Posted May 3rd, 2015
Randy leads a panel discussion about Mormon Funerals with Alison, Melissa, Glenn, and Craig.
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About temple clothes, having my face veiled always made me so claustrophobic, and I made my husband promise me that he would not let anyone veil my face when I was buried. When they were old enough, I planned to tell my kids the same thing. Now that I’ve left the church, they know that I will come back and haunt them if they even try to put any temple clothes on me.
Another thought I had was about my grandpa’s funeral. His whole life was about service in the church. He and my grandma went on 6 missions together. One of the apostles read about this in his obituary, so he called some random member of the 70 to come and give the POS (this works on two levels–plan of salvation/piece of shit) talk. Everyone made such a big deal about it, and thought it was so amazing. So it became even less about my grandpa but more about being star-struck about a church leader. Sadly, I couldn’t help but think about my grandma, and how she did all this church work with my grandpa, and went on a mission herself before they were married (my grandpa waited for her). I thought throughout the whole thing that because she’s a woman, she won’t be on the apostolic radar. Time will tell.
As I was listening to the conversation about why we should care about the funerals since we’re dead, my thought was this: I have an absolute revulsion that the last time my children see me I’d be dressed in ritualistic cult clothing. Maybe if they were adults, I’d feel differently about it, but it horrifies me.
I was 18 years old and a TBM when my grandmother died. Two of her children and several of her grandchild had left the church or had become Jack Mormons at the time of her death. I remember how heavy handed the talk on the Plan of Salvation was at her funeral. It felt like it was personally directed towards my wayward family members. It was uncomfortable. My grandmother knew she was going to die from her diagnosis, so presumably discussed how she wanted her funeral. I had heard that she hand chosen the bishop and what she wanted discussed. Even as an 18 year old and a believer it felt it was like a once last guilt trip and a manipulative ploy to stick it to her inactive family one last time. And yeah, the focus wasn’t really on her, but on the church and how great it is. I commented on it to my mother about how it felt like just a sacrament talk (but more aggressive), and she just said that it was what my grandma had wanted.
Fast forward to that past year, I attended with my parents my non-mormon great aunt’s funeral. The pastor of that service did a pitch at the end of the service asking everyone to close their eyes and and raise their hand if they wanted to accept Jesus. Afterwards my dad made a snide comment about how that sales pitch at the end of the funeral was inappropriate. I was thinking “Did you not remember grandma’s funeral.” It was just as bad if not more high pressure toward converting imo. It just seems that mormons are so bad at recognizing bad behavior in themselves, but really good at seeing it in others.
I then attended my grandfather’s funeral as a non believer. It was a few months before my planned reveal of my non belief. So, my last official LDS event as a closeted non believer was my grandfathers funeral. It was the last time I put my garments back on. It was pretty rough. It was widely known that I was the favorite granddaughter, and I was going to be taking it very hardly—which I did. So, my aunt came up to me and whispered in my ear “Don’t worry, were an eternal family.” It was just really annoying. I understand why she did it, but I just didn’t believe that anymore and it felt like it was more for her than for myself.
Lastly, on weddings, I think there is even a cultural difference between Utah Mormon weddings and mission field Mormon weddings. I had found that the families that were from Michigan and not Utah had mormified main stream big weddings. They were big and pretty traditional except without alcohol and naughty dancing. Which is what I had, but still a lot more modest than the main stream public and still held in the free cultural hall. But I remember that even, as a life time Mormon from Michigan, i found the wedding trends I was seeing from the utah transplants as bizarre. It was so odd to me that many of my friends and their sisters were planning on just having home made punch and cookies at their reception. Seriously! So low key! My best friend at the time told me it was stupid to have a big wedding and she planned on making her own cake and dress. I even attended a few back yard BBQ feeling receptions. This is mortifying to my non member friends when I describe some of the LDS weddings I’ve attended. It’s like the same effort as a graduation party sometimes. It’s really bizarre actually.
On the whole temple clothing thing… My mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly in January. She was dressed in temple clothing for the viewing two hours before the service. She wasn’t very active and all her friends (even LDS friends) were sad she wasn’t dressed in Armani instead. It was for her TBM twin sister that she was dressed in those wretched clothes.
Story of the “resurrected” Nephite Girl: “A farmer named Zeke Johnson claimed to have experienced this amazing event. His story is recorded in a letter to the Presidency of the Manti Temple dated April 29, 1940. This letter was reprinted in Mormon folklore scholar Austin Fife’s book “Saints of Sage and Saddle”, (Pg. 217):” http://www.holyfetch.com/legends/bones_resurrect.html
Awesome! Thanks, Thomas! I’ve never seen this in print before. Good stuff
As of just a couple years ago this story was still alive and well within Mormon folklore. I remember hearing someone tell this story during a talk in Sacrament meeting. A week or so later I was joking about it with some church friends when one sweet sister got really upset and said Ol Zeke was a relative of hers and that this story was absolutely true. They’ve told it with reverence in her family for years. She also said this wasn’t an isolated experience, that this kind of thing happened to people all the time in that area….
After my grandpa’s funeral, I found my grandma in my parents’ car, crying. As I bent down to give her a hug, she said that she missed him so much (they were married for over 75 years!! and dated for several years before that). Then I watched her whole body language change in a second as she started to say how she shouldn’t be sad, because she knew the church was true, and oh how wonderful that they would be together again and blah blah blah. My grandmother could not let herself cry at the graveside of the man she had loved for 80+ years because the fucking church taught her that it is selfish. That’s what made me the saddest of all.
I too want to push back on what Randy said about fundamentalism and feeling threatened. Whereas I couldn’t be considered be considered a fundamentalist, I’m a Christian and believe I belong to the one true Church (the big, old one), I can’t say I’ve ever felt threatened by someone giving a different opinion or stating a variable belief. I think that mindset, that New Atheist mindset, is common in people who have left very sheltered cultures or cults (and there’s no way anyone can convince me Mormonism is NOT a cult.) There are millions of people out there who believe their religion is the one true way, and they can handle other religions fine. It’s not like Jews curl into a ball when they see someone wearing a crucifix.
For weddings, I have never been to a non-Catholic wedding, so I can’t imagine going to a wedding reception with no alcohol. It seems to me that getting wasted for free should be the trade for bringing a wrapped box of wine glasses as a wedding gift. And how does anyone get pregnant if they’re never drunk bridesmaids? At least one of my kids owes their existence to that scenario.
Bottom line is you are not a fundamentalist. Thinking you worship the one true god doesn’t make you a fundamentalist. And furthermore, what you are saying is “my anecdotal experience contradicts scientific research.” Is that really a battleground you want to stake your flag on? It’s an established scientific reality that it’s human nature to retrench when our worldview is threatened. Even for new atheist types which I am not thank you very much. But fundamentalist religionism amplifies this effect.
“Bottom line is you are not a fundamentalist. Thinking you worship the one true god doesn’t make you a fundamentalist.”
True, but you had expanded on your definition of fundamentalism as a belief in a one true church. I don’t think that’s you’re one and only qualifier, I was just commenting on a segment of your statement.
“And furthermore, what you are saying is “my anecdotal experience contradicts scientific research.” Is that really a battleground you want to stake your flag on?”
What battle, Randy?
“It’s an established scientific reality that it’s human nature to retrench when our worldview is threatened.”
Sure. But knowing other people believe or disbelieve basic tenants of Christianity doesn’t threaten my worldview because, well, that is my worldview. I understand that I’m not a fundamentalist, like I wrote I was just commenting on your one true belief comment in the podcast.
” Even for new atheist types which I am not thank you very much.”
Okay. I was projecting, and I apologize for making assumptions.
“But fundamentalist religionism amplifies this effect.”
I completely agree.
You dissected my comment too much for me to do the same. Too many punctuation nightmares to deal with. 😉
I’m curious. It seems you still believe in a “one true church” or you wouldn’t have taken exception on that point. Which is your one true Christian church? Is it the Catholic Church? The Eastern Orthodox? The Episcopalians? Or is it Protestant strains like the Methodists? Calvinists? Presbyterians? Maybe more ancient strains like the Gnostics? Docetics? Ebianites?
I’m not trying to be an asshole but I’m genuinely curious bc I have always regarded you as a thoughtful commenter and I’m truly curious about why you take exception about my challenge that there could be any “one true church” out there.
I don’t think that retrenching should be equated with reacting negatively towards the threat of different world views. I think people often retrench by rejecting or dismissing opposing views as false, whether blatantly or silently. That’s how they “handle” other religions. Fundamentalists may think Buddhism is “interesting”, or it’s “cute” that Catholics think they have the priesthood, but they’re not willing to explore them in depth because, come on, we know it’s not true. WE have the truth. They automatically devalue other world views internally.
Randy, for the love of FSM. You talk like a fundamentalist sometimes. Why are you bearing your testimony of this “scientific research,” which you didn’t cite and which deserves scrutiny, like all studies? There’s no “established scientific reality” here, just an observed trend.
In the name of clarity, what is a scientific fundamentalist? What’s the dogmatic doctrine and who’s my infallible charismatic leader?
So KLucy, let me clarify my world view. I don’t see a phase 1 medical study that anti-oxidants show promising medical benefits as doctrine bc I know it’s got to at least get to phase 3 before it’s even worth considering. But when something reaches a scientific consensus I think it has earned the position of hanging my hat on. My reaction to Erica was probably too heavy handed and you are right to call me out on it. It comes from a frustration from people erroneously weighing their anecdotal experience against a scientific consensus like with vaccines and autism for example.
But I think that psychology has established it’s a general human tendency to retrench when our world view is threatened but of course there is a normal bell curve distribution and I thought Erica was an outlier based on her description of her lived experience which doesn’t count as evidence the well established phenomenon is not true, especially when she’s admittedly not a fundamentalist.
Anyway, I was reactionary (as usual) and clumsy and thanks for keeping me in line.
Mormon funerals I’ve attended have been a mixed bag. Some were salve, others course sand paper. I do feel that Mormon doctrine is damaging to the mourner, but the overall take-away from any Mormon funeral I’ve attended is directly related to how the family planned it. Who spoke? How well did they know the decease? Then the various bishops either went on for length about the POS or quickly outlined it and spent the bulk of their time at the pulpit speaking about the deceased.
This episode made me think about my funeral. Ultimately, I just want my husband and kids to do what brings them the most comfort. As they are not Mormon, I doubt I will be buried in temple clothes. I do like the thought of being buried and a tree planted with my remains. I agree with Randy; it’s poetic.
What if they use the tree you grow into to make something else? You could live on as a notebook, or a thousand pencils, or a canoe, or a counter at some hip bar, and if you’re really unlucky, as part of a podium in an LDS chapel.
I remember my grandmother’s funeral and people being so impressed because a general authority of the church was there to preside (her nephew). So much deference was shown to this dude when it really belonged to her children at the time.
When my uncle passed away he specifically asked that a GA – whom he had known in passing many years before – speak at his funeral. It was the most awful, pointless, stupid talk I had ever heard — not even about the gospel, it was 90% about how awesome he (the GA) was. I am certain my uncle wanted him there for the prestige but, man, it was painful!
A thought about being happy at funerals – I think that’s fine. Everyone grieves in their own way. When my sister died (far too young) my siblings and I found so much comfort and joy in sharing memories and swapping stories and laughing together. I think some bishops give you the leeway to really do that and really celebrate the deceased person’s life, and some don’t. The Mormon script may not give credence to the reality of our grief but I don’t know how you can avoid the grief. I hope my friends and family are happy at my funeral and share the memories of our time together. And if I go before my parents I’ve told my husband to just let them put the effing ceremonial clothing on me as it will help them and we love them.
If it would bring some sort of comfort to my parents then maybe I would wear them too.
I don’t understand why we have to wear the clothing in the first place. Will we really be wearing that same outfit when we’re resurrected? There isn’t a celestial clothing upgrade? Can we only wear temple nothing in heaven? Perhaps the clothing will also be restored to its former state, with every thread and jot and tittle?
As you guys talked about how bland Mormon funerals are, I kept thinking about how sealings are the same. The sealer rarely knows the couple well and the talk he gives always tends to be something about the sacred nature of the temple, covenant making, etc. Rarely anything about the couple and what they feel or hope for each other. The ceremony is more about the institution than the people involved.
I agree. When my wife and I were sealed we were given a bunch of shitty advice over the altar that did absolutely nothing to prepare us for what marriage is really like.
One point I remember him making: “An important factor in a successful marriage is your temple attendance”. Yeah, I know, right?
Also, someone’s phone went off in the temple and I was SO pissed. The whole room was pissed. It’s hilarious to me now. That’s not relevant, but whatever. It just came out haha
I also share the fear of being buried in temple clothes. When I had surgery last year the last thing I said to my husband as they were wheeling me to the OR was “If I die, don’t let them put me in that get-up!”
They can put me in temple clothes as long as I’m cremated beforehand. They are free to dress up a tin can in the garb, if they choose.
Glenn, I’ve heard of the farmer finding the little indian girl. In the version my dad told me, he plowed over her grave and he watched as she was reconstructed in front of him. First her bones came together, then muscle, and then flesh. Then she was taken up into the sky, back to Heavenly Father, in a pillar of light.
I’ve never heard anyone else mention that story, so that was neat to hear you bring it up. I think you should do an episode on some of the greatest Mormon folklore you’ve come across. Every time you bring up a story it’s very interesting, so an episode of concentrated folklore would be excellent!
I can’t believe more people haven’t heard that story. I first heard it in seminary in Show Low. I recall the story being used as a doctrinal example . . . weird stuff!
Sounds like you seminary classes were a lot more fun than mine. I wish I had been taught cool, uncorrelated stuff like this in church.
To your point about cultural imperialism affecting the funeral traditions of other cultures, I served my mission in Taiwan and was trying to reactivate a less-active member, I’ll call him Qiu. After months of meetings I was pretty close to him, and was shocked when died suddenly, “in his sins”.
None of his family were members, they were buddhist, but he had expressed the desire for an LDS funeral. His family wanted to give him a buddhist funeral and were very torn on whether or not to respect his wishes. In the end, the funeral wasn’t in the chapel, but the ward did their best to reconstruct one in a tent at the crematorium. The funeral was definitely used as a missionary opportunity. Not only did we have an opening and closing prayer and sing loads of lurching hymns, the bishop give a huge sermon on the plan o’ salvation clearly aimed at non-members, and rather than thinking of Qiu or providing any comfort, we missionaries circled like vultures, looking for any opportunity to swoop down on the non-members there and lovingly force-feed them our religious rhetoric.
His family were the only ones that looked like they were mourning, the members were happy and kept reiterating that he had gone to a better place. By the end of it all, his family were visibly upset about it all and asked us to never talk to them again.
I later had a chance to attend a Buddhist funeral. I felt it to be a more meaningful affair and wish we could have given Qiu something better than what we did. That day wasn’t about him at all, and I feel awful thinking back on how callous I was.
Has anyone seen the movie Elizabethtown? Orlando Bloom’s dad dies and he goes on a road trip to scatter his ashes. I wanted to be cremated after I watched that. The idea of having one’s ashes scattered in some beautiful place is very appealing to me. I won’t make my kids travel across the U.S. to do it, though. A nearby mountain would be fine.
The tendency for LDS funerals to serve the LDS Church and to be far less about the deceased is more than just tradition and what is culturally comfortable. It is a direct result of direction from the leadership.
From the CHI on LDS Funerals:
“When a bishop conducts a funeral, he or one of his counselors oversees the planning of the service. He considers the wishes of the family, but he ensures that the funeral is simple and dignified, with music and brief addresses and sermons centered on the gospel, including the comfort afforded by the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection. Members of the family should not feel that they are required to speak or otherwise participate in the service.
A member of the stake presidency, an Area Seventy, or a General Authority presides at funeral services he attends. The person who is conducting consults him in advance and recognizes him during the service. The presiding officer should be extended the opportunity to offer closing remarks if he desires.
(here’s the best part)
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. However, such tributes should not dominate a funeral service. Having large numbers of people share tributes or memories can make a funeral too long and may be inappropriate for a Church service. If family members want an extended time to share such memories, they may consider doing so in a special family gathering, separate from the funeral service.”
Well, everything makes sense now. No wonder the POS talks were so heavy handed!
Yep, it’s official. Funerals are not really for the individual who passed, it’s “a Church service” that’s to be used as an opportunity to sell the church’s raison d’être.
If you want to sit around and share stories, do it on your own time… What a sad policy. I know it doesn’t likely play out this bad, but seeing it so clinically written in the handbook shows the true intent. Which is why they’ve tried to keep that book secret (not sacred).
Wow….that’s some bullshit right there.
So glad I’ll be cremated! I just need to make sure my family knows I want a subsequent “celebration of life,” maybe at a hotel reception hall or even a family member’s backyard if the weather is nice.
Yeah, resomation, Alison! Getting dissolved in a pressurized chamber and put in my garden.
My wife still thinks it’s odd…
Yes, that’s it. Thanks!
If you were to explain either embalming or resomation to someone who had never heard of either, I think both would seem equally strange. Maybe embalming would seem even more odd.
Thanks for putting this together, Randy. My mom passed away last year after a long battle with cancer and planning her funeral was tricky – she wanted an LDS service, yet insisted on no Joseph Smith / missionary stuff, and also wanted to be cremated. She gave me specific instructions not to allow the relief society sisters to dress her in her temple clothes before the cremation but she didn’t have the heart to tell them herself. I had to lie and say my wife would handle dressing her. It was so awkward. The RS pres would not drop it and asked about 10 times if we were sure my wife could handle it.
The funeral itself turned out great, only because we had my non-member cousin do the eulogy and made sure the Bishopric knew my mom’s wishes. They kept it focused on my mom, rather than the church.
Thirty years ago when my dad died, my mom was a recent convert and let the Bishopric and RS plan his funeral. My relatives still talk about how much they were bothered by the blatant proselytizing in his service.
Just had to chime in about the farmer plowing up the nephite girl who then resurrected. Yup, I heard that one.
I grew up in Oklahoma, and heard references to this story multiple times!
My worst mormon funeral experience:
Son committed suicide and left a tape recording. The father asked me to make a digital copy of the recording and make copies for family members. It was difficult to sit and listen to this young man’s last words. So much pain and loss of hope. family was devastated.
The Bishop (whom happens to be a man I usually think very highly of) did the usual missionary discussion funeral talk, but added a few remarks about suicide and how that will limit where he goes in the after-life, but we should love him anyway, and not think bad of him etc. It was not meant to be hurtful, but it made a difficult time so much worse. A mormon funeral in that situation is the last thing I would put a family through. really no comfort at all.
Subsequent to my losing my faith, which is not something I’ve shared openly with most of my family, I have given the ‘life sketch’ at the funnerals of three family members, my brother, my grandfather and my father. All three of them were in very different places in regards to their faith at the times of their deaths. My brother, like me, was a closet unbeliever. He died suddenly and I felt bad that they dressed him in temple clothes for burial, but I also felt that saying anything at the time would have been a cruel thing to do to my family. There is a religious quote on his tomb stone, something that I know meant something to him once, but didn’t at the time he died, and has a certain cruel irony to it now.
My grandfather passed away at the age of 89, at the time of death he held the priesthood office of Teacher, which should tell you something about how important the church was to him. He was kindly disposed towards Mormonism, but it just wasn’t something for him, he loved coffee too much to ever consider ‘living the gospel’ seriously, but he was proud that both of his grandsons served missions.
My father was a believer, but his faith was centered on service. I don’t know if I ever had more then a rudimentary discussion of doctrine with him, but I remember helping people move, doing service projects and cleaning the chapel with him. I also remember going to funerals with him, often for extended family members I’d never even heard of, but he know them and it was always very important to him to go to a family members funeral if at all possible. He lost his father when he was 22 and in some ways I don’t think he ever left that funeral. Ironically he never made it to his own mothers funeral, he died less then 48 hours after her, it was as if he just couldn’t go through the funeral of another parent, his heart gave out.
At all three services I never made any personal declaration of faith, other speakers would do that, I just talked about their lives and what wonderful people they all really were. Interestingly no one has ever broached the subject of my lack of funeral testimony bearing to me, one person I told just assumed that I had and I was surprised when he realized that I hadn’t. I think funeral goers will often take what they need from a service, I see no reason to force feed dogma, mine or anyone elses.
Between the lip smacking, giggling and silly adolescent remarks, it was not listenable. Too bad, as it is an interesting topic and one of the men who commented on his mother’s funeral had pertinent comments and insights. You can do better! That’s why I keep listening so far.
The store about the farmer disturbing the little indian girls grave and she resurrected real story. I am a descendent of that farmer. My mom has a copy of his journal. Maybe that is where my sisters DID stems from. LOL
In response to Randy’ s question of whether denying the finality of death is healthy, I say, well, not so much healthy as inevitable.
We humans with our ridiculously huge craniums, our hopelessly dependent infants that can’t even walk for a full revolution of the earth round the sun, and our pathetic teeth and claws would be the laughing stock of the animal kingdom if we hadn’t evolved the strongest social ties and richest emotional lives on the planet. A “lone wolf” human in the time before guns was really a wolfmeat human. We need each other to survive so we evolved to protect each other.
Our brains get suffused with hormones that produce romantic love so strong we would die for our mates and attachment to our offspring that exceeds anything in the animal kingdom. All that love that is part of our human experience makes the inevitable separation of death untenable to our minds and unbearable to our hearts. The idea of any kind of afterlife, but especially one in which we see loved ones again, probably evolved as a psychological defense against the devastation of being separated irrevocably from our loved ones. I don’t have the data to say whether belief in life after death is actually psychologically more healthy, but the simple fact that 95% of the human race employs this defense is strongly suggestive of its utility.
To experience or empathize with the full depth of love we humans are capable of toward someone and then to be parted from them by death without any hope of reunion is a horrifying ordeal which no amount of funeral potatoes can alleviate.
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