Observations and inanities by a second-shift assistant supervisor in the Puppy-Grinding division of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy® (our motto: "Sure it's cruel, but think of the jobs!"), your host, Brent Rasmussen.
My grandfather died last week. He was 86 years old and he had made it abundantly clear to us that he was ready to go. It wasn't unexpected, but it was very sad. We spent some time with him and my grandma, his wife of 67 years, before Christmas and he told us flat out that this would be his last Christmas and that he really enjoyed spending time with us on the lights and the decorations.
Grandpa was a very religious man. He wasn't an fundamentalist, or an evangelist, but rather very quietly and intensely religious in the Mormon tradition. He had been a Mormon all his life, serving his church in various ways and in various positions of leadership for decades. I was always certain of his love, even after I came out as an atheist. Grandpa accepted me for who I was, regardless of his own feelings on the matter.
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This week we're doing a giant, three-day long Mormon funeral. A viewing, the actual funeral service, then a burial service up in his hometown in the Arizona White Mountains on Saturday. Yesterday was the relaxed, informal family viewing where we all just got together to reminisce. Mrs. Inscrutable (who has been doing floral arrangements for more than 20 years) did the flowers for the funeral. Two beautiful stand-up pieces and a lavish, gorgeous casket piece. All three arrangements were built around the prettiest "Latin Lady" roses I have ever seen. She really outdid herself on this one because she loved Grandpa as much as I did.
I was tasked with getting the pieces to the funeral home before the viewing was to begin. Because I was told that the viewing was to start at 5:00 p.m., and also because traffic in Phoenix is so awful, I decided to leave early so that I would get there in plenty of time to set them up.
Traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, so it only took an hour for me to get to the funeral home. I unloaded the pieces and had them all set up by 4:00 p.m. Grandpa's body was already prepared for the viewing, and the casket was open. I spent a 20 quiet minutes in the viewing room alone with my memories of grandpa, and shed a few tears in private. I had already said my goodbyes to him before Christmas, and promised to remember him.
Eventually, the rest of the family began to show up. Everyone in my extended family is religious. Or at least, if they aren't, then they play the part well. The phrase of the evening was "don't worry - that's just his empty shell. His spirit is elsewhere," or something similar.
I kept my mouth firmly shut. You see, I realize that my Grandpa's funeral is not for him really, but rather a necessary part of the very real human grieving process for those people who loved him. It is not the time or the place to engage in philosophical arguments about the existence or non-existence of a god, or a "soul", or a "spirit" (in Mormon terminology). It's an opportunity for the family to say goodbye and to allow themselves to begin to accept the absence of their loved one.
I understand that.
I wouldn't think of saying anything at any funeral - even a secular one - except to support and respect the memory of the deceased, and to support and comfort the grieving living.
Maybe my religious upbringing instilled an unreasonable respect for religious ceremonies and sensibilities - I don't know. I will, however, continue to keep my mouth shut at funerals. Especially family funerals.
Tomorrow night I will be singing a lovely old Hymn with a 3-part harmony with my two brothers and my mother that my Grandpa requested that we sing at his service only a week or so before he died. Do I have any qualms about the unabashed religious nature of the song?
Not at all. My Grandpa loved the song, he requested in his last days that I sing it for him at his funeral - and I will. I'll sing it the best that I can.
And in doing so, I will remember him.
I miss my Grandpa.