The Body

Your body didn’t look like you, Dad, not anymore. It seemed like some wax figure of you, some rough approximation, but thinner, older, without the spark that made you what you are. You didn’t look anything like your driver’s license photo from years ago. Mom had called the home teachers, and we went together to the funeral home with your temple bundle. There, in a small back room, we men offered a word of prayer and began the work of dressing you for the last time.

In life you were so tall, not at basketball-player level, but to me as a child you were an impossible height, and with a power that I could not match. But now you were so small, those arms and legs so diminished that I wondered who had done this to you. Your muscles were now gone, replaced with odd bulges and wrinkled flesh that I could not recognize. Your arms seemed like those of a marionette, inflexible as though fashioned with sticks. You once arm wrestled me when I was a child, beating me easily. Today I manipulated your arms without effort, but I kept finding myself looking at your face for some reaction, some grimace or sign as we moved you. Your skin was mottled, some blue, some red. You had bruises on your forearms bearing the mark of IVs and our health care efforts — at first, to keep you with us just a little longer, and then, ultimately, to give you some comfort as we gathered around you to say goodbye.

Your nails and earlobes (why earlobes?) were darkened and black. Your limbs were cold — so cold, like meat instead of a man — and your body was an ungainly object to move around instead of the spry man we knew. I knew that your nails would continue to grow, but this much? I am sorry that I didn’t trim your nails for you. I remember when you would trim them in Sacrament Meeting, to our mortification. But now that you are gone, I would gladly face that embarrassment once again to sit next to you in the pew.

We placed your garments on you. They were your shield, your protection throughout your life, but now death has claimed you. You wore them to prepare you and protect you in the world, and I pray that they will protect you and shield you in the afterlife. The Egyptians would place amulets of gold and carnelian on the body to ward off evil from different parts of the body, and I remembered this as I saw the markings on the garment. I was praying silently over these parts of you and remembering your initiatory when one of the home teachers asked me, “does he tuck them in?” I shake my head but now, looking back, I’m sure you actually did tuck them in. One fashion choice missed in the afterlife.

Next came your socks, your pants, your dress shirt. We worked tenderly, but there is some force required to pull past stiffened and heavy limbs. One of your socks I left slightly turned off-axis, and I apologized — “Sorry for leaving you with bunched-up socks during the eternities, Dad.” The men chuckled softly and we kept working. As I put on your tie I wondered what knot you’d like. You had many ties in your closet, even several white ones. Mom chose a white paisley pattern for you today, your favorite. I ended up giving you a simple four-in-hand knot but I’ve done it wrong, the underside of the tie is too long. I tucked that too-long portion into your shirt, feeling the coldness of your chest as I do.

Finally, we clothed you in the robes of the priesthood. The bossier of the sweet men with me reminded me of the proper placement, the correct shoulder. I knew it already, bossy man, but I am grateful for the spirit of attention and care to these last rites. We don’t place coins on your eyes or turn your body towards the sunrise, but we have our ways, our rituals to give you a proper goodbye. When we are done, you look as regal as any Pharaoh, but I know that you are not there any more. Your spirit has a headstart on this next journey.

The clothing done, the home teachers thanked me for letting them help. I shook their hands, thanked them back, and asked for some time alone with you. Then I placed my hands upon you, blessed your body and sealed you away until that time when the trump shall sound, and you shall be raised incorruptible. God bless you and keep you, Dad.

Comments

  1. Oh, Steve. Blessings on you.

  2. Thanks.

  3. I’m so sorry, Steve. In my handful of interactions with him, I could clearly tell your dad was a wonderful man.

  4. BCC has made me cry twice today. Thank you Steve for this. My heart is turned toward you and your family.

  5. My father-in-law is currently in the twilight of his life. Right now it might be months, but maybe weeks. This made me cry, but brought me comfort in a resigned yet hopeful way. Thank you for sharing this in the your time of loss.

  6. This was a beautiful tribute. Oddly enough this is one of my favorite parts of Mormonism. As a society we are thoroughly disconnected from death. Dressing the body for the eternities and rendering that last act of service to our beloved departed is incalculable in my mind and my sense of ritual worship.

  7. Mary L. Bradford says:

    A lovely tribute–I wrote an essay about dressing my mom’s body called “The Veil.”

  8. Beautiful words about a hard thing. My heart is with you, Steve.

  9. The shared experience that binds us despite so many personal differences. Best wishes, Steve.

  10. Simply beautiful.

  11. Sitting with you, my friend, with love.

  12. I’m going to figure that BCC is beyond the veil so your dad reads this. Lovely and prayers for you and yours.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you for these thoughts, Steve. I’m so very sorry.

    I hope you find some measure of comfort in the coming days and months.

  14. I’m very grateful that my sister and I were able to dress my mom for her burial. The day after last Christmas, we watched my brothers do the same for my dad. Even the brother who isn’t endowed helped. It was a very tender moment, possibly the last time all my siblings will be together in a room. I hope you are finding comfort and joy in remembering your dad with your family members around you.

  15. Christopher J. says:

    Oh, Steve, I’m so sorry for your loss and so appreciate of what you’ve written here. Thank you.

  16. Steve, I’m sorry for your loss. This is beautiful, and too close to home to say any more.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautiful; thank you for sharing the experience with us.

  18. Beautiful. So very sorry for your loss.

  19. That reached into the deeper places of my soul. Thank you for sharing.

  20. May God be with you in your grief. I still vividly remember dressing my favorite grandfather.

  21. Beautifully written, Steve. So sorry for your loss.

    I was about 12 when my dad’s dad died. It was the first time I had seen my dad cry out of sadness. That has always stayed with me.

  22. J. Stapley says:

    Powerful and poignant, Steve. God bless you, frere.

  23. So sorry Steve. I had no idea.

  24. A beautiful tribute, Steve. God bless you and your family.

  25. Alf O'Mega says:

    Thanks for sharing a portion of your mourning with us. I hope it leavens the grief to see it ripple through distant hearts. Best wishes.

  26. Thank you for sharing this moving and very sweet tribute to your father. My condolences to you and your family.

  27. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Steve. Thank you for this reminder.

  28. Steve, brother.

  29. One method of expressing true love is to transform experience into something that nourishes others. May God bless you for your (very successful) efforts in love, Steve.

  30. And the final blessing. Oh my heart.

    May God bless you and keep you.

  31. Beauty in those ashes, Steve.

  32. I have seen the effects of life and cancer on my dad’s body and your piece hit a place that brought tears. God bless you and your family as you mourn. God bless all who are saying Auf Wiedersehen.

  33. This is beautiful, Steve. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  34. Antonio Parr says:

    I am sorry, Steve, for your loss. I am also grateful to have read your very moving meditation on the passing of your father.

    The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

  35. Death will come for all our fathers someday, I guess; this is as good a preparation for that sorrowful moment as any I can imagine. Thank you, Steve. God be with your family at this time, and always.

  36. Olde Skool says:

    So very sorry for your loss, for your family’s loss. Thank you for these moving words.

  37. Wonderful and sad in equal measures. Sorry brother.

  38. So sorry. What a beautiful thing to be able to bring such sincere, beautiful words as a final offering. But so sorry, blessings to you and your family.

  39. Thank you for sharing this, Steve. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  40. The Other Clark says:

    My mother died of cancer in March. This beautiful and moving tribute needs a trigger warning.
    May the Lord be with you in this time of loss.

  41. Thank you all for mourning with me. My mother was quick to point out that the men accompanying me were not, in fact, her home teachers, but simply two good men from the ward. That fact makes the experience more meaningful to me as a testament of how much good there is all around us.

  42. Thank you, Steve. It brought back the memories of my brother, I and my nephews dressing Dad. Just as friends and family greet us on the other side of the veil in the temple, so will your Dad and my Dad great us with open arms when we finally pass to the other side.

  43. D Christian Harrison says:

    Tender. Perfect. God speed your father.

  44. wreddyornot says:

    The good and the bad, sorrows and joy. My best to you and your family.

  45. Sending love your way. Thanks for sharing this.

  46. nothing assumed about your food allergy says:

    Wow. Thank you for giving in your time of need.

  47. So well said Steve. My heart goes out to you.

  48. Yet Another John says:

    You’ve written many good posts, Steve. This is the best, and the most personal. Thank you for sharing.

  49. Thanks.

  50. Amen and may our HF comfort you and yours.

  51. I am so sorry for your loss. A dear friend lost her father yesterday, so my mind has been on the ways we show love and respect for our fathers as we say this final earthly good bye. Thank you for sharing these tender moments, and may you find peace at this time.

  52. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    Steve, I’m sorry for your loss. Your dad was fortunate to have you.

  53. This is very sweet. Thanks for sharing it here, Steve. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  54. Beautifully and tenderly expressed. Still wiping a few tears from my cheeks. Took me back almost exactly four years ago (10/8) when my father passed away. I had the privilege, as a daughter, to help clothe him in his temple robes at the funeral home. I didn’t think to pray or bless him, but now I wish I had. I will certainly do this for my mother who is still with us when her time comes. Thanks for sharing!

  55. Thank you for sharing that experience. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  56. Lovely stuff, Steve. Thanks. I had kind of convinced myself that I would prefer cremation–mostly to save my kids the trouble, expense, and awkwardness of doing what you describe. Now I’m not so sure that is the right decision.

  57. Jon, we cremated my dad.

  58. John Harrison says:

    Steve,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. This is lovely.

  59. Thank you for this beautiful remembrance. Few of us have anything to do with the dead. Your final service to your father is so loving I feel honored that you shared it.

  60. Steve- kind condolences and lots of love to you and your family at this time, and during the many years ahead of you.
    I am sorry for your loss.