Funeral planning for Mormon Feminists – How the Patriarchy puts you in your {final resting} place

 

What happens to a Mormon Feminist after they die?

Here on the Exponent blog, we’ve seen robust discussions about how to adjust or improve existing church policies and ways to interact with local leadership to get what we want from our church worship and ordinance experiences.

And while these wise words will live on in the memory caches of the internet, eventually all of these lovely bloggers and activists will pass away.

What church policies affect us after we die, and what can we do about it? What kind of funeral or memorial service would befit a recently departed revolutionary?

Does the average Exponent reader imagine their funeral service as a somber, serious event, or a lively celebration of a meaningful life, filled with stories and music? Who would you like to conduct your funeral? What music would you like played or sung? What remembrances or sermons would you like spoken?

The Church Handbook of Instructions leaves direction for how church leaders are to carry out the funeral service for a member.

Want a joyful, lighthearted celebration of your life as the tone for your memorial?

“Church leaders and members seek to make the services associated with a person’s death a dignified, solemn, and spiritual experience for all who participate.” CHI 18.6

 “A funeral conducted by the bishop, whether in a Church building or another location, is a Church meeting and a religious service. It should be a spiritual occasion in addition to a family gathering. The bishop urges members to maintain a spirit of reverence, dignity, and solemnity during a funeral service and at gatherings connected with the service.” CHI 18.6.4

Want your family to work together to plan the program? Or want to plan it yourself before you go?

“These services are generally held under the direction of the bishop” CHI 18.6

“When a bishop conducts a funeral, he or one of his counselors oversees the planning of the service. He considers the wishes of the family, but he ensures that the funeral is simple and dignified, with music and brief addresses and sermons centered on the gospel, including the comfort afforded by the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection. Members of the family should not feel that they are required to speak or otherwise participate in the service.” CHI 18.6.4

 Want your well-spoken daughter or daughter-in-law to conduct the service?

If a funeral for a member is held in a Church building, the bishop conducts it. CHI 18.6.4

Want the sermon to go easy on the church doctrine so your friends and family (member or not) don’t feel unduly called to repentance?

“Teaching and testifying about the plan of salvation, particularly the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection, is an essential purpose of the services associated with a Church member’s death.” CHI 18.6.1

 What about my ward members, how can they help my family? Who will bring the funeral potatoes? (CHI 18.6.2)

Melchizedek Priesthood holders can:

  • Assist the family
  • Dress the body of deceased males
  • Safeguard the home
  • Provide other support

Relief Society sisters can:

  • Assist the family
  • Dress the body of deceased females
  • Safeguard the home
  • Help with flowers
  • Tend small children
  • Prepare meals

Can I have my favorite Broadway or Disney song sung at my wake?

“Simple hymns and other songs with gospel messages are most appropriate for these occasions.” CHI 18.6.5

 Who else is in charge?

A member of the stake presidency, an Area Seventy, or a General Authority presides at funeral services he attends. CHI 18.6.4

 Do they have to participate on the program?

The presiding officer should be extended the opportunity to offer closing remarks if he desires. CHI 18.6.4

 Can I pick out my favorite pantsuit to be dressed in for burial?

“Where possible, deceased members who were endowed should be buried in temple clothing. Where cultural traditions or burial practices make this inappropriate or difficult, the clothing may be folded and placed next to the body in the casket.” CHI 18.6.6

 What if I want to be cremated?

“The Church does not normally encourage cremation.” CHI 18.6.6

 What do you think about these policies for Mormon funerals? Would you want to leave instructions for anything different to happen? If so, how do you think your family will navigate asking for those adaptations from your Bishop?

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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31 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    I can imagine that for many grieving families, having the Bishop spearhead the funeral planning and program would come as a tremendous relief, especially if the death was unexpected.
    But given what we know about “leader roulette” I can’t help but think that with what I want to see at my own funeral (My daughter to conduct, some of my favorite secular music played, etc) that I might be better off leaving instructions for a memorial to be held at the funeral home. And invite the Bishop to attend as a guest.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Which is perfectly acceptable. There are no funerary requirements at all in our church.

      If you want bright clothes, popular music and no mention of Eternal Life hold the service somewhere else. Whether you invite the Bishop would depend on whether you wanted him there or not.

      • Michelle says:

        This is not so simple. My husband died very unexpectedly and I was a mother of a baby and a toddler. I was packing up all my belongings and moving out of a DC neighborhood I could never afford on my own and back to Utah to be near family in the days after his death (mercifully, I did very little- the RS and EQ handled most of it). If I had suddenly decided that I didn’t want the funeral held in a chapel because of the restrictions imposed- restrictions you don’t find out about until you start planning the funeral- I would have had no idea where to turn and was far too overwhelmed to go search that out in the midst of all the other decisions I was making (choosing your husband’s casket for a viewing while breastfeeding your child is hell- add to that grief-laden arguments with your MIL over cremation.) I was very lucky to be working with bishops who were supportive of my decisions- I did plan the funerals with some help figuring my way through from them. But when you are 30 and planning a funeral having only attended maybe 6 in your whole life and all for very elderly people, these decisions are difficult. Trying to work through them with someone who wasn’t supportive would have been horrible.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Michelle,
        How very sad for you.

        I can sympathize with you, and I think that in your situation you were probably grateful for the Church to assist you. If you had not been a member (of any church) you would have had to sort it all out yourself, or pay for it.

        My comments here are more about what each of us would hope to happen at our own funeral.

      • Dovie says:

        I think it’s possible in Mormon land to be more about ministry to the individual family circumstances grieving while speaking of eternal life, and including a variety of music, without a dresscode.

        When my father passed, we were all very involved in his service. Deferring to my grandparents as well as his siblings wishes. He being the oldest of 12 and having been some measure astranged from us growing up as well as the formal church.

        I think of President Hinkley and how he made the little quip about how even though Mormon isn’t our official name as a church body, we could own it, and use it to mean “more good.” There is room for us to do more good in regard to the ministering to the individual needs of families when their loved ones pass away. Christ did not minister to the institution he ministered to the people. Funerals are for the living, they should minster to those grieving in the way that they need. They are not a tool to strengthen or uphold the institution. It’s a very sacred liminal space between the living and the dead. That place, it is the Marys preparing Jesus’ body for burial. It is Jesus weeping with Mary and Martha before rasing Lazarus. It is the hope of the empty tomb for all of us and those we love.

        If it is used to prop up and preach the institution, rather than to minster to and comfort the grieving, with hope in Jesus we are doing it wrong.

  2. anon says:

    After seeing how my post-Mormon siblings felt alienated from planning and participating at my Dad’s funeral a few years ago, and how the Bishop’s sermon seemed to be quite heavy handed in calling them all to repentance, I’m not eager to repeat that scenario in my own future. I think I’ll have a funeral “off campus” to avoid the power struggle.

  3. Lauren says:

    We decided, against my mother’s wishes, not to have my father’s funeral in the chapel. They had been divorced for 38 years, and she really shouldn’t have had a say in it anyway, but they were good friends to the very end and she wanted to be a part of it. He hated church, and we knew he would have hated a long, solemn funeral service. We just had a nice short graveside service. My sister and I also insisted on helping to dress him in his robes. No one really seemed to mind that we were there. I knew I would regret not being a part of it if I had deferred to the Melchizedek priesthood holders there. After seeing the expense and the trouble, and formality of it all, I’ve decided I just want to be cremated and turned into a tree.

  4. Cathy cann says:

    I have thought about this, and will leave explicit instructions. A dear, much beloved friend recently died. She was a beloved, Stake R.S. president, Hawaiian, outspoken, loving, funny, smart… she had her wishes written up long before her untimely death. She wanted, and HAD, Spirit in the Sky played and sung by a large group of her extended family. Guitars, ukes, beautiful Hawaiian voices, singing that 70’s tune, at her wish, in the Stake center! It was breathtaking! I have rarely been so moved. There were tears and much laughter, favorite hymns…perfect.
    I have promised to haunt all concerned if my funeral turns into a somber call to repentance, misplaced, chiding, missionary effort.

  5. Andrew R. says:

    Nothing in the handbook says you have to have a funeral, or that if you do you have to hold it in the chapel. What it does do is ensure that the responsibility for a church held service is in the hands of the person who holds the keys – which is understandable really.

    The one thing missing from your post, which may have been intentional, is the Dedication of the Grave – which again, requires permission from the Bishop to perform.

    However, a pray at the graveside can be done by anyone – male or female. Member or not – even excommunicated for that matter.

    The only thing I would say is make sure you know what the wishes of your relatives are. You may not want all of this, and a stake president swooping in to give his “final comments”, but the deceased may well have done so.

    In my experience, and being an organist I have been to more Church funerals than I might otherwise have done so, Bishops are very happy to bend some of the rules.

    For instance, there should not be a “slide show” in the chapel – I have seen it.
    Also secular songs being played.

    To be honest, the only thing in the Handbook that galls most people is that a higher authority than Bishop (usually well known to most) can attend and speak at his desire. And I have seen this done – badly.

    • Marivene says:

      My brother in law dedicated my brother’s grave. My brother was not LDS, but my sister & I are. Her husband was the only Priesthood holder present for the funeral, which was Methodist. On our way in to town for the service, since none of us lived there, we swung by the cemetery, to make sure “everything was ready” since my mother was in a wheelchair at the time. While we were there, one of the cemetery workers was preparing the site, & we asked him if we could take a few minutes for a prayer, and my brother in law dedicated the grave after we sang a hymn. No bishop was present to be consulted. Come to find out the worker was LDS, tho.

  6. Kelsi says:

    My aunt passed away a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how many instructions she left because even though she had been very sick for a couple of years some of her last words were “Everyone keeps saying I’m dying. I’m not dying!” But I don’t doubt that she would have been fine with 99% of the very Mormon style funeral held at the church. But there was one part that was a little weird. A couple of months before she passed they got a new bishop. She was living with my 80 year old grandma who had just broken her ankle and so they both needed a lot of help. My family tried to do what we could but there was one or two things we felt that maybe the bishop could help us out with. When my other aunt approached this new bishop he was like “yeah…not my job…good luck with that…” He didn’t seem to believe us about how sick my aunt was until just before she passed and wasn’t too much help. So it was a little weird when he was presiding over the funeral and trying to be all nice then. My grandma did ask that the other bishop who had helped out before being released conduct but her current bishop still had to have the last word at the actual funeral. It was all a little weird.

  7. Patty says:

    Some of my favorite LDS funerals have strayed from some of these guidelines. A favorite funeral had a picture of the deceased in hot pants and gogo boots and her children told hilarious stories about her. At the last funeral I attended a member sang “The Way We Were”, the cremains were present in a fancy Asian-style jar, and the concluding number was a performance of Claire de Lune by a talented member. In both cases the women knew they were close to death and planned their own funerals. They were also very determined people and the bishops involved respected their wishes. There were “plan of salvation” talks that were not too long or negative. I’ve thought about planning my own funeral (but I’m in good health!). I have some favorite hymns (and some unfavorites) and I would love to have some early music played or sung at my funeral. And bishop, plan of happiness/salvation/whatever? You’ve got five minutes and be upbeat!
    Worst recent funeral was for daughter of friend (victim of suicide), awful and negative plan of salvation talk. Fortunately the eulogy was given by the friend’s good friend who did her best to provide comfort and recognize her daughter’s strengths and struggles.

  8. Elizabeth Neipp says:

    My father’s funeral was held in the LDS chapel. My siblings and I, along w/ mom, planned the entire funeral. The bishop presided and gave a brief and sweet talk about LDS views of eternity. The other talks were by family members. I played “Silent Night” on the harp (he died in March) and my niece’s barbershop quartet sang “St. Louis Blues” w/ *much* soul, and rendered new meaning to the words, “I hate to see that evening sun go down…” My mother’s funeral was similar and my excommunicated brother gave the main talk. It was wonderful, real and heart felt. In both cases the bishop gave the family full opportunity to plan the funeral.

    A few years ago, a native american brother in our ward passed away and his LDS chapel held funeral included Native American singing and chanting as well as people coming to the pulpit (also passing a mic) to express their love and feelings. The bishop presided, and gave a short talk. The funeral truly was for this particular brother and his family.

    -Regarding the question of temple clothing and cremation; an endowed person is cremated in their temple clothing.
    -Also, visiting authorities are not required to speak, only at the family’s request. I was at a funeral where President Holland showed up unexpectedly and he most humbly asked the family if they wanted him to say a few words or not.

    Maybe I’ve just been very fortunate to have bishops who were only there to help the family as the family desired. They certainly didn’t dictate what could and could not be said, sung, or done. They were supportive of all of our wants, including serving dark chocolate truffles at the chapel door as people came in. (Mom’s favorite)

    One more thought. When my husband was called to be the bishop the Stake President gave him this counsel, “no matter what the handbook says, always do what’s right.”

    • Patty says:

      We brought boxes of See’s to my dad’s funeral. He loved See’s! After wrangling over who would give the eulogy, my step-sister-in-law said she had gone to a funeral where the kids took turns sharing memories. This freed my sister and I of the burden neither of us wanted (I had given my mother’s eulogy), and I could let go of the problem and just share happy memories. It turned out really well.

  9. Olea says:

    In the best case, sure, this can lead to a lovely funeral. But when we’re talking about systemic issues, we need to think of the breadth of possibilities – and this allows some truly hurtful, impersonal scenarios. Funerals are about losing something unique – the life of this person has been extinguished. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. The only thing we have of independent worth is who we are: our choices, opinions, desires. That’s what God and Christ want us to offer them. That’s what a funeral should focus on, to be maximally sacred. Of course we can put together a simulacrum, or draw near to them with our mouths, but our hearts should practice love like they would, if we want to truly draw close to them (and through them, reaffirm our eternal connection with the deceased).

    Let’s not deny the value of life, and especially not systemically.

  10. Ronda says:

    My family, not all active LDS, full of feminists, including my mother, asked my father, very LDS, former bishop, what type of service he wanted when he died. Surprisingly, he didn’t want a formal funeral. So we were able to bypass many LDS customs by having a formal viewing, but a graveside service, which I conducted, where we all shared, and where the more formal doctrine talks were given by my mother and sister. The entire experience was amazing, bringing our family together, by respecting my father’s wishes.
    I would imagine this type of service will become tradition for our family, men and women.
    I would strongly suggest that we all have our wishes noted and shared, long before we die. This becomes a safety net for the living family and friends.
    As for cremation, I think the perspective is even lighter than what is stated in the post. My husband and I will be cremated, and we had to sure our kids that the church was ok with this.

  11. Carolyn Cornie says:

    Members need to learn that there is difference between a ‘funeral’ and a ‘celebration of Life’. LDS have funerals. Solemn and not very uplifting. A friend once told me to never attend an LDS ‘funeral’ as it will be the most depressing situation of my life. It is simply about being dead.
    Christian services more and more offer a Celebration of Life. Even with sadness and deep grief, there is the Joy and Thanksgiving for the honor of having the deceased in their lives…and Joy and
    Thanksgiving that that person is now free of illness and/or pain or a no-longer-functioning body all of which provide little quality in ‘life’. Joy and Thanksgiving that their Spirit is now with God and the Angels. Upbeat Gospel music is so appropriate. Trumpets and/or Bagpipes represent something about the person in life. While there is always Scripture from the Bible and a brief homily about Death and Jesus and the Resurrection, the PERSON is remembered with stories which can come from family and friends and co-workers which each situation being individual. The FAMILY makes the choices NOT the Church unless inappropriate. It is believed that Healing doesn’t really begin until such a service has been held. Services are for those who survive…not so much for the deceased except in remembrance. The Family loves a hymn that the deceased hated…so sing the hymn, folks. It isn’t as if the person is being ‘dishonored’, it is for comfort for the family. There are no teachings against Cremation from the words of Jesus. It is strictly a cultural preference or a loop-side skewing of the After Life. Stating that a ‘funeral must be maximally sacred…???….is an opinion or a forced teaching…one must first define ‘sacred’….does that mean no joy…apparently so. How sad.

  12. Stacey Valderama says:

    “What church policies affect us after we die?”

    The policies, authority, and influences of The Church end when we die.

    They may continue to affect survivors– but only if the survivors allow them to.

  13. Melody says:

    Thanks for this post! I love it! (Also, I want that casket in the photo!) I’ve attended a variety of LDS funerals. Some were unusual – open-mic poetry in the chapel; guitar and banjo music; unconventional relatives giving unconventional remarks. Others were very traditional Mormon funerals. With rare exception, each one was beautiful in its own way. (The rare exceptions had to do with visiting authorities taking too much time with their sermons. This is heinous and unconscionable.)

    My spouse and I have our burial plots purchased. We are working on our funeral programs. Our children know our wishes. My hope and my experience is that most LDS bishops honor family wishes to a great extent. Like any other feminist-related issue, we’re playing Bishop Roulette here, which is sad. God bless good bishops. Thanks again for this enlightening post.

  14. Hedgehog says:

    My father’s funeral last year was the best I have ever attended. The family did make the choices, and it was a celebration of my father. My siblings and I organised the program between us, wrenching into shape. Beautiful prelude and postlude music my father had requested beforehand, and the hymn he had particularly requested (not from the LDS hymnbook) to close. There were two other hymns, only one of which was from the LDS hymnbook. A priesthood choir sang (at their request). There were scripture readings from Ecclesiastes, D&C and 1 Corinthians, a talk given by one of my brothers about my father, a video slideshow my sister had assembled from photographs we all submitted and an address by the Bishop which whilst it did talk about the plan of salvation was made very specific to my father and beautifully done. The stake president was present, but other than singing with the choir kept well out of it. The Bishop conducted. The chapel was packed full. My husband dedicated the grave at a natural burial site, and the coffin was bamboo, covered in bright flowers.

  15. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this eye-opening post, Violadiva! I hadn’t thought about LDS funerals from this perspective and I’m now going to reach out to my close family members and dear friends and ask us all to make our wishes known for our end-of-life services, despite us all being in good health on on the younger side. I want to honor everyone’s wishes but I realized if one of them died suddently, I wouldn’t know what they wanted specifically. My closest family members are post-Mormon (records removed) so this presents a lot of options but may be more work on our end and that’s just fine to me. Thank you for opening my eyes and motivating me to be prepared. This is an important topic and interestingly I’ve never heard it mentioned at church.

  16. Valerie says:

    The most interesting funeral I have attended was for the ward and stake chorister for many years. Music was her life. She never married and had no family. The bishop opened the service, prayer by the High Preist Group leader, the RS president did her life sketch and the rest of the 45 minutes was music both secular and religious. There were duets, quartets, and congregational singing. It was so her. The reception after was finger food and no tables- people just moved and visited.

    When my mom died I told the bishop that if we could not do what we wanted we would use the funeral home and he was upset. He told us we could do what we wanted and when the stake president wanted to talk the bishop told him to buzz off. Other than my brother in laws turn into doctrine for about 5 minutes it was lovely and all about mom. We handed out peanut butter cups- my mom’s favorite.

    Like most of the church stuff funerals are leadership roulette- some bishops are great to work with during stressful times and others are by the book pinheads.

  17. Anon says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but the idea of being veiled before the casket is closed horrifies me. I have clearly articulated that I want to be cremated, my ashes scattered, and I will haunt any person who attempts to veil my face.

    • Joni says:

      John Larson describes the ceiling of a deceased sister’s face as “one final f*** you to women” and while I don’t always share his antagonism towards the Church, I found that particularly succinct.

      My children are on notice that I am NOT to go into the ground with that awful veil on. Veiling my face in the temple was the thing that sent my shelf tumbling down and I’ve refused to participate in another endowment until that nasty rite is removed (so probably never). If I refuse it in life, I’ll be damned (literally, I suppose) if I go to my final resting place that way.

  18. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Violadiva. I think Andrew R. has a good point. The Church is going to control the funeral when it’s at the church. Really, it makes sense. It’s not about the grieving family and friends in that case, it’s about strengthening the Church, and if that means insulting mourners or the deceased or whatever, well, then that’s what’s going to happen. For sure some local leaders might be more reasonable, but it seems like you can never count on that. The best solution to me sounds like for non-traditional Mormons to move funerals wholesale out of church buildings and out of Church control.

  19. CJC says:

    Women buried under a veil is but one more concocted LDS policy supporting false gospel that some go to a better heaven than others according to how well they have followed the dictates of one JS and BY. The veil will rot, like the rest of the clothing and the soft tissues of the deceased body. The Spirit is set free to an Eternity with God, the Creator or with the well-known Satan….period. Be sure that your Spirit is aligned with the right God, folks.

  20. Char Coleman says:

    Something we did at my grandmother’s (church) funeral, is that we had an open mic. I learned more about her life that day, and everyone was crying from laughter. The bishop spoke first, so we all were able to end on a more jovial note from the speakers and great stories. To top things off, all of her granddaughters were the pallbearers, and yes, we proudly carried her casket. She would have been thrilled!

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