This post is by Heather B. About a week ago, I had to explain death to my four year old. It was one of those conversations that every parent hopes to put off for as long as possible, and made a little more complicated by the circumstances.
My sister-in-law died suddenly in an accident, which led to hospital visits and wakes and lots of teary grown ups. While my nieces and nephews were told that their aunt had gone to be with a Heavenly Father, to be a missionary in the beyond, and have her own eternal family there, I struggled with the right words for my son. We don’t attend church, we don’t believe in a god, or a heaven. I settled on how much we loved his aunt, and how sometimes people go away forever, but we can still love and miss them, and remember all the wonderful things they brought to our lives. He seemed ok with that.
We braced ourselves for the Mormon funeral. My husband comes from background as TBM as it gets. His father leads their stake, his siblings all graduated from BYU, he and all of his brothers served honorable missions, and everyone who is married, was also sealed in the temple.
Thankfully, most of our fears were not realized. My husband was able to speak at his sister’s funeral, and stood at the podium and sang a song for her, one of her favorites, by Kermit the Frog. He spoke with honestly I probably would not have been able to muster in a room full of believers, of how he had no hopes of seeing his sister in a next life, but was so glad he knew her in this one, and shared the lessons she had taught him about empathy, and patience and longsuffering. It was in stark contrast from what his siblings shared, but it was what was in his heart. He and I stood up with his family and sang Amazing Grace as part of the program, not because we believe what our sister believed, but because we loved her, and respected her wishes.
Don’t get me wrong, there were guilt inducing talks by presidency members imploring listeners to come back so that they would never have to be sad over death. I won’t lie; I grimaced from my seat once or twice. But my overall impression of the event was one of awe.
The next day we planted a tree for our sister in her parent’s backyard, and read a poem, and all of the family took turns shoveling dirt and sharing stories.
In the worst of times, families either come together, or fall apart. My in-laws and I have had our differences since my husband I left the church. Harsh words have been spoken on both sides, feelings have been hurt, and grudges have been held. I would not have been shocked if we had not been allowed to speak at her service, for fear of what we might say. Instead we were loved, and supported in a time of grief, and allowed to honor her in the ways that brought us peace. The local bishop did nothing more than to ask if there was anything he could do for us, and no one used this time as a ‘missionary opportunity’.
That is the kind of church that I want my extended family to belong to: A church of inclusion and love, no matter what our specific beliefs dictate. For the first time in a many years, I can believe that maybe the LDS church is moving in that direction. I think that this may be the greatest legacy that my sister-in-law left for me.