Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Love Funerals

Years ago I saw a bumper sticker in a novelty shop that read "Put the fun back in funeral." I'm happy to report that teenaged Trevor wasn't even tempted to purchase it.   It seemed insensitive and off-putting.  Even as a young person who hadn't yet fully developed this thing called "tact" (some would argue I still lack it in large measure), I knew that others could potentially be offended by the presence of such a sticker if they saw it at the wrong time.  

I know people who hate funerals.  People who would not attend the funeral of someone they really loved because it's too sad or too weird.  I have friends who won't even enter a building where they know a dead body to be, casket or not.  I have also attended some really sad and depressing memorial services.  There are many people who would think me odd, but I love funerals.  Really, I love funerals.

I've been to many funerals in my day.  The first funeral I really have vivid memories of having attended was for a great mentor of mine who served as the president of the young mens organization in my local church.  He had moved away the previous year and had perished in an airplane crash near Malad, Idaho.  I had just turned 15 and was grief-stricken that this man who I had looked up to so much was taken in the prime of his life.  After having waited in a long line to greet his young widow I sobbed trying to tell her how much I'd loved her husband.  Later, slightly more composed I listened and learned more about one of my heroes in one hour than I had gathered in several years of interactions with him.  Bruce Keyes had been a gifted athlete who played football for BYU.  He had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and was a wonderful example for the many people he served with.  I learned of special ways he had served and loved and cared for others.  Only a few brief sentences were spoken about his service with our young mens group and I realized everything he had done for us was a minute representation of the love and devotion he had given his entire life.  

As a fifteen year-old boy I experienced for the first time the joy of a funeral.  I did not leave forlorn and depressed.  I left that service inspired.  I decided that the best way to honor this mentor was for me to try my best to be as good a man as he was.  Later, as I served a mission to England, I tried to serve my companions in the way I had heard Bruce had served his companions.  Much later, when I had the opportunity to serve as a young mens president in my local church I tried to show that same love to the young men I served.

My maternal grandmother passed away when I was a senior in high school.  I attended her funeral the morning after our all-night high school graduation party.  I was tired and miserable as I walked into the church for the proceedings but managed to stay awake as I, once again, learned much more about my wonderful grandmother than I had ever known.  Norma Larsen was the mother of eight children and was widowed when my mom, the third youngest, was 10 years old.  She never remarried and finished raising my mom and her siblings on her own.  She was incredibly bright and was a meticulous journal writer and record keeper.  She was awarded the 'Utah Mother of the Year' award in 1980 and had kept her family close together as an inspired matriarch.  

My Grandma and Grandpa Larsen
I had known my grandma as she had aged and began to lose her memory.  She had lived with us for six months when she got to the point that she couldn't tell the difference between my brothers and I.  I had not fully appreciated the life of fortitude, devotion, love, service and sacrifice she had lived.  As I learned more about her inspiring, selfless life I determined that it was incumbent upon me as her grandson to try to follow her example and to live up to the Larsen side of my heritage.  

As the years have advanced I've had the opportunity to attend funerals for close friends and for some I did not know too well.  Almost without exception I have left the service feeling uplifted, feeling a desire to do better with the time allotted me on the earth.  I've learned that every person had struggles and trials that I had known nothing about.  They handled them with grace and courage, and I'm certain I would not have been able to do so.  I've been taught about life and about how I should live.  Even in the most heart-wrenching of circumstances when my soul felt sympathy pains that were hard to bear, I have learned, been inspired, been warned and instructed in how to live a better life.  I have been taught how to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better friend.  

Certainly, my religious beliefs have sustained me and allowed me to find joy in what would otherwise be completely tragic circumstances.  Knowing that death is not the end of ones existence but a step into another realm where we will one day meet again, helps to keep death in perspective.  Believing that Jesus Christ has made possible the reunion of our spirits and our bodies at some future point allows me to see death as a temporary goodbye.  This does not mean that I do not grieve for the loss of another, particularly one removed from this earth in the prime of life.  It is always difficult to lose someone who hasn't lived what I'd consider to be a full life, and it's heart-breaking to see a father or mother leave behind children who are not yet grown.  

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a high school cross country teammate.  We were on the team that had won the 1998 cross country national championship at Mountain View High School.  I was inspired to see our old team come together to honor one of our own.  We had friends who came from Texas, Colorado, Idaho, and from different corners of the state.  As I listened to the speakers talk about the life of Mark Schofield I teared up multiple times.  Here was a young father who left behind a wife and 5 children.  His youngest is only 3 months old, his oldest just barely 8.  As I learned more about his life I regretted that I had not spent more time with this great man.  I was inspired as I heard stories of the patience and love that he had shown to others.  Most of all, I left his funeral determined to be a more loyal friend, a better listener, and a harder worker- to try to emulate the best qualities of my friend.  
My Friend Mark Schofield

I hope that one day I have the opportunity to meet with the son of my mentor Bruce Keyes, or to run into the grown children of Mark Schofield.  I would love to take the time to let them know what amazing men there fathers were.  I want to be another witness to them of the great men that had gone before them.  I would want to inspire them to be better people because of the example their fathers were to me.  I do have the opportunity to teach my children about those who have gone before me and who have taught me so much from their lives example.  Sometimes we read stories from one of the books my Grandma Larsen authored about Heavenly Father's hand in our lives.  Other times I have shared stories about those who I have not met that inspired my parents who, in turn, inspired me.  

There you have it.  I love funerals because they give me an opportunity to learn about those who are no longer with us.  I love them because they leave me wanting to be a better person.  I love them because everyone is magnificent in some way and it's never too late to be inspired by a life of goodness.  
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