Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Funeral Potatoes and Turkey

Perhaps it seems strange to write about funerals on Thanksgiving. But since Thanksgiving always reminds me of loved ones who died around that time, I suppose it's understandable. Especially at this time, I miss them.

Death is hard on me. Not in the abstract--after all, I believe in the eternal existence of the soul, and in a universal resurrection. I understand that death isn't the end of existence. I'm not afraid to die, to be done living, or to meet my God. I know that death is a part of life, that people live on after they die, and that, after my death, I will be reunited with those I loved in life. I know that the answer to Job's question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14) is a resounding "Yes!"

But despite these noble platitudes, death is hard to handle. The pain caused by the physical absence of a loved one is sharp, especially during times of celebration--times when they should be there--times when their presence is sorely missed. We mark milestones for the departed--the day our son would have graduated high school, the party we would have held for Grandpa's 60th birthday, the wedding reception that Mom would have danced at.

Encounters with death affect us deeply. They remind us of our own mortality. They connect us to each other and to the Divine. We come through the experience changed beings, capable of new feeling, filled with new understanding. But the understanding we gain comes at a high price, and the peace that can fill our hearts often comes only after much despair. Even with our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, such encounters are often unbearably painful.

At religious funerals, we tend to give short shrift to the physical body in order to emphasize the eternity of the soul, saying, in effect, "Do not be sad, for what lies here in the casket is just his body, just his shell. His spirit is still very much alive." But, as a dear teacher reminded me, "Yes, that is true. But we loved the body, too." The body is what we held close to us, it was what interacted with us. The body had the eyes that lit up with excitement, the voice that sang with us, the hands that held ours. It had the arms that carried firewood and cleared brush, the feet that grew calloused and sore, the stomach that always seemed to be hungry. We know that the spirit lives on, but we loved the body, too. And in closing the casket and covering it with earth, we are bidding farewell to a large part of a person we love.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my loved ones, both here and on the other side of the veil. I am especially thankful for those I can no longer see--for a brother with a passion for life and a genuine concern for all those he "bumped elbows" with, and for a grandmother who, even in dying, taught her family how to live in unity and love. In joining their voices with those of angelic choirs, they have taught me to raise my own voice in praise to God.

Most especially, I am thankful for my Savior Jesus Christ, whose atoning death will make it possible for me to see them again, and whose resurrection from the grave will bring to pass their resurrection, and thus allow me to hold them close to me again.

"He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:8).

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