Sunday, November 30, 2003

A Thanksgiving Funeral for Grandpa

I've been out of town for the funeral of my grandfather. He passed away on Saturday after his health started to fail about 3 months ago.

Despite the somber occasion, I enjoyed myself. Marriages and funerals are the only times when most of the family gathers together. I got to see aunts, uncles, and cousins that I hadn't seen in years. I also met an aunt and her son, my cousin, that I had never met before. One of my uncles flew all the way from Shanghai, China to attend the funeral. We also enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner together.

LDS or Mormon funerals are quite unique. The life of the deceased individual is remembered, but also life after death and the Plan of Salvation are greatly emphasized. Mormons believe that death is just a progression to another stage of being. The spirit is temporarily separated from the body until they are reunited in the resurrection which will occur when Christ comes a second time. Also, family relationships will continue in the afterlife if one is obedient to the commandments of God.

So the body is dressed and buried in a traditional manner except that the burial plot is consecrated. This means it is blessed by a member of the Church that holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, and it is set aside for the temporary resting place of the deceased for the later resurrection of that person at the second coming of Christ.

My grandfather was a WWII vet so he got a veteran's funeral complete with a 21 gun salute, a flag-draped coffin, and "Taps." I played a piano arrangement of the hymn "O My Father" (click to listen to midi version played on page) since my mother had laryngitis and was unable to sing. My grandfather had requested that she sing at his funeral, so I hope he wasn't too disappointed. The lyrics of the hymn are below:

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood,
Was I nutured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou has placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet oft-times a secret something
Whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I've completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

Lyrics: Eliza R. Snow, 1804 - 1887.
Music: James McGranahan, 1840 - 1907.

This hymn reflects the basic beliefs of Mormons regarding the afterlife and I think it's very apropos for a funeral.

My grandfather's death also made me realize that we should make the most of the time we have with our friends and family. I would give anything to have been able to visit with him one last time to let him know how much I love him.

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