George and I had an unexpected spiritual experience this week. We attended the viewing for a ward member. We didn’t know either the deceased or her husband very well. We did know he is elderly and, like most widowers, will have a hard time living alone. Family was seated quietly in the Relief Society room as this good man stood by his wife’s casket to greet those who came to honor her.
I’m not exactly sure what touched both George and me so deeply: the quiet dignity of this man in mourning, the beauty of his wife now at peace, the reverence of the family watching their father fulfill his role, or just the thought of him closing the door when the family leaves and turning to face his empty home alone.
As we left, George said, “Gentle people are beautiful.”
Sometimes, less is more. We’ve attended funerals with lavish displays trumpeting the accomplishments of the deceased. Family funerals become noisy reunions when far-flung relatives catch up on each other’s lives.
Not for a long time has a simple viewing struck us with such a spiritual impact. I’m glad we didn’t stay for the service. Nothing the speakers said could have added to our experience.
I recently attended a moving service for a woman I never met. Kathleen ________ was our son-in-law’s grandmother and had resided in a nursing home for the past decade—her memory eroded by age, her body crippled by arthritis.
People who live past 90, especially in a memory-care facility, tend to have small funeral services. Only a handful of friends and family survived Kathleen. Newer friends serving assignments as officers of the nursing home LDS branch conducted the brief service. No members of Kathleen’s immediate family are active LDS.
The branch president offered an opening prayer. A song, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” was sung and family and friends shared memories of Kathleen. No hymns, no sermon, no speculation about Kathleen’s eternal family reunion, just love—and gratitude that Kathleen had been taken home, wherever that might be, and was free from pain and suffering.
As family members shared memories of the person Kathleen had been—full of life and love and fun—the meaningfulness of her life touched me. Fame and fortune are not requisites for blessing the lives of others. I felt connected to Kathleen—as if I, too, had known her for years and spent time in her home. I felt connected to the branch presidency, their wives, and the Relief Society president—kind-hearted people who leave the comfort of their home wards for two or three years to minister to members in the twilight of life—members with little to give in return except gratitude.
How much God cares about our personal theology, our church attendance or our underwear, I can’t say. But I do believe we occasionally catch glimpses of his love and receive a brief vision of our connection to all his children and to all his creations.