Finding Middle Ground in the Midst of Tragedy

This is a poignant post by Ted Cox (Bruin Exmo), whose brother Jared recently died. It’s very well written, and I found the middle ground he managed to find–the death of an agnostic brother, Mormon family, finding peace for everybody–quite poignant. Make sure you visit Ted’s blog. It’s also well-written and poignant.
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Friday afternoon. The room is as quiet as, well, a funeral home. Which makes sense, since Mom, Dad, their respective Mormon Bishops, the funeral home director and I (me?), have gathered to discuss Jared’s arrangements. Rod, the director, has had this talk thousands of times. The two bishops have overseen a handful of funerals in the past. Mom and Dad have dealt with at least two funerals each. This is the first time for me. Not only is it my first time, but it’s for my best friend, my pal, my little brother.

Rod is familiar with Mormon burial traditions, and he asks outright, “Will Jared be buried in the temple robes?” Without hesitation, Mom and Dad, who haven’t agreed on anything since the divorce, each say, “Yes.”

“Actually,” I interrupt, my voice surprisingly bold, “I have a strong objection to that.” This is the moment I have been dreading since I flew into town. Everyone stops and looks at me, a lone non-believer surrounded by the Lord’s chosen people.

For Mormons that have participated in sacred temple ceremonies, it is tradition to be buried wearing the temple robes. They consist of a white robe draped over the right shoulder, a white cap worn on the head, and a green apron tied around the waist. The symbolism of the robes has never been fully understood to Mormons, as the clothing was copied, along with the ceremonies themselves, from old Masonic rites. However, it is believed these robes are sacred in nature.

“I don’t believe Jared’s final wishes would be for him to buried in clothing that symbolizes affiliation with the Mormon Church,” I continue sympathetically, looking back and forth to Mom and Dad. “Jared was agnostic, a non-believing, non-practicing Mormon at best. He drank, he smoked. Nothing in his lifestyle would indicate that he wanted anything to do with the church. I consulted several of Jared’s closest friends, and none of us feel he would have wanted to be dressed that way.”

The room is still silent. They are listening, at least. I deliver my final argument. “Lets pretend in a few years I convert to Islam. Mom, Dad, when you die, how would you like it if I buried you in Muslim clothing?” Nobody says a word. I don’t want to turn this into a fight. All I can do is speak my mind and let it be.

Rod says, “I’m a neutral party, the decision is up to the family.” He hesitates for a moment. “Will you be burying him in the robes?”

Dad replies, “Yes.” Deep inside I am fucking livid, but remain calm. I smile and imagine dressing his corpse with a burqa.

Rod turns to my Mom. She says, “I dont know,” and Dad shoots her The Stare. I feel proud of her, yet guilty at the same time. My words have put her in a terrible position: she is caught between her own faith, my overbearing zealous father, and me and what I feel Jared would have wanted. Is there a way to make everybody happy?

The group agrees to move on to more pressing issues, such as the casket, transportation of the body, and of course, the cost. The clothing question surfaces twice again before my mother says she has to think about it.

We adjourn the meeting and walk outside. One of the Bishops, a wise man our family has known for years, says to me “It would have been wrong for you to not say anything.”

I pull my dad aside and ask to speak with him. I need to smooth things over and let him know this isn’t about my personal feelings about the church, but am shocked when he thanks me for what I said. He tells me the robes aren’t for Jared, but for him and Mom. It is important for them that their son is buried in clothing symbolic of Mormon beliefs like eternal families and life after death. This raises an important question: How much of a funeral is for the deceased, and how much of it is for the living?

The next day Mom thinks she may have found a compromise: bury Jared in white, symbolizing his goodness, but place the folded robes inside a packet in the coffin, in case he needs them. I am ecstatic. I couldn’t think of a better solution.

The day of the funeral the family meets inside one of the chapel rooms before the services. Dad places the robe packet neatly inside the coffin and says a final, heart-wrenching goodbye to his son. But before he did that, I had slipped a packet of Camel Wides into Jared’s shirt pocket and a flask of Courvoisier into his left hand.

So if the time comes, Jared will have whatever he needs. If he sees a ball of light descending from the sky, he can toss aside the smokes and flask and slip on the robes. How I would love to see my bro in that ridiculous green apron, sipping from the flask with a lit cigarette hanging between his fingers.

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About Natalie R. Collins

Natalie has more than 30 years writing, editing, proofreading and design experience. She has written 20 books (and counting), has worked for the Sundance Film Festival, and as an investigative journalist, editor, and proofreader. She embraces her gypsy-heart and is following her new free-thinking journey through life. Follow her as she starts over and learns a bunch of life's lessons--some the hard way.
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7 Responses to Finding Middle Ground in the Midst of Tragedy

  1. Cele says:

    What an incredible post. How heart wrenching. How sad, and yet respectful. I find it wonderful, that while their hearts are breaking, Jared’s parents could step back and find a compromise THEY could live with.

    And to answer the question. Funerals are for the survivors. Prayers, thoughts, and golden memories and quiet conversations to those who have past are for those of us who know they are still with us.

    Like

  2. ktzmom says:

    I think it’s wonderful that a compromise was found.

    I also believe that funerals are for the survivors.

    Like

  3. Wonderful. It made me cry and laugh at the same time. It also reminds me that I need to make sure that my parents do NOT have control over my funeral.

    I am hoping that my husband goes cheap and buries me in a backyard near the roses… 🙂

    Like

  4. Cele says:

    While the city might not appreciate it, your roses will be extremely happy. 🙂

    Like

  5. Dev says:

    Nice story. Funerals are for the living. The dead are dead after all. But it’s a sad commentary on the living when they don’t respect the wishes of the dead. I liked this story. it was a good compromise. And i especially liked how YOU showed Jared respect. May he rest in peace.

    Like

  6. Kay says:

    I think it great that this compromise was made. So true that the funerals of many are for the living and not for the deceased. My Father was buried in his temple clothing for my Mothers benefit not his. He had a nice suit picked out ahead of time since he no longer believed that the Mormon teachings were true. He changed his mind about what to be buried in shortly before he passed on telling me that he did not really care what he was buried in, but if it made Mother happy then he would do it.

    Like

  7. Bronwyn says:

    Great compromise!

    This story brought tears to my eyes.

    Like

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