I Never Knew My Grandma Because of the Old Temple Sealing Policy
The Ogden Temple in the 1970s, before its modern makeover.
Hooray for positive changes!
I was married in the Bountiful Temple 16 ½ years ago, and it was a relatively small event as far as weddings go. Only my mom, sister and sister in law attended from our families, plus a handful of friends who were not necessarily our closest friends, but our closest friends who held temple recommends. No extended family of mine traveled to be there, and I didn’t think much of it as we had never been particularly close to either of my parent’s families, since my mom and dad were converts to the church and had moved to Utah from out of state.
This didn’t bother me much at the time, but my grandparents are all gone now. My mom’s mom was the last to go, and she passed away last summer in her mid-90s. We had a small family get together here in Utah (my grandma was buried in North Carolina), where my mom told my kids about her life and growing up. They’d never met her. I myself had only met her on a couple occasions and mostly knew about her only from stories. I’d never felt comfortable calling to talk to her on the phone because I didn’t know how to identify myself. I couldn’t just say, “Hey, it’s Abby! You know, your grandchild? I live in Utah. We’ve met.” I didn’t know what we would talk about, and I didn’t know what we had in common. She was a person I barely knew, and as she got older and her mental awareness dwindled, it seemed even more impossible to start a relationship from across the country. I never did. All I have are pictures and stories of her, and that’s all there ever will be.
My relationships with my aunt, uncle and cousin on that side (which is everybody, I have a very small extended family) have been equally distant, and we aren’t even Facebook friends. I only have one cousin in the entire world, and I think I’ve met him twice. I used to think this was cool when I was growing up in Utah. Everyone else had these huge Mormon families, but my parents were converts, and we had nobody in the entire state. We were pioneers! We were “geographic orphans”. We’d sacrificed for our faith. Rather than being born into it, my parents joined the church from opposite ends of the country and met in Utah, forming a newer, better family than what they’d left behind. At least, that’s what I thought when I was kid.
Now as an adult, I see it in a different way. My mom joined the church and left her devoted Methodist family to move to Utah all alone. When she met my dad, they were married in the Ogden Temple in 1977 with no one there but their bishop, and they had no reception after. Who would they have invited? Nobody could come in their families, so they just “eloped”. There’s one photo of them smiling in front of the temple from all those years ago, with no family surrounding them and no parents flanking either side. I used to think this was romantic and brave. Now that I’m a parent, I see it differently. I don’t see my mom breaking ties with her family so dramatically through the rose colored glasses I did when I was younger. Instead I think about how hard that was for her parents and sister left behind. As an adult, I understand much better why there was a distance between my family of birth in Utah, and my extended family across the country. It wasn’t just geography. It was also the church and church policies – including the one that kept them from inviting their families to Utah for the biggest day of their lives.
I learned in recent years that my aunt (my mom’s only sibling) is actually pretty spiritual, moral, beautiful, and hilarious. I think about how much I missed out on by not having her as part of my life growing up. My grandma was a spitfire from what I can understand, and I wish I could have known her to compare my own personality traits to hers. My cousin seems cool. It would have been fun to known him, too.
If only my parents had been able to have a wedding where they invited my grandparents and aunts to attend. If they had done that, chances are I would have had one like that too, and my family that I never really got to know would have been excited to come and celebrate with me. The barriers and bitterness put in place when my parents eloped to the temple would never have been there to start with, and would never have extended into my generation.
The change yesterday was a really good one. It’s important, and it was needed. I know the story of my family being fractured is only one of so many others, and the fact that this won’t have to happen to others in the future means everything. It’s important to celebrate good changes, and it’s important to recognize where we went wrong. This was wrong, and now it’s right, and I am so glad to see this day happen.