In responding to yesterday’s blog, Heather writes, “Ignorant Question Alert: Memorial Services at the museum? I've never heard of this. Is this a Utah Mormon thing or do I just run in lower class circles? Now that I know this is possible, I want my Celebration of Life Memorial Party to be in the Museum, too!”
While I had not planned to raise the specter of where funerals and memorial services may or may not be held, I will say this: I am of the humble opinion, to quote a line from Promises, Promises, “It’s no one else’s business but our own.” I am not a funeral or memorial service aficionado. I prefer to keep my distance. That is not possible, however. Friends die. Relatives die. And we attend whatever services are planned for them. I have now attended memorial services in the grand ballroom of a hotel, the Red Butte flower gardens, cemeteries, and, of course, churches. As bishop, I conducted services for adults, babies, and victims of shootings, accidental and intentional. Some were in the church, some were not. Some were Mormons, some were not. In matters of death and grieving, people choose whatever gives them comfort.
The most memorable funeral that I witnessed was for the Protestant sister of a member of my ward, whose name was Grace. The casket was open during the Protestant church services, after which the congregation was ushered out. When the chapel was nearly empty, the people in charge closed the casket. I was Grace’s bishop, and I knew this would not sit well with her. She had not said good-bye to her sister. And as I walked into the foyer of the church, I could hear Grace’s, 85-year-old alto voice at full strength: “Did they close the casket? I didn’t get to say good-bye.”
It was a sunny January day in Minnesota, the very coldest possible. I followed the entourage to the cemetery, where the casket was placed over the grave on the support frame and straps. Someone said a prayer. The air was clouded with our freezing breath. And then I heard Grace’s voice loud and clear, “I didn’t get to say good-bye.” Whereupon she threw herself on the casket and refused to get off, repeating, "I didn't get to say good-bye."
It was not my business to take charge of the funeral. I was just a visitor, but I thought I should advise the funeral director how to resolve the situation. “Can you open the casket?” I asked.
“Yes, he said. “But the body will show blue and yellow spots in this sunlight.”
“Then I suggest,” I said, “that you open the casket and let her say good-bye to her sister.”
The director stepped up and told Grace he would open the casket so she could say good-bye. Grace stepped back. He lifted the lid. Grace reached in, pulled her stiff sister halfway out, gave her a kiss, and said, “Good-bye, dear.” She then laid her back into the casket. The director closed it, and it was finished.
As I was leaving the cemetery, I heard Grace’s brother, a grumpy old guy who never liked Grace, ask his wife, “Did she just kiss that damn thing?”
People know how they want their funerals. Let them be in cemeteries, chapels, hotels, museums, or football fields. Let them be in an opera house or concert hall. I’d like to have an orchestra play at my memorial service. I just haven’t figured out how to pull it off.
How do you want your funeral or memorial service?