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/meetings-in-the-church/18.6?lang=eng#186

    • Wow, so it is a systematic, codified, awful approach:

      “Funerals provide an important opportunity to teach the gospel and testify of the plan of salvation. They also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased.”

      Gee, thanks for letting me squeeze in a chance to pay tribute. The priority is clear even if girls camp and skittles are optional. 🙂

      • Thomas Moore

        Yes, definitely systematic. If you read between the lines, the church leaders are almost thinking and saying, “When will we be able to get more non-members or inactive members back into a chapel? Let’s use this as a missionary opportunity and scare them of the possible results of them not joining, going to the temple, being sealed, etc…”

        Now the anecdote of Girl’s Camp and Skittles; well that was creepy!

    • Kat C

      Good to know. It might be worth addressing in a future podcast how/why the Mormon institution, as a whole, appears uncomfortable with allowing individuals to experience major life events without some stupid script.

  • Bitherwack

    I was going to mention the Church Handbook of Instruction as well. I have attended two grandparents’ funerals, and because they had both spent the last years of their long (95, 101) lives in assisted living where minimal church services were provided, they had had little contact with Bishops. The funerals were just as you described. “I think I have only met the deceased once or twice…” They really couldn’t say much more about my grandparents. They really pushed that plan of salvation missionary opportunity though. My feeling was very much that I had just come from the other side of the world especially to honor my grandparent and all I get is a generic talk about the plan of salvation? I could do that at home.
    The other thing is that really bothered me both times was how the bishop really pressed his authority. He tried to tell us who could and couldn’t talk, etc. (I kept thinking, “you have no clue about the family dynamics here, shouldn’t you leave those decisions to the next of kin?”)
    There is one more thing that bothers me about mormon funerals in general, and is something that I would like to have heard you discuss… I find it in a mormon context that it is almost purposefully made difficult for us to be able to mourn… to really grieve a loss. The gospel promises us we will see them again, and that death is but a sleep… bla bla bla.
    I realize that the mormon context does not allow us to miss the dead; to mourn, to weep, to grieve. It all has to be ‘happy happy.’ I found the complete rejection of sadness, deep, genuine feelings to be unnatural and creepy, if not in total (almost psychotic?) denial.
    The general authority who was responsible for the CHI’s funeral policy was Elder Packer. Incidentally, I found it very ‘instructive’ to learn that Elder Packer’s funeral was remarkably *not* used as a missionary opportunity, but rather as a celebration of his life.
    I have in my will that there is to be absolutely no mormon leadership involved in the planning of my funeral, nor are they to speak… on the pain of hearing a sharply denunciatory letter about the church read over the pulpit should it happen.
    I wish that the wisdom and message of my grandparents’ lives could have been central to the day’s experience. Funerals are, after all, for those who mourn… as a way to deal with the reality of the loss. My grandparent’s funerals could have been very personal, and had a special meaning for us as a testament to the beauty in the lives they lived and the lessons they taught us. I will not have another funeral expropriated by the church’s overly enthusiastic missionary zeal.

    • Kat C

      I find your observation to be spot on concerning Mormons making it difficult to mourn (or feel anything else, for that matter). The song “Turn it Off” from Book of Mormon the Musical comes to mind.

  • Bliss Doubt

    I have never heard of it happening to anyone else, what happened to me after my mom’s funeral. My dad had passed away not quite a year before that. After mom’s funeral I arrived at my gate with plenty of time to spare, sat down and waited for my plane to board, and went into that reverie. Like Kat, I thought only a few minutes passed, but the next thing I knew, an obviously very compassionate gate agent leaned toward me and raised his voice a little bit, “this is the last call for boarding flight #23. We are about to close the door of the craft”. I heard him. He was looking straight at me. I scrambled to grab my carry on, and barely made the flight.

    After a loved one dies, you go to the land of remembering. If you’re driving you’ll go right past your house and keep on going down the road, because your mind is truly in the past, recalling the faces, the voices, the sweetness, the arguments, the love, all of it.

    This is a great interview. I love Infants on Thrones. Nothing in mainstream entertainment even begins to approach the humor, the curiosity and the wisdom.

    • Loved reading this, thank you for sharing!

    • Kat C

      Thank you so much for sharing that. I’m so glad I’m not alone.

  • I think the Skittles anecdote backfired on him (the bishop). It was supposed to illustrate the wonder of the Atonement, but ended up bringing to the forefront just how deeply creepy the whole concept is.

    • I know, right? I wish we would’ve spent more time discussing some of those particulars. After listening back a few times and recreating it, I was sort of shocked (confused?) by the part where the girl’s mother said, no, I don’t want Skittles. And then God / bishop dude were all like, you’re gonna goddamn get them woman.

      Next, he’s all like Jesus / girl proxy, do me some push-ups so that I can throw these Skittles as this ungrateful woman for her to do with them what she will even though she doesn’t want them. In the words of the Book of Mormon musical, that makes perfect sense!

      • Kat C

        OMG yeah. The mom thing made it so much worse. How he forced them on her. So. Much. Creepiness.

  • Sara Grasley

    That bishop sounded just like how Trump speeches sound–garbled phrases that are shoved together and called sentences.

    Side note: the movie your sister was referring to was The Invention of Lying (probably the most/only heartwarming scene I’ve ever seen Ricky Gervais perform).

    • Kat C

      That’s what it was! Thanks! Good movie.

  • Guido_LaMachina

    I just want to say this was a great podcast! Your sister was awesome. I can’t even number how many times I’ve been at some life event, be it a wedding or a funeral or even just a friggin baptism and I’ve had that immense desire to tell a bishop or other church leader “You are not good at this…you are a tool”. Thank you! This was good therapy.

    • Kat C

      The funny thing is that I came to those conclusions in real time during the interview. At first, I thought I was just going to let it go as some stupid scripted thing, but I ended up getting pretty pissed off about it.

  • Sarah Beauberra

    If you have a half dozen kids and 4 jobs, allowances should be made for Mac-N-Cheese dinners.

    • Sure. It isn’t a question of whether or not to make an allowance for that (which can be done in hindsight). But the lived experience and the contrast exists nonetheless. The circumstances leading up to those conditions were complicated, but what’s remembered is how they were handled.

    • Kat C

      Absolutely. I felt pretty crappy after comparing my parents’ circumstances with my grandparents’ during the interview. To this day, I have no idea how my parents did it, but I am eternally grateful that they did.

  • Sarah Beauberra

    It’s such an interesting issue that you have uncovered here. The scripted Mormon funeral. The obligatory closing remarks. The adult children planning a Mormon service for someone who left the institution. How could disaster NOT ensue?

    I am with Kat in that hearing this story makes me want to write funeral directives. It is too bad that this Bishop had any mic time. Bob seems to get that the Bishop is just a dude with little training doing a thing because someone told him it was his job. But that stupid Skittles and push-ups analogy went beyond the generic Mormon Bishop sound byte. Kat is right, he should have taken a page out of the Stake President’s book and kept things classy. I would love to see Mormon funerals move toward a more personal and individual programs. The key is not to have them at the church where a presiding Priesthood member would not be required. Just the thought of my current Bishop saying anything about me at my funeral makes me shudder. He doesn’t know me.

    I used to think callings were divinely inspired until I was asked to be a Relief Society pianist (can’t play yo). Now I envision the kid’s game, Guess Who. Does your Bishop live in our ward boundaries? Knock down all the faces who don’t. Does your Bishop look at porn, knock down half the remaining men. Is your Bishop’s wife the “right kind of lady”. Does your Bishop make enough money……

    I am sorry this guy had the opportunity to ruin the service for your grandmother.

    • Kat C

      Lol! Love the pianist calling. Er, the Lord has called you to learn how to play the piano?

  • She

    I’ve been out of Mormondom for over five years now. The last time I went to a ward building was for the funeral of a teenager – the child of a friend of mine. Over half of the service was used as a weird recruiting tool for non-members who were there to support the family, given by the then bishop, now the SP. It was awful listening to his remarks about the truthfulness of the church when the time could have better been spent remembering all of the wonderful traits this young man had and all of the kindness and cheer he spread. The discomfort was palpable yet no one said anything about it, that I’m aware of.

    However, I’m not sure it’s entirely unique to the LDS church. My mom died and her funeral service was overseen by a Catholic priest who counseled us that (essentially) “people aren’t there to listen to a long speech about how wonderful your mom was, so keep it to around 2 minutes – they just want to go home anyway”. Thanks, buddy.

    Great podcast! Long time listener, first time poster. Keep it up, ya’ll!

    • Kat C

      Maybe that’s the problem with having a religious institution conduct a funeral. The leaders do it all the time and it becomes mundane for them – which entirely undermines the point of a funeral: to remember someone who is special to you.

  • Devonne Clinton Amos

    The Bishop’s recruiting talk was offensive! PERIOD!

    • Kat C

      Agree with you 100% there.

  • G-money

    I know this has nothing to do with funerals, but I think it’s interesting how the bishop co-opted the donut push-up story for his own and the reactions of the girls mirrored soooo closely the reactions of the kids in the donut story. I see this all the time with my TBM in-laws turning magical stories from apostles lives into their own stories. When confronted with the obvious plagiarism their response is “well that miracle happens to a lot of people”.

    Donu push-up story:

    • Kat C

      Right? I wonder if he was up there the whole time thinking about how profoundly clever he was.

  • Orrin Dayne

    I think Kat nailed it: no one ever told the Bishop that he wasn’t a good speaker. But I’ll go one step further and speculate that the Bishop was told the opposite: that his messages brought the spirit. I imagine him making similar speeches to the young men and young women. The youth that were inspired by those speeches tell the bishop (or are visibly impacted so he can see it), and those who hated the speeches don’t tell him (like Kat’s example about the car wash guy). People with negative feedback self-select themselves out, and the Bishop experiences only positive feedback.
    While the Jesus/Skittles stories delivered in breathless “reverence” is not par for funerals, it is par for course when talking to the youth. (I can easily imagine John Bytheway or the like doing such.) My best guess is that this Bishop had a lot of experience talking to the youth and repurposed his usual youth-targeted tripe for the funeral.

    I was so uncomfortable listening to how bad it went that, when Bob started to deliver his performance of the talk, I had to pause. I don’t think I could make it through it all. I’ll go back later today and listen to the rest of the episode.

    • Haha, ouch, imagine if you couldn’t take a break so easily because you were sitting there experiencing it in real time.

      • Orrin Dayne

        Whoa, so that talk was bad, even worse than I expected. I can’t imagine experiencing it live. While I don’t doubt that the Skittles/Jesus exercise may have worked for the some of the girls-camp-exhausted participants who experienced it firsthand. (Certainly, it worked well enough in the Bishop’s mind that he shared it.) But that Skittles/Jesus stuff is painfully awkward for anyone with their fully rested mental faculties and must have been excruciating second hand and at a funeral of a loved one. Wow.

        On the upside, I loved this episode. Incredible highs (the tributes you shared, story of the viewing) juxtaposed with an incredible low (the Bishop’s talk) made for an emotional rollercoaster. Well done.

  • rrdavid

    So this may have been posted but this exercise for skittles has been going around a long time. I remember the story when I was in HS seminary about 20 years ago. The only difference was they used M&M’s and it was the star of the football team and not girls camp but an institute class. But the pause almost cry, creepy testimony voice, and pauses are all in the same spot. 🙂

    • Kat C

      Lol. Good to know.

  • Rude Dog

    Forget skittles. It was “and because of his gift, sister Parrish, like all of us, we might be forgiven for our sins, whether we choose to, or not” has to be the most offensive thing said. He knew nothing about the deceased, yet mad assumtions perhaps because she was not involved in Mormonism. Also, when did funerals become repentance calls? Isn’t it past time, other than to proselytize?

    Sorry for a small rant. The height of the pulpit serves a pragmatic, logistical function, not a sinister, symbolic conspiracy. I’m sure there will be those that disagree but the Mormon pulpit, for good or bad, is quite a democratic pulpit, utilized both by the sinister black suit, and the humble, Christ like elderly lady. I quickly wake up when the latter gets up and speaks. I’m glad I can see her.

    • Good catch! A weird and offensive insert, given the circumstances, but maybe some foreshadowing? (That’s giving him a lot of organizational credit.) It’s interesting how he circled back to this idea with the Skittles situation wherein the mom was like, um, no, I don’t want your Skittles to which God apparently really wants you to know he’s doing you a HUGE solid just by offering them to you regardless of what you want. I’m guessing God would be super bad at picking out Christmas presents for his children…

    • Sara

      And quoting D&C 19 about just how much you (and by extension your poor grandma) will suffer unless you repent. So tone deaf and offensive.

    • Kat C

      Wow. What a good point. So offensive.

  • Dallin H. Hoax

    Thanks so much for this episode, Bob and Kat. I am dreading the funerals of my own, aging TBM parents because I know that they will be just like this. All my TBM relatives will try to comfort with kind words about the eternities while I will smile and thank them — while mourning the fact that I don’t believe I’ll ever see my parents again.

    I will say that YOUR parents did something right. Both of you seem so kind and smart. I don’t know either one of you personally, but I am a big fan of one of your (still-believing) siblings, who I was related to (by marriage) for many years before my crisis of faith and subsequent divorce. My children are first cousins to your niece and nephews. I’m guessing it was two of these teens that Kat describes sitting by during your beloved grandmother’s funeral. Good kids! And tall kids. Haha.

    My divorce was fairly bitter and my ex’s extended family has, for the most part, shunned me over the years. The exception to that has been your sibling, who has been nothing but kind to me and my second spouse every time we run into each other at family events. So let’s just say I like the Caswell family.

    Again, great podcast!

    • Now, of course, there’s a part of me that wants to triangulate the details and figure out who you are, lol. But nonetheless, thank you for the kind words! I will say / should’ve said on the podcast, my siblings — believing or not — are simply wonderful people. They are all so kind and loving, and I’m super grateful for that.

      • Dallin H. Hoax

        Is there an email address I can send a message directly to you, Bob? Sorry I’m being so coy, but I have good reasons for staying fairly anonymous on a public board.

        I can help you put things together a bit. Your sibling T. is married to C. I was at their wedding and reception — which I’m sure you were too (well, the reception anyway. You were probably too young to attend the actual temple ceremony).

        C.’s older sibling K. and I were married for more than a decade. My kids are first cousins to T&C’s kids. I assume these were the teen nephew and niece Kat was sitting by at the funeral. Am I right?

        • You are right about the kids! And thanks for all the info, even more than I bargained for, feel free to drop me a line anytime. I’m bobcaswell at gmail dot com.

    • Kat C

      Thank you! All six of us siblings have managed to remain reasonably close, despite three of us choosing not to remain Mormon. Go Caswells!

  • Scott Olson

    Thanks so much Bob and Kat for sharing such personal experiences. I relate to much of what was said, and your discussion was very helpful to me in calling out the very “Mormon” ways of thinking that still affect me today. I particularly identified with Kat’s former reluctance to do something as simple as mentioning a missed spot to a worker at the carwash. It’s so uncomfortable to discuss something that isn’t perfect, that we take all of those burdens on ourselves. You’ve helped me to resolve to speak up (respectfully) when things are not okay. I hope you both have the opportunity for more discussions like this and would be grateful for another chance to listen in.

    • Kat C

      I’ve always attributed my discomfort with so-called “imperfect” outcomes to my mom being a placater (sp?) as my primary behavioral model. Oddly, I haven’t connected it with Mormonism until now and it makes perfect sense!

  • Renee

    The talk feels pointed at the grandmother, who he must have known was not active in the church. I’ve been to Mormon funerals where they talk about the Atonement and heaven a little, and it’s like, yeah, ok, great, that’s where this person is headed, because that’s what they believed. But I’ve been to enough others to know that bishops tend to lay it on a little thick when the person is not active, or they have family who is not active. I think they must think, “This is the only chance for the Spirit to be felt, because they are otherwise so worldly.” He took on the role of conduit, and was completely tone-deaf to the Spirit already being there without him.

    I’m sorry this happened to you. It’s not abnormal. 🙁

    • Kat C

      I’ve only recently come to the realization that this was a distinct possibility. My grandmother wasn’t active.

  • Kate

    Listening to Bob’s re-enactment of the bishop’s talk, I realized that this sort of thing is the exact kind of talk (rambling, weird voice, strange analogies) that I would have just tuned out and mentally gone to sleep when listening to as a TBM. Even listening to it on the podcast immediately made me want to zone out. I used to think of this as a positive thing – Sundays were a rare opportunity to just zone out and let my brain go wherever it wanted to, and I’d often inadvertently stumble across some insight or a solution to a problem I’d been trying to figure out, usually that had nothing to do with whatever Mr. Suit up at the podium was going on about. I thought those insights were because of what I understood as the Spirit, but now I realize it was just essentially forced meditation time (same thing happens when I swim laps in the pools, except I feel great afterward, not mentally and emotionally drained).

    At a funeral, you would have a heightened awareness of what people are saying and it wouldn’t be so easy to just wander off in your own thoughts while somebody is droning on. Maybe that’s what most of the people there were doing, while Kat was the only one sitting there paying attention and wondering what the hell this person is talking about. So, in a nutshell, Mormonism teaches you to zone out and not pay attention and that explains why so many of us felt mentally, physically, spiritually asleep when we were part of it …

    And yeah, I heard the Skittles analogy in seminary (and probably at girls’ camp too) growing up, and it was wonderfully cathartic to listen to this episode because something always seemed a bit off about it, but I could never place my finger on it. Now it just raises all sorts of red flags about emotionally abusive behavior – about unhealthy power dynamics and this twisted, convoluted version of what “love” and grace mean, and the inherent contradiction of using guilt and shame to “teach” forgiveness. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I recognized a lot of these behaviors and attitudes as unhealthy, and learned what it really means to love (a concept that is notably absent in the Skittles metaphor).

    • Kat C

      It’s interesting that you (instinctively?) came up with that coping mechanism. Reading your comment reminded me that I was once good at that, too. It’s possible that I have since developed much more respect for my own feelings and emotions. Not trying to hop up onto a soapbox or anything, but there’s a lot to be said from a purely psychological perspective about actually grieving the loss of a close family member.

    • I’ve heard others refer to the narcotic effects of Mormon oration, though I always assumed it was unintentional. Maybe not (unintentional, that is). When I was left at my grandparents house on conference weekend as a kid I remember having this overwhelming urge to sleep but not being able to because my grandparents had the TV turned up so loud.

  • Lanmandragoran2001

    Bob and Kat loved your podcast and appreciate that you verbalized not just what happened to your family, but what happens at Mormon Funerals around the world.

    A great follow-up would be to discuss the talk which was the major root cause of all this pain. Please, please, please consider doing a royal smack down of this Elder Packer’s gawd-awful talk (which has been referenced by Bliss Doubt), “The Unwritten Order of Things” from a BYU Devotional in Oct. 1996. Please read it and consider if this wouldn’t make a fun, and cathartic episode. This hideous talk is the root of so much pain and where the nature of Mormon church culture gets its authority. Cemented ways of doing things like, where a counselor sits relative to the bishop; that we shouldn’t ask to be released from a calling; bishops should only consult SPs for advice, not other bishops; what to wear on Sundays; Use of a person’s full name over the pulpit and worse of all, making Mormon funerals, missionary opportunities and not family reunions or a time to celebrate the life of the deceased. It is ironic to note that his funeral violated his commands given in this directive every time speakers at his funeral said nice things about him, rather than preaching the Gospel. Here are some hateful gems which have hurt families at many funerals. A time when families should come together to celebrate the life of a loved one, and not make some family members feel ostracized by doing missionary blah, blah, blah.

    “Another point of order: Bishops should not yield the arrangement of meetings to members. They should not yield the arrangement for funerals or missionary farewells to families. It is not the proper order of things for members or families to expect to decide who will speak and for how long. Suggestions are in order, of course, but the bishop should not turn the meeting over to them. We are worried about the drift that is occurring in our meetings.”

    “Funerals could and should be the most spiritually impressive. They are becoming informal family reunions in front of ward members. Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.”

    “When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the comforting promises revealed in the scriptures. Now it’s all right to have a family member speak at a funeral, but if they do, their remarks should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.”

    “I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them. The gospel is to be preached. I know of no meeting where the congregation is in a better state of readiness to receive revelation and inspiration from a speaker than they are at a funeral. This privilege is being taken away from us because we don’t understand the order of things—the unwritten order of things—that relates to the administration of the Church and the reception of the Spirit.”

    This talk would be such a gem to do an episode on. Thanks again, for all you do to help our journeys be more healthy and happy.