Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Don’t give me a Mormon funeral

WikiCommons

I may not want a Mormon funeral, but Mormon funeral potatoes, as pictured here, are A-OK. In fact, they should be required. (Photo credit: WikiCommons.)

 

I could have died yesterday.

I’m vacationing in New Zealand, and yesterday, after rather smugly congratulating myself that I was doing just fine driving on the left side of the road, I made a dumb mistake and momentarily turned into the wrong lane.

We could have gotten into an accident right then, or we could have died ten minutes later when the driver of the truck I’d inadvertently cut off banged on my window when we were stopped at a construction site, demanding to know “what the &#@*!?” I had been thinking.

He lost his homicidal look when I profusely apologized and explained I was fresh off the plane from the States. In fact, he started laughing his head off. Bloody Americans.

The point is, it’s a dangerous world, people. You never know how, or when, you’re going to bite the dust. It’s good to be prepared.

One thing I do know is that I don’t want a Mormon funeral. This desire, expressed multiple times to my family members, none of whom are Mormon, has been reinforced again to me in the last few days as I’ve read with interest the recent First Presidency statement about women and Mormon funeral practices.

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors instructed bishops and stake presidents that from now on, women who have been through the temple to receive their endowments will not be required to have their faces veiled just before burial.

I think this is a positive change, and—as the Tribune article points out—very much in line with this month’s landmark alterations to the temple endowment in general. If women no longer need to veil their faces at any point in the temple ceremony, it becomes anachronistic and rather pointless to default to veiling after death.

And yet the whole change gives me pause, I guess because I hadn’t realized that women didn’t have this choice before. In fact, there’s a lack of choice in general about Mormon funeral practices, for both men and women. As a convert, I feel this keenly.

Mormon funerals can be very beautiful, but I don’t actually want one for myself. I’ve been to a number of them, and I’m sure they can be very comforting for the families of people who grew up LDS, but that’s not my situation. I would like my funeral to be comforting and lovely for my non-Mormon family, and I haven’t yet witnessed a Mormon funeral that would quite do that.

Ritual clothing is just one aspect of that disconnect. (However, it’s a large—and fascinating—one. How can we be so discreet about temple clothing because we don’t want outsiders to see them, except at a visitation, where every bit of it is on display?)

The bigger issue for me is the content of the funeral, and who gets to plan it. With funerals that are held in a Mormon chapel, the bishop is in charge of the whole event, unless there is a higher-ranking church leader present. According to the Church Handbook of Instruction, the bishop is supposed to consult with the family about music, speakers, and prayers. The wording of the handbook is “He considers the wishes of the family, but” he has to ensure that traditional LDS standards are upheld so that the service is “dignified” and “centered on the gospel” (18.6.4).

I’m fine with the “centered on the gospel” part, but the “dignified” part means that my religiously diverse family would be given a limited selection of slooooow. Mormon. hymns. to choose from, as well as at least one religious talk, either from the bishop himself or someone he appoints.

The reality is that many Mormon funerals are not so much centered on the whole gospel as on one aspect of it—eternal families. They’re not about the resurrection of Christ so much as the opportunity to see Grandma again if we all adhere to the Mormon way of doing life.

That’s incredibly comforting for Mormons, who believe this. For the record, I believe it too. But that message will not feel comforting to my family, who will likely consider it alienating and manipulative. And my funeral is for them, not for me or my bishop or my ward members, however much I love them.

That’s not to say I’m surrendering all control of my funeral to my family. Let’s not go crazy here. For example, I hope I’ll get to choose what I am wearing, which will not be my temple regalia. (For years I told my husband I wanted to be buried in my favorite purple suit, but alas, that’s no longer a possibility. I got overzealous about the chocolate fountain at a recent wedding reception, and the purple suit paid the sacrifice. The chocolate was worth it, BTW. I have no regrets.)

I hope they’ll sing “For All the Saints,” which is in the LDS hymnal and therefore approved. But I would love for it to be sung with a full complement of instruments, some of which are decidedly not approved, and at a tempo that’s brisk enough to clarify that the person in the casket is the only one in the room who has actually died.

Oh, and a BIG yes to funeral potatoes. And Mormon comfort food in general. My family will like that.

 


Related post:

Major changes to the Mormon temple ceremony, especially for women


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

26 Comments

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  • We had two funerals in our ward this past year and the families had a lot of control. The first one was held in the chapel with all the usual trappings because that’s what the family wanted. Though the viewing and burial by the family was done privately before the funeral. The second funeral happened in a funeral home and was an interesting cross between a Mormon and Non-Mormon funeral. There were still hymns and a dedication of the grave because that what the deceased really wanted but her inactive took charge of the rest and the Bishop allowed her to. Our Bishop had no problem with conducting the meeting in the funeral home and not having a gospel centred talk.

    The Handbook says a lot of things. I believe it also says that if desired by the family the Temple ceremonial clothing can just be left inside it’s packet and placed in the casket. I’ve also seen funerals where people decided to cover the ceremonial clothing so you couldn’t figure out what it was unless you already knew. Anyways I really think it really depends on the kind of man your bishop is and how he personally views his responsibilities as to whether or not your funeral becomes something you wouldn’t want your family to attend.

  • These things have been on my mind. I’m active. My brother is über-active (former bishop, high councilor, etc.). My sisters both left the church many years go.

    Our dad died a few years ago; the bishop was very accommodating, allowed us to plan the entire funeral, didn’t dictate anything. We had several nice talks, none deeply doctrinal, and a family quartet (violins, cello, piano).

    Now, my mother is on the verge of death––likely only a few weeks to live at most. I’m concerned, since the really helpful bishop is no longer in office. Neither I nor my sisters wants a “sacrament meeting with a casket” for a funeral. I have my fingers crossed. If the bishop insists on a completely doctrinal funeral, my sisters and I would rather just have it at the funeral home rather than the ward chapel.

  • Jana, I, too, love funeral potatoes. While there are many good, kind, and sensitive bishops and branch presidents out there, they are all subject to church regulations. The CHI-church handbook of instruction- (I don’t remember if it were volume 1(the secret one) or 2 the one that is readily available), explicitly states that a funeral is a proselyting opportunity and is fairly restrictive about what is “appropriate” (I loathed that word as a TBM-true blue mormon or true believing mormon). I recall the instructions being quite restrictive. Yes, I was in a bishopric before resigning.

    I’ve got to think many members don’t necessarily want their funeral to be a missionary opportunity and the last thing about them their non-member relatives remember. A relative of mine didn’t want a weepy funeral. He made sure the soundtrack to Sister Act was the theme music. It changed the whole atmosphere.

    I’m a practicing attorney in the midwest, and there may be a solution to much of the angst you and others might feel about your own funeral. What follows is not intended to provide legal advice, merely to inform. Please check with an attorney in your state to see if what follows is available to you.

    In my state, a person can execute a “Funeral Planning Declaration” (FPD) that is authorized in the probate code. It’s a simple document that need only be witnessed by 2 others, who may not be a family member or who must have no stake in your death (such as being heirs, or devisees in a will). You can write it up on school paper with a stubby pencil or a crayon. There are no super technical requirements other than the witnessing. In it, the person designates a “designee” who is tasked to fulfil the person’s wishes. Make sure this person is willing. This form may not be not binding on a church where the funeral is conducted. Even if it is, the bishop probably could deny the building for services if he were adamant about following CHI protocol. My suggestion is to have the funeral at a funeral home, and then the dinner at the church.

    A last point, the form cuts both ways, It can also be a protection for a believing member who is concerned their non-member children won’t honor their wishes to be dressed in temple clothing, for instance. The funeral home will clearly tell you it caters to the living, not the dead. My spouse witnessed such a conversation. If living members who are paying the bill don’t want to honor a member’s request, the funeral home will defer to the living person, unless there is a FPD.

    In this form, you can specify how your funeral is to be conducted. Also, there is no requirement to make a decision for everything. A person could simply designate who is to give the funeral sermon and leave the rest of the form blank.

    I’m going to paste a basic form below merely so you can see what my state authorizes a person to direct for their funeral. Again, anybody intending to use this needs to check with an attorney in their state to see if it will be binding. Here you go.

    FUNERAL PLANNING DECLARATION

    Declaration made this _____ day of ________________, 201___. I, ______________________, being at least eighteen (18) years of age and of sound mind, willfully and voluntarily make known my instructions concerning funeral services, ceremonies, and the disposition of my remains after my death.

    I hereby declare and direct that after my death ________________________(name of designee) shall, as my designee, carry out the instructions that are set forth in this declaration. If my designee is unwilling or unable to act, I nominate _______________ as an alternate designee.

    I hereby declare and direct that after my death the following actions be taken (indicate your choice by initialing or making your mark before signing this declaration):

    (1) My body shall be:
    (A) _____ Buried. I direct that my body be buried at ________________________________________________________.
    (B) _____ Cremated. I direct that my cremated remains be disposed of as follows: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
    (C) _____ Entombed. I direct that my body be entombed at ________________________________________________________.
    (D) _____ I intentionally make no decision concerning the disposition of my body, leaving the decision to my designee (as named above).
    (2) My arrangements shall be made as follows:
    (A) I direct that funeral services be obtained from:
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    (B) I direct that the following ceremonial arrangements be made:
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    (C) I direct the selection of a grave memorial that:
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    (D) I direct that the following merchandise and other property be selected for the disposition of my remains, my funeral or other ceremonial arrangements:
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    (E) _____ I direct that my designee (as named above) make all arrangements concerning ceremonies and other funeral services.
    (3) In addition to the instructions listed above, I request the following:
    _________________________________________________________
    _________________________________________________________
    (4) If it is impossible to make an arrangement specified in subdivisions (1) through (3) because:
    (A) a funeral home or other service provider is out of business, impossible to locate, or otherwise unable to provide the specified service; or
    (B) the specified arrangement is impossible, impractical, or illegal;
    I direct my designee to make alternate arrangements to the best of the designee’s ability.
    It is my intention that this declaration be honored by my family and others as the final expression of my intentions concerning my funeral and the disposition of my body after my death. I understand the full import of this declaration.
    Signed _______________________
    _______________________,

    City, County, and State of Residence

    The declarant is personally known to me, and I believe the declarant to be of sound mind. I did not sign the declarant’s signature above for or at the direction of the declarant. I am not a parent, spouse, or child of the declarant. I am not entitled to any part of the declarant’s estate. I am competent and at least eighteen (18) years of age.

    Witness ______________________________ Date __________

    Witness ______________________________ Date __________

  • I wouldn’t mind a Viking funeral, but I’ll leave instructions to forego the lutefisk at the dinner. There are limits to what one can expect a mourner to endure.

  • I agree with you about “For All the Saints”. In the church there is too much tendency to play hymns at the slow end of the suggested tempo — a practice that worsens at funerals. My hymn preference are the celebratory uptempo ones. Even at, if not especially at, funerals.

    A few years ago I helped a large Laotian immigrant family, that had only joined the Church a year previously, plan the funeral of the family matriarch. Prior to the start of the service, they did some cultural observances that were definitely not typical of Mormon funerals. After the service ended, the look on their faces was one of “that’s it?!” We definitely have a ways to go to understand others needs and make the funeral service good for everyone.

    But my dad will have to save the bagpipes for the graveside service!

  • Catholic converts in the land of the lutefisk eat it funerals as a self-mortifying way to buy, for the deceased, some time out of purgatory. Lutefisk has many spiritual uses.

  • Christian funerals are a worship service first and foremost. There is comfort there, but it is mainly an occasion for the Church to claim its own.

  • Same. Except that I really don’t want a Mormon funeral. I don’t want some bishop turning it all into a “missionary moment.” But the good news is that I won’t have worry about it. I’ll be dead. But I was very much weirded out by having to dress dead people in polyester garments with handy Velcro closures and drape them in polyester temple robes guaranteed to outlast cockroaches and the Apocalypse. I would rather be cremated and have my ashes scattered but again, my funeral will not be for me, even if it’s about me. But the irreverent side of me wants to know if the Church will pay to dig my mom up so we can unveil her face now that the prophet finally figured that one out.

  • I think that I would like someone to play Beth Sachs belting out John Lennon’s “Imagine” and maybe Imagine Dragons singing “It’s Time.” We can skip all the Mormony music.

  • I find this to be much less about funeral potatoes and more about bashing LDS beliefs/traditions.

  • I like the positive tone. There’s more smiling, hugging, even laughter. I don’t like the substitution of priesthood leaders for family. I want to hear from family and friends, not a presiding leader and not a sermon, not a commercial for a captive audience. If you really want to make an impression on the non-members in attendance, help them get over their fears of entering a Mormon church.

  • Also a convert, but no one from my family will be there = small, aging, intellectual Jewish family. I really don’t mind a Mormon funeral, but I actually want to be cremated. I don’t like viewings and hate the thought of spending more on a coffin than I have on any piece of furniture. And they need to find a room in the building for a rock and roll retrospective to be going on.

  • They don’t believe in the Holy Trinity. They believe their god was once a man and if they good enough and give enough money to their organization they too will become gods.

  • I agree, BUT I am with Jana, those traditions are dull. They may be true, holy and faithful, but they are SSLLOOOOWWWW MOOOOVVVVING. Bury me in red shirt and jeans.

  • First things first. I wish you strength during the hard time you are passing through.
    Under no circumstances are you required to hold the funeral at the chapel. (I know the church is controlling but give them an inch) They offer it for various reasons and maybe many of them are self serving (They promote the church and focus on it, rather than a focus on the deceased) but one reason they do is because it saves a ‘penny’ for the surviving family and takes one worry out of the planning.
    When you go to talk to the bishop, have a script (write down your ‘demands’ and stick to your talking points) and assume the whole of your current role, The Grieving Child. Bang on the table and PUSH BACK on anything not in line with your wishes. Who’s gonna tell an adult with a dead mother they can’t do X at the funeral?
    Another, better idea may be to recruit the former bishop if possible. Let him talk ‘peer to peer’ the new bishop and comfort him that if this is a mistake, old bishop will keep him company in the telestial kingdom.
    Best wishes and prayers.

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