Taking the Fun Out of Funerals

HawkgrrrlAsides, Charity, church, Culture, curiosity, death, doubt, families, General Authorities, LDS, Leaders, love, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, questioning, religion, reverence, thought 77 Comments

What do you want your funeral to be like?  Do you care or do you figure you’ll be dead anyway?  How do you feel about burial vs. cremation?  Are you an organ donor?

This is a topic that always excites some feeling, whether you are Mormon or not.  We all wonder about the legacy we will leave behind and what will be our life’s eulogy.

http://happylists.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/funeral-procession.jpegBoyd K. Packer has spoken twice on the topic of funerals, once in 1988, and again in a BYU devotional in 1996.  He clearly has some strong feelings on this topic.

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 occuring in our meetings.
I agree to some extent where missionary farewells are concerned, but funerals seem like a private family matter for grieving to me, not specifically a missionary moment.
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.
I still hold the hope that HF has a great sense of humor.  It doesn’t take much observation of humanity to bolster that hope.
When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of 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.
Personally, I feel that we honor the dead when we remember them personally, share the stories of their life and the joy they brought to us through knowing them.  The funeral is for the living survivors, not the dead, nor the church. 
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.
Actually, I would pay good money to see this.  Who’s with me?

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.

Really?  A funeral?  I rather think that non-members and inactives would be put off by the lack of respect to the deceased.  It seems a little insensitive.  Whereas those who are members already have come to honor their dead.  Isn’t family supposed to come first?

What do you think? Should funerals be 100% somber with no mention of the deceased as an individual, only as an example of the Plan of Salvation in action?  Is it best for grieving families to hold funerals in their homes or away from the church if they want to cherish and honor the specific memory of their loved ones individually?
What is your experience? Given the fact that these talks are 20 years old and 12 years old (and the second was only a BYU address), I am curious – it seems to be BKP’s opinion more than church policy based on its execution.  Are these instructions being carried out?  (I don’t attend enough funerals to know the current trends, but the last one I went to was mostly funny and touching stories about the deceased with maybe a church talk, but I’m pretty sure I tuned it out).
[poll id=”8″]
For my funeral, I would like some personal anecdotes shared.  And if possible, at least at the viewing, an Elvis Costello soundtrack (or Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell if I specifically die in a car crash).  No jello or funeral potatoes unless you really really like that stuff (after all, I won’t have to eat it).  I am also not keen on the whole giving a church talk thing.  If there are a bunch of people giving church talks in Heaven, no thanks.  I would prefer to be sent into the ocean on a burning barge like the Vikings, but if that is impractical, make sure I look good, but keep expenses down.  But I’m not going to threaten anyone with “rising up” out of my casket if these orders are not followed.  When I die, I plan to stay reliably dead, at least for the duration of the funeral.

Comments 77

  1. If the rules of the Church for funerals are as described by Elder Packer, how come they were not followed at President Hinckley or at Elder Wirthlin’s funerals? Especially President Hinckley’s.

    1. Yeah, well we’ll see what happens with Packer now that it’s halfway through 2015 and HE has passed on now, won’t we?

  2. This is kind of interesting. I was all set to agree with you and to wonder what planet BKP was on with that kind of “cold-hearted council.” But, I went and read both talks and I came away with a totally different slant on it than you did.

    I don’t think he was being quite as harsh as the few selected quotes would indicate. He merely stated that a funeral, held in an LDS Church Chapel was like a Sacrament meeting and that we should follow the pattern set out for how that is conducted in both reverence and conduct. I cannot disagree with that part. Everthing that goes on in the Church building is the responsbility of the Bishop, especially meetings in the Chapel.

    And I do agree that family remembrances are important and should be included. But, not raucous and ribald stories. And the gospel should be preached. After all, we are in the Church and that is the main mission of the Church itself and the purpose of the chapel itself. Unfortunately, some Bishops might, in fact, interpret the council as you did and restrict the family. The General instructions themselves do not do that.

    The funerals I have attended and participated in have been highly spiritual meetings and I don’t think I would want it any other way. The pattern we have seen with the funerals of Presidents of the Church clearly do not have the restrictions as you have portrayed them.

    After all, No one is forced to have their funeral at the Church.

    BTW, you didn’t have a choice of where the family member talks about the Plan of Salvation as it pertained to the deceased life. That would be my choice in addition to the family stories.

    In the end, as you said, we are dead, so why do we care what really goes on!

  3. A missionary farewell is part of a sacrament meeting. VERY different.

    A funeral is a family event that happens to take place at the church because the church is important to the family and/or the deceased. Since it would happen in the chapel, there are a few rules to follow that always apply to the chapel, no matter the event. A funeral doesn’t have to take place at the church, but hey, IT’S FREE!

    IMO, there isn’t necessarily a need for a bishop or stake president to speak at all. It’s comforting to have someone like that conducting, but if circumstances permit me to have any input into my funeral, there will be no “conlcuding” talk by a bishop. Bishops that view funerals as great missionary opportunities sort of fit into the injury lawyer category for me. If someone attends an LDS funeral and ends up with some questions, fine. But to purposely work the funeral for contacts seems a little greasy.

  4. I wrote my own funeral talk, given how much I did not like many I had heard.


    In the two funerals and the one graveside service I have been involved with for family members, we had complete control of the agenda and the format.

    You can see the program outlines (at the bottom of the page) at http://adrr.com/living/courtney.htm and http://adrr.com/living/jessica.htm for my two daughter’s funerals.

    As for President Packer, guess you will have to ask him about his counsel vis a vis his behavior at President Hinckley’s funeral. Perhaps he has moderated his opinions.

  5. “If the rules of the Church for funerals are as described by Elder Packer, how come they were not followed at President Hinckley or at Elder Wirthlin’s funerals?”

    Because it is absurd counsel. When this happens, general authorities don’t get corrected, they get ignored. His wording shows how cold-hearted he is on the topic. “The Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences”. “When the family insists that several family members speak” “The bishop should not give away our meetings”.

    My brother-in-law is a Packerite. When my alcoholic father (who I had never heard mention God, other than in his choice swearing) passed away 8 months ago, we asked my brother-in-law, a two time bishop, to conduct the meeting. I asked him to not give a Mormon plan of salvation talk since my dad not only did not believe in God but was not a member. Against my wishes and against the beliefs of 90% of those in attendance, he talked about the plan of salvation, as Mormons believe, not mentioning the word Mormon, but laying it out as Mormons believe and talking as if it were fact. I guess duty is more important than people.

  6. “The Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences”

    One for the WORST category!!! Thanks!

    Really though, no God or Spirit that I believe in is repulsed by humor. Granted, there are all types of humor…

  7. I have told my family that I will haunt them all their days if they allow my funeral to be held in an LDS church under the direction of a bishop. I don’t want my death being co-opted as a “missionary experience” or “gospel teaching” opportunity. They can go to sacrament meeting any Sunday they want. I want them to gather, party, and remember the good times and bad; tell raucous and ribald stories, and hopefully remember the few good things I’ve done in my life.

  8. I heard Elder Pinock say in a meeting once that “we have to be careful what we tell people to do becuase they’ll do it.” I think Elder Packer’s counsel is typical of this. Some leaders will allow a little leeway in a funeral but others as Holden mentioned above see it as carved in stone. I guess for me since I’ll only be there in a jar is that I hope that it’s not boring and that they don’t make me out as something I wasn’t and go a little easy on what I was.

  9. I think it is symptomatic that we don’t do celebration (or, in this case, mourning) very well in the Church. Whether it be weddings, blessings of newborns, Easter, baptisms, funerals, etc. we have really, really bad, tacky, cheap and, sometimes, downright goofy rules for our cultural and life events. We have made them so bland, lifeless and boring that new converts who are used to more rich and varied approaches find it frustrating and disappointing.

    If you are a life-long member, sometimes you just don’t know any better because no one taught you how to handle such events in a well-balanced and celebratory sense. For this reason, I have been lucky to have a Bishopric that allows me to take over Easter and Christmas from a decorating and special number standpoint to add some umph on these special days. If I am asked to plan a baptism, I try and do the same. As far as wedding announcements and receptions are concerned, I gave up on trying to change them into something more elegant a long time ago.

  10. Michael, I assume you have been to the funeral conducted in other faiths. My personal experience with Jewish, Catholic and LDS funerals are that the LDS funerals are must more positive and hopeful. The others tend to be very sad and without hope.

  11. Jeff,

    I was raised Irish Catholic and joined the Church a number of years ago at age 19. I am the only member in my family. I can’t say the funerals of my extended family members were “without hope” because Catholic funerals always talk of Christ’s resurrection and our reunion with family in the next life. Of course they were sad because we had lost a family member. But they also centered strongly around remembering the life of the one who passed away.

  12. I have thought a lot about this the past few years as I have, unfortunately, been to a number of funerals of loved ones. One observation that was common throughout each of the funerals (all of which were mormon) is that there was way too much focus on giving church talks that had nothing to do with the deceased. Invariably someone would give a life sketch or a talk about the deceased and everyone was in tears (many, I presume, feeling the spirit near), and then the bishop or some other church leader would get up and speak about the atonement, not mentioning anything to do with the deceased, and everyone starts going to sleep. It is infuriating to me. You go to a funeral to honor and say farewell to the deceased, not to hear a sacrament meeting. And for those in the church who think that as a rule people are most prepared to hear the gospel at a funeral, let me disabuse you of that notion. Every person I have ever spoken to who was not a TBM who attended a mormon funeral, has been completely put off by the pushy proselytizing that goes on. In my opinion, it’s borderline shameful that the church would take that position. I think “in a unique position to hear the gospel” is just code for “they just had a loved one die and are consumed with grief, so let’s swoop in and tell them how they can see that person again.”

    I recently attended the funeral of a 21 year old girl who had been one of my wife’s young women in a previous ward. She died tragically and suddenly and there was much grief among family and friends. The funeral was beautiful and poignant and there were many tears. After a couple of talks about her and some beautiful music, her bishop stood up and said “I didn’t know _________, because her parents moved into our ward after she had moved away to college, and I only met her once.” Then he proceeded to give a 15 minute sacrament meeting talk about the gospel. This sickens me. They couldn’t, at the very least, have gotten a family member or found a previous church leader who knew her to give the standard church talk? My criticism in this instance doesn’t go so much to the bishop, but to the church generally, which has created this idea that, just as BKP said, funerals have only incidental relation to the deceased or their family, but are really just a good excuse to have a meeting and spread the gospel. This is offensive on so many levels, and it has created an atmosphere in the church where the leaders plan it like a sacrament meeting, and often don’t take the time to think about what would be the most appropriate way to proceed.

    I expect I will have my funeral at a mormon chapel, and I know that most of my family members agree with the church’s position about funerals, as I have seen famliy members give those talks before. I will leave specific instructions that I want church-style talks excluded from my funeral, or at the very least kept to a minimum and used as context to discuss personal aspects of my life. If those in charge refuse to honor this request, the funeral will be held somewhere else. I’ve also debated whether to instruct that someone speaking specifically mention that I did not accept the mormon faith. Not sure how that would go over in a mormon chapel, but at the same time I would be a little uncomfortable with the perception that I believed in the things being preached.

    Anyway, great topic, Hawkgrrrl.

  13. When I die, I don’t care if anyone says one thing about me personally. I hate being the center of attention, even at my own funeral. But I do hope that someone will remind those I leave behind that this is not the end, that we will see each other again, that the love that has bound us together throughout my life is real and eternal. That the Atonement and the temple are what makes that possible.
    I would like someone to sing the song we sang when my husband was baptized– I Stand All Amazed, and for everyone to sing my favorite tearjerker– God Be With You Til We Meet Again.

  14. I’ve enjoyed BKP over my life and his tenure as a GA but on this issue I disagree vehemently. A funeral is not a meeting, a funeral is not a missionary opportunity where the guy in the box is just a really great visual aid.

  15. “This sickens me. They couldn’t, at the very least, have gotten a family member or found a previous church leader who knew her to give the standard church talk?’

    Maybe they were not able to, because of their grief. A statement like “I didn’t know the person”…..is regrettable but tends to be more typical with the funerals of other faiths that I have attended. At the funeral of my Mother, my brother found a female Rabbi who was very good, but didn’t know my Mom from a hill of beans. She didn’t get things exactly right. I wanted to give the eulogy, but ended up giving a short talk after it. It was not the “Plan of Salvation……

    But I would have thought the Bishop would defer to someone who knew the young sister.

    “Every person I have ever spoken to who was not a TBM who attended a mormon funeral, has been completely put off by the pushy proselytizing that goes on. In my opinion, it’s borderline shameful that the church would take that position.”

    That has not been my experience at all. Most non-members are impressed by LDS funerals and recognize the spirit which is present. Perhaps your attitude has something to do with that reaction.

  16. Allow me to provide a translation that illustrates my thoughts on the issue:

    “Bishops 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 occuring in our meetings.”


    “The leaders of the church are in control of the meeting. They should never relinquish this control. It is not proper that anyone but the leaders of the church should ever have control over any meetings. We already let the lay members speak, and that is giving a lot, but I can’t give any more than that. I am worried about the fact that I seem to be losing control over some aspects of our meetings. Some people seem to think they know what’s best at their funeral. This is not the order of the church according to Boyd K. Packer.”

    As for my own funeral, like hawk, I plan on remaining dead. I have no prescriptions for food, thoughts, or music. But I would request that whatever is said is spoken openly “warts and all.” Most of all, funerals are great for getting the family together. I would expect a party!!

  17. I am speechless, dumbfounded, baffled.

    I read an article by Orson Scott Card that suggested that funerals should emphasize the gospel and Christ, and I thought this was just one of OSC’s crazy political/religious musings (he does have a *lot* of those, after all). I was shocked and offended.

    If anything, the funeral should be the one thing that is focused on the individual. Why would OSC try to change this?

    But I was ok, because I just thought that this was a unique OSC-ism…but now, quotes from Boyd K. Packer about the same thing.

    Are we serious? Are church leaders serious about turning funerals into another sacrament meeting? Have I just been under a rock, forever? How insensitive.

    I UNDERSTAND why missionary farewells shouldn’t be about the missionary. Because really, the missionary isn’t the important part, even if we are faring him well. What’s more important is realizing that the missionary is committing him/herself to important gospel work (and that segues into natural gospel topics). I don’t see the similarity between a funeral though, which’s purpose is to honor the deceased.

    In the end, I dunno…I’ll be dead…so it really doesn’t matter what people do to me. I just think it would be rather silly for people to be boring themselves at my expense because they feel they have to. And personally, if I were going to speak at a funeral, I could not be persuaded to make it just like a sacrament speech (just like, in relation to that BCC post, I could not be persuaded to speak word-for-word about a GA’s conference talk :D)

  18. #17 – Instant classic, Nick.

    I want the wishes of the deceased and family to be honored. Period.

    I mentioned in the post about the Bishop who died in our stake recently that I attended his funeral. It was exactly as described here – the standard Mormon funeral. It was exactly what he and his wife wanted, and it was intensely moving and beautiful – to a large degree because even the “gospel” talks were focused on Bishop Hazleton. Even they were personal in nature.

    Otoh, I have attended funerals that had the same format and that weren’t nearly as moving or beautiful. The talks were more like regular church talks – having little or nothing to do with the person – and sometimes not what the deceased would have wanted.


    I have NO expectation that my wife and/or children will follow those wishes, but that would be my ideal funeral – a heartfelt eulogy by a friend or family member and lots and lots of great music and dancing and eating – a real party. I want to be celebrated, not mourned . . .

    but that’s not my call, ultimately. In the end, I want my wife and/or children to construct whatever arrangement will be best for them – that will bring the greatest degree or peace.

  19. Post

    Ray – “I want to be celebrated, not mourned.” I agree. Whether realistic or not, I suppose remains to be seen. I mean, I’m sure I’ll be a big loss and all . . .

    GBSmith – “I heard Elder Pinock say in a meeting once that “we have to be careful what we tell people to do becuase they’ll do it.”” Great point. Well worth remembering.

    KLC – “a funeral is not a missionary opportunity where the guy in the box is just a really great visual aid.” This pretty much sums up my concerns with the way these instructions may be perceived and carried out. It does seem a little like selling seat belts at the scene of a car wreck.

    In BKP’s defense, Christ is quoted in both Matthew and Luke as rather harshly saying: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Specificially in Luke 9, it says: “60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” This implies that being focused on one’s grief is a distraction to the more important work of preaching.

    However, another very pertinent piece of Jesus’ counsel IMO is found in Mark 2 (which pre-dates both Matthew and Luke): “27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” The point of this counsel is that people take precedent over customs, rules and regulations, one of Christ’s most basic teachings. And what is meant by people? People as a theoretical concept (the unbaptized masses)? Or people as individuals who bring joy and meaning to our lives through their uniqueness and humanity? I’d like to believe the latter, and that people as unique individuals do matter.

  20. I believe the Church Handbook of Instructions makes it clear that a funeral held in an LDS chapel is considered an LDS Church meeting, and is to be under the direction of and conducted by the presiding authority. Elder Packer’s comments are right in line with this policy. When my father-in-law died, this policy caused a great deal of hard feelings between family members, several of whom were not members or active members of the Church. The compromise was to hold a wake the night before the funeral, which was anything but the classic Mormon fare.

    Personally, I think a funeral should be whatever the the deceased and her/his family want it to be. My experience is that most bishops go out of their way to accomodate family wishes. As for my own funeral, I have written instructions with my will, which include suggested music and orders that it not go over an hour. Because of my struggles with chemical sensitivities (especially perfume), I have also left strict instructions that the meeting must be fragrance-free (other than the flowers). Anyone who comes wearing fragrance will be asked to sit on the back row. And as for the food–all gluten free, so that everyone in the family can eat.

  21. Just curious: Hawkgrrl, are you aware that an LDS funeral is an ordinance- in fact, a prescribed set of ordinances- like baptism, marriage (within or without the temple) or the sacrament?

    If you are married in a chapel, by an LDS bishop, you do not write the vows or direct the ceremony.

    When anyone is baptized, they have input into the structure of the meeting, but private celebrations are held at home, not in the churchhouse.

    I have spoken at the funerals of my brother, my sister, my father, and gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral- always at the invitation and approval of the bishop.

    In the past ten years I have attended the LDS funerals of two bishops, two elder’s quorum presidents, my children’s “adopted” grandmother, and the husband of my high school sweetheart. I have also attended the non-LDS funerals of my mother-in-law and my daughter’s best friend’s father, among others.

    I will agree with Elder Packer on one point: there is a great deal of laughter at LDS funerals– in some cases, verging on the inappropriate. I am not saying that they should be somber, dour occasions, but there ought to be a balance. And the comfort of the Spirit has had more healing power for me than the “celebration” of a deceased loved one’s mortal life.

    After delivering the eulogy at my mother’s funeral, and focusing mostly on her worldly accomplishments– she was a professor of mathematics and an author of children’s books and songs– I was pleased to have the Bishop deliver an address emphasizing her substantial service in the Church and community, as well as to her family, as an illustration of the Plan of Salvation.

    Personally, if I had to choose the way to go for myself, I would choose cremation, have my ashes mixed with sand (for glass) or clay (for ceramics), and have myself made into some kind of little tchatzkah. A flower vase would be nice.

    But I didn’t choose the manner in which I was baptized, or married, and I will not choose the manner of my funeral; once I decided to become a member of the Church, like it or not, those choices are made for me.

    1. Thank you you answered my question, a funeral is an ordinance. I have bee a life time member and just realized this. Also I have been told if anoTher speaker talks about the plan of salvation the bishop dosent have to.

  22. My experience with losing close family members and having to plan a funeral is that it can be very overwhelming, especially if it was unexpected. It may be bothersome to some for the bishop to be in charge and to speak, etc. but for the family who is grieving it may be a great relief. I have never been to a funeral where someone significantly close to the dead speaks because of their inability to talk without falling apart. For those who are deeply grieving, hearing uplifting, spiritual things may be just what they need to hear after spending days planning and preparing to bury their loved one. Maybe the whole idea of focusing on spiritual things IS for the family and isn’t really about all the other attendees. If you are not the one who has to go home without a spouse, a child, a parent, then you will most likely get something different out of the service than those who’s lives just deeply changed. I think it is important to at least consider things from this perspective.

  23. I strongly disagree with Pres Packer on this. My brother passed away 3 years ago. He had only lived in Utah 3 weeks after living in California. We had a memorial service in Cal, and a funeral in Utah. I understand the brethren’s desire to have some control over the meeting, but some of the restrictions were quite bothersome. I almost wanted to move it out of the church and into a funeral home so that we could do what we wanted.

    However, there were some compromises. The funeral was a good mixture of laughter, sadness, and my brother’s missionary efforts. Many people came up to us afterward, and said it was one of the most uplifting funerals they had been to (both in Utah and California). The California one had many non-members in attendance, and the Mission President discussed the Plan of Salvation, which I thought was a wonderful talk.

    I’m just glad we didn’t follow Packer’s advice–I must agree with Nick here.

  24. FWIW I always tell me husband, don’t have a funeral for me. Take the kids (and grandkids if we have them by that time) and take them on a cruise with the money.

    The last 2 funerals held at our church were both great. A young lady in our ward died in an accident and Pres Monson showed up before the funeral (the family didn’t know him and no one had any idea he’d be coming, he just saw the obit and felt prompted to come) and sat on the stand, visited with the family during the viewing, and then spoke at the end. If I remember correctly, there was laughter, joy and an awesome gospel message. The spirit was so strong during the entire service. The next funeral was also great (just family spoke about her, some gospel thrown in by the active relatives other attributes thrown in by the non active or non LDS), then the SP who had never met her gave a boring 15 minute talk. I just tuned out, it had nothing to do with her. I kind of thought it was a disservice to her family. They are kinder than I and probably didn’t feel that way.

  25. Post

    AndrewJDavis – “I have never heard that a funeral is an ordinance — what’s the source?” It’s certainly not one of the “saving ordinances.” In Catholicism it is one of the essential rites for salvation to have “extreme unction” aka “last rites.” I too would like to know the citation, Tony Nineteen.

  26. #28 – Jeff beat me to it. The service is a meeting, not an ordinance; the dedication is an ordinance. They can be separated – meaning the dedication can happen without a funeral service held in a church.

  27. I guess I should have dug out my little white bible… To think I read it every day for 2 years and still don’t have it memorized 8 years later.

  28. Post

    Thanks, Jeff/Ray – very helpful.

    I’m encouraged by how positive many of our commenters’ experiences have been with funerals. All fun is probably not appropriate for some mourners either (I’m also thinking of younger children who are present), even if it’s how we live our life.

  29. If it is deemed necessary that my funeral be “like a church meeting. Hymns only, and preach the gospel. But with a corpse,” then I will most certainly expect an awesome memorial “Similar to an Irish wake. Raucous stories. Music that you liked in life that will remind others of you. A celebration of your life for those who loved you.” At my young cousin’s funeral, my brother and I spent most of the time with our cousins, both crying and laughing. Truly a sad time for our families, but never a closer time. I left for home not mourning the loss of a dear cousin, but wishing I could stay to celebrate his life with our family. The funeral service itself was held in the chapel, conducted by the bishop and the least memorable parts were the “church talks”. I would be disappointed to go to a funeral and feel proselytized, preached to. Speaking of our faith and belief in being reunited is understandable, but a funeral is not a missionary lesson and not a sacrament meeting.

    Having health issues and facing a much greater likelihood of an earlier-than-usual and unexpected death, I would vastly prefer a funeral/memorial that celebrates the life I lived and the hope that is to come, over one concerned with mourning the great “what might have been.”

    My favorite (though dramatized) memorial service was the one on Elizabethtown, filled with tears and laughs and stories, and finishing with Free Bird. I’ve given direction that Free Bird is to be play at my memorial.

  30. Hawkgrrrl wrote:

    “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. (quote from Elder Packer)

    Really? A funeral? I rather think that non-members and inactives would be put off by the lack of respect to the deceased. It seems a little insensitive. Whereas those who are members already have come to honor their dead. Isn’t family supposed to come first?

    Unfortunately, I recently had to attend my dad’s funeral. I would have been highly offended if a church leader came to our family with this direction.

    Our celebration of his life and the righteous man he was, along with the throngs of people who came to tell us they joined the church because my dad visited them when no one else would, was one of the most uplifting and spiritual and testimony building experiences I have had.

    I don’t see how you could improve upon that with sermons, when the real life sermon is the celebration of a good close family member.

  31. A funeral is not a meeting, a funeral is not a meeting, a funeral is not a meeting…unless you call birthday parties, High School reunions and your 25th wedding anniversary meetings too.

  32. #21 “I believe the Church Handbook of Instructions makes it clear that a funeral held in an LDS chapel is considered an LDS Church meeting, and is to be under the direction of and conducted by the presiding authority.”

    I totally agree, if it is in a church building built with tithing money, it should be considered a church meeting…

    …and the presiding authority outta have enough brains to give the family the right to plan and conduct a respectful funeral for their loved one. The presiding authority should only make sure there is no extreme meeting happenings or behavior that is not fitting to be held in a mormon chapel or church building (no beer, no loud music and no devil worshipping-everything else goes).

    Maybe they should first focus on getting members to be reverent in the chapel after sacrament meeting before they start trying to dictate something so personal as a family funeral.

  33. My siblings and I planned our parents funerals. Both were held at the Church, and the bishops conducted each of them. I don’t think it occurred to us to submit the programs for approval. We had a viewing of the bodies in the primary room, and I gave a prayer for the family before we wheeled the caskets to the chapel. We had opening and closing prayers and hymns. The same family friend (former seminary teacher, and as orthodox as the day is long) gave talks on the Plan of Salvation. I gave my dad’s eulogy, and my sister and brother and I did Mom’s in three parts. My brother’s children sang pieces of their selection at each. The barbershop chorus dad belonged to also sang a set at his. At dad’s, people came to a microphone to share stories, but Mom’s ran a little long and the bishop cut that out (we were annoyed). The eulogies included warts (I’m not exactly a Speaker for the Dead), and included parts of their lives of interest to the various groups of people who were there, including their decisions to join the Church and that we were all sealed together. I didn’t excuse the Church content, but I didn’t shove it down anybody’s throats, and my mostly-agnostic niece (who finds 12 Step meetings way too Christian) thought they were pleasant and appropriate.

    Pres. Packer won’t be invited to my funeral (he’s not uninvited either, but he’s never met me and has no reason to want to come of which I’m aware). If a bishop tries to step in the way of my plans, I will rise up and correct him. If he doesn’t want to cooperate, we can have the funeral somewhere else. A nice park by the beach would be great. I’ll remember that when giving directions to my children.

  34. Hawkgrrrl,

    Initially, the reading of your post got my blood boiling. It then occurred to me that BKP didn’t make the distinction of where the funeral was held. If the family chooses to have the service in a Mormon Chapel, then I agree, the church can and should regulate what they think is appropriate. Having said that, the bishop should make it very clear to the family that using the church is just one of several options available to them. Most funeral homes provide a chapel at no additional cost to the family. (At least here in Utah.) I would think it very inappropriate for a bishop or SP to try and direct the contents of a service not held in one of their buildings.

    As a side note, some of the most moving funerals I’ve attended are ones that had you laughing one minute and crying the next in remembering the departed. I’ve never felt good about my mother’s funeral with the main talk given by a bishop who kept apologizing to us family members because the blessing he gave her didn’t work. I thought it detracted from her memory and seemed fairly self serving on the bishop’s part. (I didn’t want to tell him he didn’t actually have any real authority to command God, although that certainly is the most logical answer.)

  35. Let’s face it, a lot of Mormons like a good deal, and using a chapel for a funeral is definitely a good deal….it’s free! You have to take the good with the bad and the reality is a lot of bishops (and SP’s) just don’t have the training to do a crowd pleasing job at a funeral. If you want compassion and someone to say the “right thing” (or something closer to the right thing) you’re going to have to hire that person (funeral home directors tend to be a bit better at saying and doing the right thing at a time like this). If you rely on the bishop you’re taking your chances, but hey at least it’s free right?

  36. When my mother passed away, I was fortunate to have a bishop with tact and grace. The funeral was under his direction, but my sister, my aunt and I were all invited to speak freely, and there was a good balance of personal stories and expression of faith in Christ.

    Ultimately, as with many areas of administrative detail, much of how the rules are interpreted is up to the individual bishop/authority. Some are too generous, some are unbending, and some are genuinely inspired, as mine was.

    As for me, personally: I want my funeral itself to be much like my mother’s was. Stories and memories shared, simple testimony of the reality of the Atonement and resurrection borne. And yet, I also want there to be a place for a Zimbabwean marimba band somewhere, and maybe a Tuvan throat singer or two. I am not quite sure how to reconcile the two yet. Perhaps a service, then a separate celebration. Hmm.

    In the end, though, the most important thing to me is that my funeral services be comforting and worthwhile to my loved ones.

    As far as the burial or cremation thing, I want my usable organs to be given away, and whatever is left to be returned to nature. I don’t hold too much with coffins, and would prefer to be buried without so that I can feed the local plantlife (or wildlife, I am good with either 🙂 ). Although being sent out on a burning boat also sounds like a lot of fun. 🙂

  37. Yes, BKP’s thoughts on funerals in his “Unwritten Order of Things” speech makes me wonder about the rest of that talk. He ignores his own advice when he preaches at funerals, so …. Funerals should be uplifting and spiritual, but they should also be a celebration of the life of a loved one. It shouldn’t be a night at the comedy club, but gentle humor that exemplifies the deceased is certainly in order, in my opinion.

  38. Although being sent out on a burning boat also sounds like a lot of fun. 🙂

    Never thought about that one…

  39. I recently told my daughter that I want a concert at my funeral, with all of the music that has blessed me with rich spiritual experiences, taught me of God’s love for me, and helped soften life’s hard bumps. It would be like my parting gift to all the people that I love. Ideally I would have all the original artists there to perform, but probably that’s a little unrealistic, unless you’re Pres. Hinckley. Elder Packer’s ideas about funerals? Eh, not so much. He can be a little dour sometimes. The Lord calls all kinds of imperfect people to carry out his work, and I love him for his service, but wouldn’t feel bad ignoring his counsel in this case. I think I’ll go work on my list of songs.

  40. I agree with the majority of the commenters here that Elder Packer has expressed a personal opinion, which has probably changed since they were given.

    A funeral is for the FAMILY. A sacrament meeting mission farewell is “required attendance,” for the WARD a time set aside to worship God. Big difference, I think. If Basketball takes place in a church (with the inevitable contention, and we know where that comes from) I don’t see how personal remembrance could be bad.

    On another note, does the church have a stand on organ donation? We give blood, why not kidneys? Didn’t Christ give his body for us? Then again, I know many church members consider organ donation desecration of the dead.

    And what is the “official church position” on creamation? I know BRM speaks strongly against it in MoDoc. Has anyone authoritatively spoken on the issue more recently. I was raised to believe cremation was evil…

    Regarding a coffin-less burial in #39: All states require the body to be placed in a concrete vault, so you wouldn’t ever nourish flowers. Sorry.

  41. Jen,

    Having been involved in three funerals in the last year and half, I can tell you that the funeral homes costs are pretty well set. You can choose a casket for varying costs, but the rest is non-negotiable. In-other-words, there is no cost savings in using the LDS chapel over the funeral homes sanctuary. That’s kind-of my point. Choosing the church for the service means you’re agreeing to an LDS style funeral with whatever that particular bishop decides is appropriate. Using the funeral home gives lots of latitude for those planning the event. (Even if the planner is the bishop.)

    To me, this one’s a no-brainer. Use the funeral home’s chapel and let the family have the kind of service the majority of those attending will appreciate. One other point, even though dedicating the grave is done through a priesthood blessing, it is no different than blessing a baby in church. Neither is necessary for the salvation of the individual… Actually, like the blessing of a child, it’s all about the families feeling of wellness. (Whether your coming or going. 🙂 )

  42. Regarding cremation, the church discourages it, but does not disallow it. In some countries it is the law. Thank goodness we’re getting away from hearing statements like cremation “makes it harder to resurrect” and cremation “shows a lack of respect for the body”. Comparing the three-month-old remains of someone who was buried and someone who was cremated seems to recommend cremation if we’re looking for respect.

  43. As the youngest of ten children and as wife of a branch president in a retirement home with 170 members, I have attended hundreds of funerals. I love a Christ-centered funeral that celebrates the atonement and also celebrates the life of the person who passed a way. Long funerals that go into great detail about the life of the deceased are exhausting.

    Many families are opting to have an evening in which they share memories of their departed family member and then also have a funeral. Every family I know that has done this has told me it’s a great way to remember their loved ones and also have an LDS funeral.

  44. “Regarding a coffin-less burial in #39: All states require the body to be placed in a concrete vault, so you wouldn’t ever nourish flowers. Sorry.” Some funeral homes are offering a “green” funeral that does not include a coffin. They purchase land set aside for only these. In the US there are currently six green cemeteries with plans for more. Here’s a web site: http://www.thegreenfuneralsite.com/GreenCemeteries.html

  45. I completely understand church leaders wanting to ensure gatherings in the chapel are kept sacred and reverent. I would prefer the approach be Bishop’s honoring the family’s desires as much as possible while still keeping the service appropriate.

    Considering it is now a Church standard to tell a personal story and joke in every talk, even General Conference, I would hope humor was allowed. But I have no problem with the Bishop putting his foot down if the family wanted Dane Cook to give a 15 minute stand-up eulogy.

    …although if Dane Cook was willing to do my eulogy I would prefer that over having it in the chapel.

  46. I’ve thought about this a lot.

    I don’t want to be embalmed, which means no open casket, so it seems kind of pointless to have the traditional funeral-in-the-chapel. If my family wants to do that- it’s fine I guess, I won’t be there. For the sake of my grandchildren/great grandchildren It had better be short and sweet.

    What I really want is a quick burial, and then a big party. After my great grandmother’s funeral we gathered at the church for ham and funeral potatoes (comfort food) and then we all talked about grandma and things we loved about her, and it was so enjoyable, and did a lot more for those of us who missed her so much than sitting in a chapel. Some of the stories were spiritual and some were funny, but all of them reminded us how much grandma loved us, and how she loved serving others.

  47. I just looked at that green funeral link- that would be nice! I don’t suppose we’ll get anything like that in Utah in the next 50+ years.

  48. Funerals are for the living, indeed. And more specifically, they’re for the family. So they should be whatever is most meaningful for the family.

    That said, I really hope my family doesn’t want to spend mine preaching the gospel. Unless I haven’t contributed any humorous anecdotes to the family canon… Which is a possibility…

  49. Maybe we need to document some of our amusing stories that kinda cover the gospel angle, too. So, in the end you can still “have it may way!”

  50. DrewE,

    “I completely understand church leaders wanting to ensure gatherings in the chapel are kept sacred and reverent. I would prefer the approach be Bishop’s honoring the family’s desires as much as possible while still keeping the service appropriate.”

    I think that is what happens a majority of the time.

  51. Jeff,

    I agree, and in fact I think that is probably what Elder Packer is trying to say. He isn’t known for being politically correct or tactful. That’s just never been his style. But that is okay, because the church needs different kinds of leadership to reach different people.

  52. …He has lightened up significantly over the years. And in my opinion, he is one of the last McConkie-esque general authorities. I wonder if that era will be gone when he passes. In a weird way, that makes me sad.

  53. Drew, I do think it’s ironic that many of the people who complain the loudest about former apostles who made bold statements that we now view as wrong also are some of the people who complain the most that rarely do we hear “Thus sayeth the Lord” statements anymore. It fascinates me probably as much as anything I see in the Church and from ex-members.

  54. I think there might also be an element of universalizing localized excesses in this. That is, I don’t know that Elder Packer would have had any problem soever with what we did for my parents funerals described above, even though his words do sound like it. There may be some specific examples of funerals that I might well consider inappropriate “loud laughter” for a chapel setting that he had in mind when he made this statement, and he’s trying to pull things back into a more spiritual direction.

    This would not be unlike the policy that stakes are not to have standing choirs, which was aiming at semi-pro choirs with tours and CDs, but hit my stake which can only put together a choir when there’s a specific plan to perform for stake conference or the like in an effort to follow that policy. Or the youth-oriented lesson manuals that counseled the youth to make sure to have non-member friends that every youth I know of outside the Jello Belt laughed at.

  55. DrewE,

    “I completely understand church leaders wanting to ensure gatherings in the chapel are kept sacred and reverent. I would prefer the approach be Bishop’s honoring the family’s desires as much as possible while still keeping the service appropriate.’

    Like I said in the first comments. My first reaction to Hawk’s proof-texted excerpts was very negative. But I took the time to read both talks and didn’t think that Elder Packers remarks were that bad. I suspect many here did not read the talks but only the selected quotes from each talk. I think he would not be dismayed with how most LDS funerals are conducted.

  56. Post

    Jeff – I disagree that I quoted anything out of context to deliberately make a point. I did read both talks in their entirety, and the “proof-texted” comments (as you put it) are very clearly the points BKP was making. Blain may be correct in saying that he overstated his case due to localized excesses, but I do not feel I made the talk sound worse than it was. The only “proof-texting” I did was only include the parts of the talks that were about funerals. Both talks also addressed other topics, notably farewells. I did not mention those points because my post was solely about funerals. On the topic of funerals, that was what he said.

  57. Great post and conversation.

    I want whatever my husband and his children think is best. They are who really matter. A few words about me and things that I liked and loved, a few scriptures, and lots of beautiful songs and soloists willing to sing some of those beautiful hymns. And laughter. Laughter existed at my grandpa’s LDS funeral. It was a gorgeous day outside and people were happy and laughing…It didn’t seem too light-hearted. It was simply a testiment of people’s joy about what is ahead of us. He lived a good life. That’s what I’d like for people to experience at my funeral.

  58. Jeff- #61–“My first reaction to Hawk’s proof-texted excerpts was very negative. But I took the time to read both talks and didn’t think that Elder Packers remarks were that bad. I suspect many here did not read the talks but only the selected quotes from each talk.”

    “The Unwritten Order of Things” has been a sore spot with me ever since I first read it a couple of years ago. I didn’t even finish reading Hawk’s post (sorry, Hawkgrrrl) before posting. I went to an online version of the talk, picked out the quotes that bother me most. After posting, I finished the original post and saw that the three quotes that have bugged me were in her story.

    To me they are the salient points because they are so out of touch with how almost everybody feels about funerals. Along with my feelings when I read the talk, I had to just scratch my head and think how in the world can someone be so out of touch with the human heart.

  59. Jeff and Hawkkgrrrl,

    I agree with both of you.

    When I read the talks in their entirety I did get an expanded view of his message. But the quotes stand out to me in the talk just as much as they do in Hawkkgrrrl’s post.

    I think because I am familiar with Packer’s delivery when he is laying down the law I can put this in better context with other talks he’s given when I read the complete talks. Like Bruce R. McConkie I think he exaggerates his points at times.

    To me, he is saying in regards to funerals – We need to get a handle on funerals. They are getting out of control because bishops aren’t doing their job. Families have free reign and are taking away from the conservative nature that should exist in all meetings. Listen to me because I am an apostle (Sorry, I had to throw that in there).


    I have thought about that quite a bit. I think it would make a good post.


    The phrase “The Unwritten Order of Things” really bothers me too. I love Elder Packer, but I see this as him suggesting that his views are

  60. Holden – “how in the world can someone be so out of touch with the human heart.” Ouch, but honestly, that was my feeling as well.

  61. Hawk,

    “Jeff – I disagree that I quoted anything out of context to deliberately make a point. I did read both talks in their entirety, and the “proof-texted” comments (as you put it) are very clearly the points BKP was making.”

    Sorry, if I offended you, but I still think that is the case. After all, those talks were give 21 and 13 years ago, respectively. If funerals had been a serious on-going problem, like missionary farewells, there would have been a 1st Presidency letter about it by now. It might have be localized to Utah, where everything seems to occur in the extreme, including baby blessings. But, BKP’s talks were only his “unique” delivery of what has been in the General Handbook for many years.

    Nevertheless, it has been interesting discussing of what some what for their own funerals that is somewhat outside of the LDS mainstream.

  62. Jeff does have a point about the age of the talks and that the topic of funerals hasn’t come up in any talk I’ve heard since then. Still . . .

  63. Well, I fully agree that the talks are old, and to my own knowledge, as I said in the post, I wondered if these were the real protocols or just his views. As I said, I haven’t been to many LDS funerals since these talks. I’m comforted by the notion that the instructions may have been targeted at localized extremes, and hopefully BKP has relaxed his stance and would agree this talk is worded rather coldly. I suspect he would as he has referred elsewhere with rue about things he had said earlier.

  64. “I wondered if these were the real protocols or just his views.” Kinda both, I guess. As I said, he has his own style of delivery that, as observed, many find somewhat off-putting. The Handbook and/or first presidency letters are the final arbiter of these things.

    And besides, we all know weird things go on in Utah. At least, the GAs now do a better job of acknowledging the rest of the world during general conference as opposed to when they talked about Utah/The US all the time.

  65. I have had issues with these two talks, and it’s fortunate that most members (including bishops) don’t take them all that seriously. These talks unfortunately make Brother Packer look like the dour doorkeeper of the Kingdom, chasing away anyone who doesn’t fit the mold and follow the unwritten order of things to the (invisible) letter.

    Trying to follow this advice can lead to unpleasant results. My father’s funeral included talks by his sister (who described his early life), a son (who described life with the family), and a not-active-in-the-church colleague (who described his professional life and contributions). The result was a nicely balanced portrait that the family felt did justice to his memory. Then, because he wanted to fall in line with the Packer rules, an inexperienced bishop who had apparently never met my father got up and gave a generic plan of salvation talk. It was so completely out of place, and was certainly bewildering to those non-members who came to pay respects to their friend. Its only grace was that it was a short sermon. But it was a very awkward ending to an otherwise moving service.

    I have already written out an outline for what I’d prefer my funeral to be like, with instructions that if the bishop won’t let the family plan it, then it should be held somewhere else. Holding a service in a chapel is a convenience, not a necessity, for me. Obviously, my surviving family can do whatever they want, but at least I’ve let them know what I want. In my view, a funeral is a place of grieving, remembering (hopefully with love and humor), and finding shared hope at a difficult time; if it doesn’t say something meaningful about the deceased, what’s the point?

  66. Great topic as usual Hawk.

    Please allow me to share some personal experiences as a former Bishop who performed over 25 funerals during my term of service.

    First concerning Elder Packer. As usual BKP points out the “proper” order of things. He does this and does it consistently because there is an “order”, it does need to be maintained particularly with the church growing in a rapid global manner. I love all of the “why don’t the brethren follow their own counsel” whines. Just follow. I know it is hard for us average members but try to be above average.

    If you do not want to follow a Bishops counsel for your funeral or wedding have it outside of an LDS building. Problem solved. I only had one individual go over my head to the Stake President because her fathers dying request was to have a movie soundtrack theme played at his funeral. He ok’d it and it was the tackiest thing I have ever heard at a funeral.

    I never vetoed a family member from speaking except one who was coming back for funeral number two to give another talk. His first talk was so offensive that my counselor had to follow people out of the building to apologize for his remarks. When I heard he was going to speak again I called him and let him know that this was not the gospel of damnation and that if he chose to go down that road again I would shut off the mic and he would be asked to sit down. He gave quite a nice talk.

    The funerals that I presided over we rarely touched on the Atonement but focused on the beauty of the Plan of Salvation. I must say I have never seen anyone offended by the message that god loves us all and rewards us all. It is a message of comfort and hope and is to important for any Bishop to leave out of a service in which he presides over.
    To me the biggest no no at a funeral is open mic time. This can shave years off a Bishops life.

    I think funerals are a time for reflection, laughter, tears and celebration. Because of the experiences I have had dealing with funerals and those that I shared those experiences with I have absolutely no fear of death. I have complete confidence in the Saviors plan.

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