Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Fifth Funeral

This past year since I've been in the Relief Society presidency I've been honored to help serve at four different funerals which were held at our church building.  I've learned over the past year that serving at a funeral is just as much a blessing for myself as for those we serve. I love the spirit of Christ that is present at these funerals. I always walk away feeling a stronger sense of connection to life beyond this world. I am reminded again that life on earth is so fragile and that family is everything.
Seeing families and friends come together to celebrate and remember their loved ones is touching and beautiful. As they walk away grieving, yet knowing they will see each other again in the next life, I am reminded how short our time is here on earth. I am reminded  that this is the time to prepare to meet God and that our focus should always be on that goal. I am grateful to get to be a part of these funerals, as small as my role may be.

As a presidency we help coordinate the luncheon which follows the services, set up the tables, decorate the cultural hall with flowers, and do anything else that they may need help with. There is always roasted ham, funeral potatoes (if you don't know what those are look them up- yum!), green salad, Jell-O salads (yes, we live in Utah), warm rolls,  and then cakes and cookies for dessert.  The food is all provided by members of our church who volunteer to make it and then drop it off before the funeral. 
The purpose of the luncheon is to provide the close family and friends a place to gather and feel closure after the burial. It's a way for them to be able to relax, eat, and finalize their day together. I think the luncheons are a beautiful service that Relief Societies provide to these families. I remember when we attended the funeral of my brother-in-law's wife, how grateful we all were to be able to sit down and eat lunch together-to not have to worry about finding food, but to be able to just enjoy each other and feel closure on the day's events. 

At times I am asked by our compassionate service leader to prepare food, though I have limited experience with Utah funerals. The first time I was asked to make funeral potatoes I followed the recipe all wrong and they never got done in time. When asked on another occasion to make a Jell-O salad I decided to play it safe and just make a fruit salad instead. It was a good thing because I found out that by "salad" they meant Jell-O mixed with cool whip and various fruits, sometimes even pretzels and nuts are involved. This is an unexplored universe I'm not quite ready to enter into.

 For one funeral I was asked to make the program. I had never done that before so it was a new experience, which I enjoyed. But for the most part I like to  help set up, serve food, and then help with clean up. I also enjoy talking with the family and friends that attend, and of course giving hugs where needed.  

The funerals this past year were mostly for folks in our ward who were were either sick or elderly.  However, today was the fifth funeral I've served at and it was for a newborn baby who passed away shortly after birth this week. 
I can honestly say I struggled with wanting to serve at this funeral today. I thought of excuses of why I should stay home and not help......  Afterall I'm not terribly close to the parents. I know them but I don't know know them.  It would be too sad. I would cry too much. I would feel awkward around the grieving family. I wouldn't be able to handle the unexplainable pain and heartache of losing a newborn baby.
Just like Jell-O salad, attending a funeral for a baby was unexplored territory. I wasn't sure if it was even my place to be there.

Well, I fulfilled my duties anyways, and along the way found out that this funeral was exactly where I was supposed to be.  It was the most amazing, most sacred, most life-changing experience. I expected it to be sad, but I didn't expect the Spirit to be SO powerful. It was almost overwhelming the way the Spirit of Christ penetrated the room, bringing peace and clarity
It was a spiritual experience that changed me in ways I hadn't expected. It was an experience that was an unexpected answer to prayers. It was an experience that strengthened my testimony of the Savior and the sacred purpose of this beautiful, short life. 
It was an experience that I needed to have and I'm so grateful and honored that I got to be there to witness the strength and testimonies of this amazing family. 

Both of the parents spoke, bearing testimony of God's love for them and their beautiful, perfect, baby boy.
They bore testimony of the after-life, that they knew their baby was in the arms of a loving Heavenly Father.
They bore testimony of eternity-that families can be together forever through the sealing powers of the temple.They promised to live a life that would make them worthy to live with their baby again in the presence of God. 
They bore testimony of the strength of the gospel and how it brings peace during the hardest of times.

I did cry at this funeral, but not because it was too sad. I cried because it was the most beautiful, spiritual, hopeful experience.
It made me think of my older sister who also died during her birth, under similar circumstances. An otherwise healthy, thriving, baby girl who passed away while my mother was in labor.
It made me think of the pain and heartache my own mother and father felt when their baby was taken away too soon, yet also how the promise of eternity was placed before them.
It made me want to live the gospel more perfectly, with all my heart and soul, for my sister.
I can feel her watching over me at times. I can feel her in the Temple. I can feel her strength and love when I'm struggling, telling me to keep going. Don't give up. Father is watching over you. I am watching over you. This life is shorter than we realize and we'll all be together soon.

Before the funeral started, there was a viewing. I didn't feel comfortable going in, especially because it was only close family and friends that were invited to attend. I wasn't sure I wanted to see the baby as I had never seen a baby that wasn't alive and I was scared at how I would react.
However, I felt drawn to peak my head in and I'll never forget what I saw: A teeny, tiny, perfect baby lying in a little casket and a picture of the Cedar City temple on the wall. Suddenly the two images were interchangeable, one and the same. The baby and the temple were two perfect, sacred, holy, representations of God's eternal plan. 

The temple binds us together forever, for eternity. Temple marriages and covenants seal us together.Families can be together forever, through Heavenly Father's glorious plan.
Thank you to this family for allowing me to have this sacred experience. 
And of course thank you to my Heavenly Father for giving me the experiences I need to grow closer to Him during this short, wonderful, challenging, and beautiful life on earth. 

 "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed."    Alma 34: 32, 33

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