Mormon Funerals

April 25, 2011 | 80 comments
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President Hinckley's FuneralHow different are Mormon funerals than those done by other religions? For some strange reason I actually enjoy funerals (at least Mormon ones), despite the sadness of losing a loved one. We’ve had a couple of memorial services in our ward in the past few months, and while sitting through the most recent I wondered how our funerals are different from those of other religions.

I don’t know if I can quite explain why I enjoy funerals. Somehow I come away from funerals renewed and with a greater interest in and love and respect for the deceased. I enjoy the praise and love shown and the enlightening or funny stories told about them.

The few funerals of other religions I’ve attended have also been enjoyable, but not quite the same. They seem to have more of a feeling of despair, although that could well be me reading something into them. I don’t know. I certainly can’t claim to have attended enough funerals to say that I know what the difference is.

I do have a vague memory of some general conference talk or something that claimed that there was a difference between our funerals and those of others, based on our better understanding of our purpose and destiny. But I’m not sure what that claim was based on, or even where exactly I heard it.

So, let me throw the question out to you: Is there a difference between Mormon funerals and those of other religions?

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80 Responses to Mormon Funerals

  1. J aka Joel on April 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I’ve probably been to more non-Mormon funerals than Mormon funerals.

    The difference between Mormon and non-Mormon funerals (in my little corner of the South) is much like the difference between Mormon and non-Mormon weddings: Non-Mormon funerals are a showcase in vain repetitions and usually devolve into a celebration of the Preacher’s accomplishments rather than a celebration of the deceased’s life (or the couple’s decision to wed) or a sermon about the savior and how his gospel affects our understanding of the ceremony.

    Mormon funerals are generally like Sacrament meetings. We focus on the savior and mention the deceased’s life and death only insomuch as it relates to the Savior’s life and atonement.

    I quite like Mormon funerals. I leave feeling inspired or lifted up. I leave non-Mormon funerals wanting to punch the Preacher.

  2. Paul on April 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I have attended a number of Catholic funerals and quite a few LDS ones. The Catholic funerals (masses) have been ritualistic. Mourners mourned heavily, and there seemed to be great sadness. (It could have been circumstance — one was for a childhood friend who died in high school in a car accident; another was for a college student who committed suicide — the passing of an older person who was sick and suffering was not nearly as tragic as a life cut short.)

    I agree that LDS funerals tend to look more to the future and have more of an eternal view, at least for the faithful. I conducted funerals a year or so apart for a couple who had some adult children who were in the church and some who were not. The non-LDS mourners seemed less engaged in the LDS funeral, which was not a huge surprise.

  3. Ardis E. Parshall on April 25, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Having attended a ghastly class yesterday that focused heavily on half-baked parodies of what other churches believe about the crucifixion and resurrection, and how superior we are for ignoring the cross and focusing on the empty tomb, I’m not about to offer half-baked criticism of anybody else’s funerals. (Not that that’s what you asked for, Kent, but I suspect it could go that way.)

    I am far more familiar with Mormon funerals than any other (which, in my experience, do always include at least one talk on the life of the one who died, as well as a plan-of-salvation talk), and of the non-Mormon funerals I’ve attended, I’m most familiar with Catholic. They are different, in much the same way as regular Sunday services are different. While I prefer the hope of a Mormon funeral, especially the reminder of the purpose of life and what comes next, I can’t discount the element of comfort and sympathy that is present in other funerals. It may be more from a sense of familiarity and ritual than from an explicit understanding of the purpose for earth life, but it is there. I’ve never been to a funeral of any kind, anywhere — including the funeral of an LDS mother/daughter murder/suicide — where there wasn’t a heavy dose of peace and comfort, regardless of the circumstances or the breadth of view of the participants, even when the outward form of the ceremonies was very different.

  4. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Mormon funerals are more informal without being casual. Non-Mormon funerals tend to be either formal or casual.

  5. Julie M. Smith on April 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I haven’t been to that many funerals of either kind, but I think I’ve noticed that Mormon funerals usually feature speakers that are much more closely related to the deceased than non-Mormon funerals. Is that typical or a result of my small sample size?

  6. Michael on April 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    The Brethren have always officially counseled that LDS funerals focus on the plan of salvation and emphasize the Saviour instead of the person’s life. Elder Packer in particular was very adamant about the funerals being used to preach and emphasize the Restored Gospel and not focus on the deceased unnecessarily.

    A few months after he stated his counsel President Hinckley died and the Church threw a massive funeral and procession that totally concentrated on the life of deceased including the discussion of condolences from leaders and notables around the world and showed television footage of everything.

    So after that transpired there is much confusion surrounding LDS funeral protocol. The common consensus is that if you are important in the Church or a notable member such as Larry H. Miller, the funeral service should be a celebration and enthusiastic re-telling of the person’s life and accomplishments. If you are an ordinary member in an ordinary ward, the Bishopric is to refuse all requests to overly emphasize the deceased member’s life story.

  7. Kevin Barney on April 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I disagree with Elder Packer’s preferred form of Mormon funeral. To me, traditional Mormon funerals always have a heavy emphasis on remembering the deceased’s life (plus usually some sort of plan of salvation talk). And, again to me, that’s exactly as it should be. I resent the idea that the funeral of my loved one should be some sort of missionary opportunity for the institutional Church. This particular occasion is not about the Church, it’s about the loved ones left behind and what they need to grieve properly, and for my taste ignoring the life of the deceased just ain’t gonna cut it.

  8. gst on April 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    I think the King Follett sermon should have focused more on the life and accomplishments of King Follett.

  9. KLS on April 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    gst prefers Mormon funerals because he can wear his red suit.

  10. J aka Joel on April 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Kevin: Elder Packer’s approach, if I understand it, isn’t “about the Church” either. It’s about the Savior. So if you think a message about the Savior is inconsistent with the funeral being “about the loved ones left behind and what they need to grieve properly,” I think you’re missing the point.

  11. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Hoo boy, GST, you’re not the only one.

    Kevin B.,
    the way it usually works is that you have one ‘missionary’ talk from a bishopric member that goes over the plan of salvation and then you have a couple of eulogy type things from family members, in which the spiritual component varies. I don’t know if there is some kind of rule that effect, but I’ve seen it around the country.

  12. Ardis E. Parshall on April 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I’ve never, ever been to a Mormon funeral where the life of the deceased was ignored in favor of a missionary sermon. Both talks are always given (I’ve given my share).

    And Julie, although I don’t have a real sense for the next-of-kin-ness of most non-Mormon funerals, in my experience Mormon funerals do often include as speakers one or more children of the deceased. Never seen a spouse talk, and don’t remember if I’ve heard a parent talk.

  13. Last Lemming on April 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Every Mormon funeral I can remember attending has had a reasonable balance between celebrating the life of the deceased and preaching the plan of salvation. I have detected no change in practice since Packer’s remarks.

    I have never attended a non-Mormon funeral, but I did participate in one in which we agreed to share the podium and speaking time with the pastor of the deceased’s parents. I don’t remember him saying anything specific about the deceased and very little about his version of the plan of salvation. He did, however, conclude with an extremely lame joke that seemed to embarrass even the members of his congregation who showed up.

    As a side note, my participation in that funeral consisted of reading a eulogy written by the family (nonmembers), which they had given to the presiding officer (a counselor in the bishopric) to work into the service however he saw fit. Why he picked me to read it, I’ll never know. It contained some quasi-doctrinal content with which I was less than comfortable (e.g., “We will never see our beloved Mary again.”) But I read it as written.

  14. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I hadn’t remembered Elder Packer’s remarks, and wasn’t aware at all of any instruction.

    To be honest, while I like the plan of salvation elements well enough, they are so familiar to me that their impact is negligible. I suppose for those who are less aware of the plan of salvation (or plan of happiness as it seems to be called these days) it would be a great comfort.

    What I like the most, though, is the stories of the deceased life. Somehow those stories renew me and improve my faith.

  15. Jacob M on April 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    One of my grandfathers was a member, and another one wasn’t, but both funerals were equally beautiful and heartbreaking. As a matter of fact, the LDS one was a little more disturbing because of the open casket allowing me to look at my dead grandpa when I’m only 9 or so freakin-years-old, and that one of my uncles droned for about 30 minutes or so about this weird dream he had as a kid. Granted, my negative reaction is mostly due to the fact that I was a 9 or so freakin-years-old kid who was tramatized by looking at my dead grandpa’s body and I wasn’t old enough to understand what the “H” my uncle was talking about.

    My non-LDS grandpa was cremated and we took a boat out to the ocean to “scatter” his ashes. The whole ceremony itself was actually rather interesting, as the boat did a figure-eight a few times to symbolize the eternal nature of the soul. Before we did the last figure-eight, my grandpa’s ashes were lowered in a basket, which then turned over underwater, releasing all the ashes into the sea. Each person was given a flower that we were to cast into the water after the last figure-eight. This was explained to us that it was symbolic of letting go of the dearly departed. This funeral I was a few years older, and had a better grasp of gospel principles, which helped tremendously.

  16. Naismith on April 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    My understanding is that in Mormon usage, funeral and memorial service are not interchangeable. Funerals can only be conducted if the body is present. For those of us who choose to be cremated, or want to hold a service for someone lost at sea, etc, that can only be a memorial service, not a funeral per se. Of course to the average member sitting in the pew, the difference may not be apparent.

    I’ve seen a couple of spouses speak. All of them described it as the last act of service that they could render to their loved one.

  17. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Having attended Catholic, Presbyterian, and California casual Protestant funerals, among others, I think the only general observation I would make is that the funerals are like services in the particular denomination. The Catholic and Presbyterian funerals had almost no place in the program for any discussion of the life of the deceased. The California casual funeral I attended in Petaluma for the husband of my secretary had people attending in shorts and flip-flops, and speakers discussing episodes like getting so drunk on a fishing trip that they crashed the boat into the dock. The religious content of that ceremony was minimal.

    One of my co-workers died in a plane crash in a light plane flown by his son, a Navy pilot. The burial service included the traditional rifle salute, and then a flyover of fighter jets with the “missing man” formation in which one of the planes peels away into the heavens as the others continue.

    There are a number of military funeral traditions that can be applied in LDS and other funerals. When a service member has been killed in combat, at least in recent years, a member of the soldier’s unit accompanies the body back and stands guard at the casket throughout the days of viewings and ceremonies. In the Salt Lake area, a group of volunteer veterans goes out to the burial site. One plays taps on a live bugle and others fire blanks from rifles over the casket as the flag on the casket is presented to the widow.

    At a funeral for the soldier son of a member of our ward in Idaho, because he was killed in action, it became a community ceremony, with a group of motorcycle-riding veterans giving an escort while on alert against the weirdo “Baptists” who like to spoil military funerals, and a local Lutheran choir sang a couple of numbers. During a prolonged vocal solo by a gentleman NOT part of the choir, an older lady in the Lutheran choir had a seizure and her fellow choir members were frantically trying to help her while the soloist dragged on, totally oblivious to the drama going on behind him. I was about to stand up and interrupt him when the woman was revived enough to be able to stand, with help, and walk out to the lobby, where she was taken away by paramedics.

    The saddest aspect of funerals is when a speaker, whether a family member or someone in the ward, thinks it is an opportunity for a dramatic and lengthy oration. I have decided, after suffering through such programs, and helping to plan others, that I am going to write the agenda for my own funeral, and the biography and obituary as well. Maybe I’ll just make a video of my own doctrinal sermon too.

  18. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Raymond, while I understand your desire, I must admit that I’ve decided exactly the opposite. Since my funeral will not be for my benefit, I can’t see how I can justify imposing my views of what the funeral should be like on others. Let them do what will help them grieve (or not, which is more likely in my case [GRIN]).

  19. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Naismith wrote: “My understanding is that in Mormon usage, funeral and memorial service are not interchangeable. ”

    Hmm, so, exactly what is the difference? Is it just the name?

  20. Paul on April 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I think Elder Packer’s getting a bit of a bum rap. His counsel is no different from what’s in the new handbook — a generally short (1 to 1-1/2 hours) service, focused mostly on the Atonement and the plan of salvation, as well as memories of the deceased. Family members may participate, but are not required to do so. If it’s at church, it’s a church meeting. Bishops work with the family to plan an appropriate funeral.

    BTW, as for “different” funerals — we witnessed two Taoist funerals outside our home in Taiwan. Both were exceptionally loud (paid mourners make lots of noise to scare away evil spirits), lasted longer than one day (inluding burning certain books and prayers into the night to accompany the departed), lots of colorful costumes and long processions of brightly colored vehicles.

    Both funerals were held close to where the individuals died (their homes).

    Another BTW — the handbook allows for sensitivity to local custom in planning of funerals.

    My biggest surprise in an LDS funeral? At the death of an older member of our ward, one of the speakers was from AA and told of this brother’s gentle and consistent service over 30 years. I’d been his bishop for 4-1/2 of those years and had no idea he was in AA.

  21. Michael on April 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Paul, I have a question for you. If the handbook is pretty clear cut and if Elder Packer is getting a bum rap, why did he not temper the massive funeral for President Hinckley and dictate it be more in line with established procedure? He is the second in command of the Church. Was he overruled by President Monson? The actions did not follow the procedures and it was very obvious that a different standard was used.

  22. Melissa B. on April 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I’m having a chocolate tasting at my funeral. Chocolate from all over the world, beautiful music and a talk of the “plan of happiness”. What could be more uplifting? :)

    I’ve attended both Mormon and Non-mormon funerals. I haven’t walked away w/an uplifted or hopeful feeling from the non-member funerals. Not that there aren’t hopeful and uplifting non-member funerals. I haven’t attended any yet.

  23. Jax on April 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve very little funeral experience. I was at a split funeral once though. Mother of my deceased best friend was LDS (though had attended in years) and the Father was Jewish (practicing). They were separated and Dad was paying the bills, so he had say in what took place. He consented to allow the Bishop conduct and give a closing talk. I was the best friend and allowed to speak. Otherwise an all non-denominational service. A very good opera caliber singer was brought in for music. A cousin gave a eulogy. Dad spoke about the sons life and family. Then came me. I gave a mix of the atonement/life-story talk. Nothing too deep about the atonement, more about his life and my memories of him. But my few lines were a testimony that I would see my friend again and hold him in an embrace, and then I closed in the name of Jesus Christ and sat down. The bishop was last and he did the standard atonement talk.

    I didn’t feel it personally (I was grieving) but many, many people told me afterward that the whole feel/spirit/tone of the meeting changed when I stood up and mentioned the savior, bore my testimony, and especially when I closed in the name of Jesus Christ.

    So how do the differ? as long as they are U.S. cultured (not in Taiwan) I think we same roughly the same things and share the same thoughts and wishes. But perhaps the presence the priesthood authority, and of a more sure knowledge or the resurrection, lends a greater measure of the spirit to our funerals. But only maybe.

  24. Paul on April 25, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Micheal, I did not participate in President Hinckley’s funeral in any way, so I can’t answer your question. I would not be surprised if the funeral for a prominent church leader, held in the tabernacle or conference center is different from a run-of-the-mill funeral in a chapel.

    In any case, neither Elder Packer nor the handbook say that one should not reflect on the life of the deceased, but that the meeting should be reverent enough to be a church service and should have a focus on the gospel.

    The LDS funerals I’ve attended (on three continents) have done a nice job of that.

  25. Stan Beale on April 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I was chosen to give the eulogy at my father in laws funeral. I was amazed at the unsolicited advice I got. It ranged from a Packeresque “only mention his name once” to “be sure to ask so and so for stories that you can tell aout him.” I’m just not sure there is any agreement on what actually are the guidelines in narrow terms.

    A friend of ours dies several months ago and it certainly didn’t fit a “normal” mormon funeral. One of her daughters is a follower of Islam and another is Catholic and each gave very different views of their mother. Bagpipes played and Bobby Burns was read. My wife and I had to miss it, but I understand that bagpipes in a chapel can make the walls quake.

  26. Ardis E. Parshall on April 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    President Packer may have spoken about funerals multiple times; speakers do tend to return to topics that concern them, and he may have said different things different times. Here’s one funeral talk given by him, though, in 1988.

    There is not a single phrase in it that can be construed as supporting Michael’s rather extreme interpretation of not speaking of the life of the deceased. He says over and over that funerals should be reverent and solemn, that they are perfect occasions for teaching the plan of salvation, that they should follow the model of a sacrament service insofar as opening/closing with hymn and prayer. He says family members aren’t expected to speak; he seems to be protecting the feelings of family members who would find it difficult to speak — he isn’t banning them. He cautions against too jovial reminiscences — it isn’t the reminiscences that he cautions against, but the loud laughter that would disrupt the solemnity. He leaves plenty of room for personal innovations, after counseling with presiding priesthood authority. There is nothing there that restricts a funeral to one solemn gospel-centered talk and no eulogy or other talk(s) about the departed.

    Michael, unless you can cough up some first-hand statement by President Packer that supports your unusual assertions, then you’re the one giving him and the church a bad rap.

  27. Elizabeth on April 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    What? No ‘Harold and Maude’ reference to loving to attend funerals?!

  28. Kevin Barney on April 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    If the recent funerals of prominent LDS like Robert J. Matthews or Hugh Nibley or President Hinckley are in conformance with Elder Packer’s wishes for funerals, then I heartily endorse his counsel in this matter. In my view, those are the way Mormon funerals should be done–including ample attention to the life of the deceased.

  29. Grant on April 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I was glad to see this Kent because I love Mormon funerals and I find non-Mormon funerals very interesting as I try to remain respectful. As sad as the separation at death is sometimes under terribly tragic circumstances, my faith is pretty strong in the afterlife and resurrection. I believe there should and can be a proper balance between teaching the plan of salvation and honoring the deceased with respect and even a little humor. And my sister, as mother, did actually speak at the service for her 23-year-old son’s untimely death. As she said, truthfully, “I have always been my son’s greatest advocate.” And she was on that occasion as well, even if very tearfully.

    My most unusual funeral was when I co-officiated at a Mormon/Catholic service in a small Catholic chapel. The elderly deceased was a nominal Catholic and through his LDS daughter (who was a very unique personality herself) had as much contact with the LDS Church as any other. And that’s the way she wanted it. I worked it out with the Priest trying to respect the fact that we were in his chapel. I made one mistake when I went up to speak and stood at the altar instead of the homily stand. I apologized later to the good natured Priest who had no problem with it. The best part, was when he saw the Suburban I was driving those days with all my six kids still at home, he said that if I were a Catholic Bishop they would give me a Cadillac to drive instead. I said that if I were a Catholic Bishop I wouldn’t need such a big vehicle anyway. He thought that was pretty funny. Guess ya had to be there.

  30. comet on April 25, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Some years back I attended the funeral and memorial service for my Japanese wife’s grandmother. Both were Buddhist but it was the memorial service (cremation) that impacted me most. The cremation room, the clothing worn by my wife’s grandmother and the person conducting the memorial service, and everything else in the room (except our clothing) was white. After grandma’s body had been cremated we (immediate family members) stood around the cremated remains while the conductor guided us through the traditional ritual of transferring the deceased’s bones to an urn using chopsticks.

    (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/af/Kotsuage.JPG).

    While the overall feeling was very solemn the conductor-guide took the opportunity to touch on some of the finer symbolic points and even managed to inject a little lighthearted humor at certain points. For me at least the the sight and handling of the cremated remains depicted the transformation that is death in a symbolically charged way that not even the grave-side services of some of my extended Mormon family members captured (as powerful as they were). The Buddhist funeral itself was less impressive.

    I have fond memories of Mormon funerals from my youth because they were comparatively upbeat, and there was always laughter and a lot of food afterward. I think this stems from the super-eternal perspective doctrines/rituals that veer away from loss in favor of the reassurances of the future.

  31. Mark Brown on April 25, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I think the advice from Br. Packer which Michael has in mind is this passage from The Unwritten Order of Things:

    “Funerals could and should be the most spiritually impressive. They are becoming informal family reunions in front of ward members. Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.

    When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the comforting promises revealed in the scriptures. Now it’s all right to have a family member speak at a funeral, but if they do, their remarks should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.

    I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them. The gospel is to be preached. I know of no meeting where the congregation is in a better state of readiness to receive revelation and inspiration from a speaker than they are at a funeral. This privilege is being taken away from us because we don’t understand the order of things—the unwritten order of things—that relates to the administration of the Church and the reception of the Spirit.”

    That is open to interpretation, but my stake president interpreted it to mean that nobody should speak about the deceased.

  32. gst on April 25, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    “Another BTW — the handbook allows for sensitivity to local custom in planning of funerals.”

    Which is why I still hold out hope that my bishop will allow the immolation of my concubines on my funeral pyre.

  33. Ardis E. Parshall on April 25, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Then your stake president is up in the night, Mark. Nothing in the paragraphs you quoted says that “nobody should speak about the deceased.” The line “if any of them who speak talk about me, i will raise up and correct him” comes closest, of course, but he is talking only about his own funeral and his personal wishes — he is not imposing them on anybody else. One such line in all that is been written and spoken in the church about funerals — and that’s what your stake president, and probably Michael, and perhaps you, interpret as the epitome of Mormon funeral policy??

  34. Mark Brown on April 25, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Oh, I certainly don’t interpret it that way. But it is understandable to me how people who try to “obey every word of command with exactness” could think that. It surprised me, because that SP was usually very reasonable and had good judgement. But for some reason, he took that one line and ran with it.

  35. Mark Brown on April 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Probably the biggest official change in policy I have seen regarding funerals is that cremation used to be strongly discouraged. The handbook now takes a neutral position.

  36. gst on April 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    “Probably the biggest official change in policy I have seen regarding funerals is that cremation used to be strongly discouraged. The handbook now takes a neutral position.”

    Excellent–we’re now one step closer to achieving the service I outline in #32.

  37. Researcher on April 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I attended a Mormon funeral about three years ago that included an “open mic” at the end of the service to share thoughts about the deceased sister. It was beautiful and perfectly appropriate and did not detract from the service. I can imagine that in other circumstances it might be problematic.

  38. gst on April 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Researcher, I attended a service like that too. It was okay, but I think if the policy is going to be “no beat-boxing,” the presiding authority should make that clear up front.

  39. Mark Brown on April 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    gst, your # 32 is what reminded me of that change.

  40. Steve on April 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    What about music?

    Should it be limited to the hymn book?

    What about songs that the deceased prefer — popular or otherwise?

    And, should any instruments be allowed — or banned?

    When my aunt died, a niece did an incredible version of “Oh, My Father” that included a guitar as the accompaniment. It involved a plucking technique. Sounded like a harpsichord. Incredible. But, some questioned whether a guitar should be allowed in the chapel.

  41. Jax on April 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    I think music should be kept in line with things appropriate for a chapel if held in a church building. If not, then play what pleases. But under the guidelines that funerals be considered church meetings if held in church buildings then music should apply. That doesn’t mean limit to the hymn book though, because the church counsel on that is to use anything appropriate.

    Official Church guidelines on music for meetings:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
    Office of the First Presidency
    47 East South Temple Street, SLC Utah 84150-1000

    November 7, 2002

    To: General Authorities; Area Authority Seventies; Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops and Branch Presidents

    Dear Brethren:

    Music for Church Meetings

    Inspirational music is an essential part of worship. When prayerfully selected, music can invite the Spirit of the Lord, increase devotion to the gospel, and lead to greater spirituality.

    We remind stake presidencies and bishoprics that they may consider both the hymns and other appropriate music when planning meetings. The hymns of the Church are the basic music for worship services and are standard for congregational singing. However, in addition to the hymns, other appropriate selections may be used for prelude and postlude music, choir music, and special musical selections.

    May you be blessed in using inspirational music to enhance worship and strengthen members of the Church.

    Sincerely your brethren,

    [signed]
    Gordon B. Hinckley
    Thomas S. Monson
    James E. Faust

  42. Juju on April 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Two months ago we attended a funeral in Spanish Fork for a young man who died in his prime. The funeral was attended by some non LDS co workers. The chapel and cultural hall were completely full. Now I am not exaggerating when I tell you that a friend of the deceased spoke for ONE HOUR and FIFTEEN MINUTES about the good times their group had snowmobiling and hunting. Periodically he would break down and sob for about two minutes and then he would continue on.

    A funeral I attended of a business acquaintance In Virginia was what denomination I don’t know, but there were two men up front swinging smoking cages on a cord back and forth. The deceased was a very strong willed man. During the funeral the power went out. I thought it was a disaster, but the funeral turned into a running joke about how old Ed had his hand in it and wasn’t it all so Eddish that the power went out. I was so disappointed at the lack of dignity.

  43. Grant on April 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    I’ve told my kids, whatever you do, do NOT sing “I Believe in Christ” at my funeral. The song is a cheat, actually EIGHT verses as the melody repeats itself each loooooooong verse. And the words are too big. Everything that song says can be said in the quarter page hymn that follows. “My Redeemer Lives” #135 by Gordon B. Hinckley and G. Homer Durham. That other hymn causes more funerals than it should be sung at. Sorry. Just had to get that off my chest.

    And ANY long talk about the deceased or about the gospel is highly inappropriate and offensive to the Spirit (at least mine). Long prayers are too. No funeral should last more than an hour. (Passion wins over moderation tonight).

  44. Frank on April 25, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Would I go to Hell if I decided to not have my funeral in the chaple so I could have a slightly modified vrsion of B.B. Kings “I’m Moving On” played?

  45. Kramer on April 26, 2011 at 5:08 am

    I went to the funeral of a friend and former employee. The Baptist preacher told her that her husband had gone to hell because he hadn’t accepted Christ. After the meeting, she asked me if I thought that her husband had gone to hell. I told her that when Christ’s body lay in the tomb, He instituted a teching program in the spirit world so that all would have a chance to accept His gospel. I told her that her husband would hear the gospel and have a chance to accept it.

  46. Murray on April 26, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Re music at LDS funerals. One old Maori High Priest died in our ward, and as the casket was walked out of the Chapel, Listen to the Music by the Doobie Brothers was played. Apparently he was a big fan of the Doobies! It was somewhat of a surprize for me and other HPs who formed the guard of honour.
    But one of the very nice aspects of that episode was being able to take part in dressing the deceased brother. A very special moment. Being a Maori, there was also a period of time where the body was kept at the family home and relatives and close friends paid their respects. It was very touching to see grandchildren sitting around and holding the hand of the deceased and expressing love for/to him.

  47. Dovie on April 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

    My Grandfather played a jazz saxophone number at my great

  48. Dovie on April 26, 2011 at 7:56 am

    The comment got truncated.

    mother’s funeral. My dad was an accomplished guitarist and so my daughter accompanied the grandchildren singing “I am a Child of God”. I a friend told us of a funeral he presided over while serving in a bishopric, a family member got up to speak said deceased really enjoyed the following song walked over to the organ and played a rendition of some classic rock. I’ll have to email him and ask the specific song. He was a new counselor in the bishopric and had now idea what to do so he just sat bewildered and bemused while the impromto rocking solo was played.

    I enjoy funerals if I can use that word. Perhaps, I find great comfort and solace and sometimes deep spiritual connection there, is a more apt discription. I have not attended any non LDS funerals but I imagine it would be much the same.

  49. NJensen on April 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

    At my grandmother’s LDS funeral, my great-uncles got up with guitars in hand and sang an old gospel hymn, Precious Lord Take My Hand. There was also a giant portion of the service that was devoted to her and her life. With the bishop having the closing remarks, I can’t see how any of it was inappropriate.

  50. Adam Greenwood on April 26, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Which is why I still hold out hope that my bishop will allow the immolation of my concubines on my funeral pyre.

    Liberal. Only my *favorite* concubine will have the privilege of being burned with me. Gotta have standards.

  51. Adam Greenwood on April 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I’ve told my kids, whatever you do, do NOT sing “I Believe in Christ” at my funeral

    Fixed. God bless the man, but not his hymn.

  52. U2 40 on April 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    While serving as Bishop I counseled with the family of the deceased that the service should not exceed one hour in consideration of those attending the service. If they expressed concern, I’d explain that if the prophet’s funeral can be an hour then surely the one can be.

    It was wonderful how almost always a family member of the deceased would rise to the occasion to work with me to coordinate the service. I was always greatful for this family member.

    If the program that the family proposed was to long (or if the family wanted to have an “open mic” session as part of the service)…I’d suggest that at the luncheon following the burial, that a microphone be set up for those at the lunch who’d like to share memories with the family during lunch. Always worked out well.

  53. Ardis E. Parshall on April 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I won’t have a funeral. I want my grave to be dedicated, and if anybody wants to do anything else at the graveside, okay. But no funeral — nothing that would look like I threw a party and nobody came.

  54. gst on April 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Come on, Ardis–you’d be throwing a party that people would be dying to get in to!

  55. KLC on April 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t understand what dignity and solemnity have to do with a funeral. A funeral is no more a meeting than a birthday party is a meeting.

  56. Adam Greenwood on April 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    A funeral is no more a birthday party than a birthday party is a meeting.

  57. Hans in California on April 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    As an organist I have played at many funerals, both LDS and non-LDS. I generally preferred funerals to weddings because the guest of honor couldn’t complain about my musical selections.

    I have made plans for a Viking funeral. I have a costume complete with sword, horned helmet, and shield. My body, wrapped in the Norwegian flag, is to be set adrift on the Pacific at sunset in a small boat, loaded with straw and soaked in gasoline. A giant stereo system positioned on the cliffs will play “Siegried’s Funeral Music” from Richard Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” (The Twilight of the Gods). Archers shooting fire-arrows will set the boat on fire.

  58. Mark Brown on April 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    For music at my funeral, my family already knows that I want J.S. Bach’s Komm, süsser Tod. After I am in the ground, I want a Dixieland Band to play When the Saints Go Marching In, Louis Armstrong-style.

  59. Dovie on April 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Ardis,

    I only know you over the interwebs but from what I know of you there, you would be sorely missed.

    Dovie

  60. Ardis E. Parshall on April 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    But would you come to my funeral, Dovie? I think not. (Thanks, though.)

  61. Matt W. on April 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    At my wife’s Uncle’s Funeral (A Mormon One), the choir reverently sang “Take me out to the ball game”.

    The greatest funeral I have ever been to was for my former Bishop’s wife. All the children spoke of her, and memories and the spirit was as strong as I’ve ever felt it.

    The hardest funeral I’ve ever been to was a Catholic one. I was in 4th grade at Catholic School, and whenever the church had a funeral, we went to it to sing. A Woman began to scream in mourning and attached herself to the Coffin, having to be pried lose by others. It was very difficult for me. I’ve often wondered why they made us go to funerals.

    The saddest funeral I’ve ever been to was for a infant girl who died of the flu in the Philippines. Her tiny little card board coffin, wrapped in pink paper, and carried by her nonmember father will always haunt me.

    I think funeral’s are one place which really show the miracle of lay clergy at their best.

  62. Matt W. on April 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Ardis- If you email me and let me know when you die, I’ll drop whatever I am doing and come to your funeral.

  63. Dovie on April 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Ardis,

    I just friended you on FB so now I expect to be included in the invite list for your graveside service, that is if you will be my FB friend. I understand if not. I have a friend that has FB rules, only park rangers (she is one) and girls in her Cadette Girl Scout troop, for ease of communication.

    Speaking of graveside service the November after my dad died we went and sang “Amazing Grace” at his graveside, shortly after his monument was installed. I guess it was forbidden in the chapel, or maybe is use to be, anyway I didn’t want to press the issue. My dad wasn’t as much a part of my life as I would have liked him to be, he left my mom when I was four and there were other complications. In the year or so leading up to his eventual passing, that is one thing that he requested, that hymn sung at his funeral. He was not very religious at that point but he had seen the movie with the same title and was very moved by it. I felt bad, I couldn’t fulfill that request.

    Like I said in my original post I really like (for lack of a better word) funerals and I really like cemeteries. Everyday in Jr. High I walked home through the one in American Fork. My grandparents, when they were in better health, would play at a festival every August in that cemetery. I didn’t know about this until conversations with my grandmother after my father’s passing. Old time fiddle and guitar music, concessions, and people in a graveyard, having a party. Deluxe.

  64. Kent Larsen on April 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Matt W (61) wrote:

    At my wife’s Uncle’s Funeral (A Mormon One), the choir reverently sang “Take me out to the ball game”.

    Did they sing the whole song? Complete with Katie Casey & her beau?

  65. Suleiman on April 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Matt W.,

    I’d want a copy of that e-mail.

    All I want is a quick graveside service and a piper to play “Amazing Grace.” I’ve been to too many sacrament meetings to ever want a talk given over my cold, dead body. I hope to leave a bit of money for the kids to have a party afterwards. I plan on outliving an friends.

  66. Jax on April 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Frank asked,

    “Would I go to Hell if I decided to not have my funeral in the chaple so I could have a slightly modified vrsion of B.B. Kings “I’m Moving On” played?”

    Obviously meant to be comical, but a decent question nonetheless. Is it in anyway wrong/immoral/disobedient to NOT have the typical Mormon funeral with the atonement talks and such? Can we condone a strictly secular funeral (rock music, no mention of the afterlife, etc) from an otherwise religious person?

  67. Paul on April 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    66: My view? No. Funerals are (in my view) for those left behind — to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. If you have the funeral outside the LDS chapel, you can do whatever you like and whatever brings you comfort. If you do the funeral in the LDS chapel, then you’re contrained by their customs and directions (just as one would be in anyone else’s house of worship).

  68. Matt W. on April 27, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Kent- I think it was just the part typically sung at ball games.

  69. Kent Larsen on April 27, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Matt W. – Too bad, that’s just the chorus.

  70. Camrow on April 27, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I’m with Raymond. I don’t know if I would want to plan >everything< in advance (after all, its hard to arrange for cheesy potatoes from the other side of the veil), but I think it would be fine to have someone read my final testimony to the three people in attendance. After all, Moroni got to give us his.

  71. Joseph G. Dion on April 27, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Most people only think in the “here and now” and as a Latter-Day-Saint I know of the “here and thereafter” Prophet Joseph Smith spoke about this which is called “King Follett Discourse”

  72. CS Eric on April 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    This post is timely for me–I am planning the funeral for my wife, who died yesterday. I know she would want something fun and uplifting, but everybody I’ve considered would probably spend most of the time blubbering. I am estimating that, depending on the amount of blubbering, it could last anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours.

  73. Mathew on April 28, 2011 at 1:18 am

    CS Eric,

    I don’t know you or your wife, but you have my deepest sympathies. If you need anything a stranger can provide feel free to email me at mathew.parke(theatsign)gmail.com

  74. Mark Brown on April 28, 2011 at 7:03 am

    CS Eric, I am sorry to hear this news. May our Heavenly Father bless you during the coming weeks.

  75. CS Eric on April 28, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Matthew, Mark (I am seeing a pattern here),

    Thank you for your kind words. I have found in the last few days that my ward, my neighbors, my workmates, my extended family, and my friends are all the kindest, most thoughtful, most generous, and most loving people in the world. I have been overwhelmed by the love and support I have felt. I sincerely hope that this is not unique to Mormon funerals, but that all who experience a loss receive the same level of support in their lives.

    As I approach the next few days, weeks, months, and years, I find one piece of LDS doctine comforting to me that is nearly unique to our faith: none of our children survived more than a few hours, and I believe that she is now sharing the love that defined her to me with those children she never really had the chance to love in this life. What was her greatest sorrow is now her greatest joy. Not only is her pain and suffering gone, but I can truly see it swallowed up in her joy.

  76. CS Eric on April 28, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I don’t want to turn this into a CS Eric funeral thread, but would it be wrong to have balloons? We had balloons at our wedding, and part of me wants to close that circle. Would balloons be too much?

  77. Mark Brown on April 28, 2011 at 7:42 am

    No, not too much, it is a wonderful idea. Make the balloons a bouquet to her from you.

  78. Researcher on April 28, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Sorry to hear the news, CS Eric. Best wishes as you make all the necessary arrangements.

    Several months ago my young niece died in a tragic accident. I was asked to speak at the funeral, along with one of my sisters and my mother. Although I was initially hesitant, it was an honor to be asked to speak, and it was a blessing to see how quickly and smoothly the talk went together — I could feel that there were many people praying for the family.

    My sister and mother and I were all quite concerned about, as you say, blubbering through the entire service since we had all been crying since hearing about the accident. We practiced several methods of dealing with tears and some relatives shared some techniques. Instead of trying to talk through tears, stop and take a deep breath. Swallow in such a way that you draw the tears down into your throat. (That one doesn’t work when you’re crying hard.) Clench your fists tightly. Take a drink of water. And then one of my aunts mentioned that it shouldn’t be an issue. When you get up to speak at a funeral, you don’t particularly feel like crying. I found it was true for all three of us.

    (I don’t know whether that would be true for everyone, and let me stress that these are just techniques for when you have to be socially appropriate while speaking, not ways to stop mourning or crying alone or together with other people. I would never suggest that someone not cry.)

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your wife’s death. Besides the basic doctrines of the atonement and resurrection, one of the things that has been comforting to our extended family is another Mormon belief, perhaps a folk belief, that the deceased will be met on the other side by a previously deceased family member or family members. In the case of my niece, we were all pretty sure who that would be and it was a blessing and a comfort, as were all the kindnesses of friends and neighbors and ward members and even strangers.

  79. Adam Greenwood on April 29, 2011 at 9:27 am

    God grant eternal rest in the company of her loved ones.

  80. David on May 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    In the Catholic tradition the visitation is the time to tell stories. The visitation ends with a vigil service, which again stresses the deceased. The Mass then talks of the deceased, stresses the savior and his promise, and celebration of his sacrament. The burial is the closure at the tomb.

    An effective Bishop with a cooperative family can have a service that includes short euologys. But stress the savior and the promise.

    Please be timely!!!!! The cemetery and vault company workers are on a schedule. They struggle standing around for an hour because a funeral goes grossly overtime. Many take time off work to go to funerals. They may not have taken time off for a one and 1/2 hour funeral. Please organize to start the funeral on time! The hearse company, and funeral director also have schedules.