A few lessons learned from today’s funeral

I wanted to write this up while it was still fresh on my mind, because I learned some powerful lessons today.

Today was my uncle Richard’s funeral. He fought a good fight, but this past week, Heavenly Father called him home.

Few things serve as poignant of a lesson as funerals.  I’ve found most funerals to be quite inspirational. I even have this belief that God makes lets people attend their own funeral, in spirit, so they get to see what an impact they have had on the lives of others.

The program today was awesome. It consisted of my uncle Don giving a life summary, then all 9 of Richard’s children giving tribute to their father. Now normally, I’d think, “Wow… 9 people? That would make for a really long meeting!”  especially after driving for an hour and a half to get their. And believe me, I HATE long meetings. But this was outstanding.

Each child spoke for 5-10 minutes, sharing stories, lessons, and attributes about their father. They each did a magnificent job, articulately mixing the right dosage of humor, lessons learned, and favorite memories. They were openly emotional, and their love and admiration each of them felt for their dad was so strong, it was in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” By that I mean, their love for him was so evident, their admiration so complete, it was almost louder than the words they spoke.

I enjoyed every minute of every story. I kept thinking, “This truly is a celebration of a life well lived.”

So in a way his life inspired me to “up my game” so to speak, with my own family, relationships, and different responsibilities.

Not to be morbid, but I couldn’t help thinking forward to my own funeral. I kept asking myself: “what do I hope people say about me? Am I doing what I need to do in order to have those around me celebrate my life? Am I kind to others? Am I spiritual? Am I preparing myself, growing, increasing in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” like the Savior did?”

I think maybe I am in some areas… but in others, I definitely coast. In fact, it was kind of a smack in the face that a good life and good relationships are built over a long time…and I need to make the most of this finite time we are given.

The other point I wanted to remember from today has a little background story: Because my wife and I own a dessert business, in lieu of flowers, we sent desserts to Richard’s family a few times over the past few weeks. We hoped to at the very least brighten just a  few minutes of their day, in what must have been a hard, and exhausting time.

Well, at the luncheon today, about 10 people individually approached us and thanked us enthusiastically for the desserts.  I was so astounded at how gracious they were, I was speechless–I think I blurted out something like, “Oh, no you are welcome– it was the least we could do” or something less coherent–just because I was caught off guard. Not that I expected otherwise, but you don’t picture a funeral being the time where the surviving family seeks out people to thank  individually. I know for a FACT we weren’t the only ones to give food, and I also would wager good money we weren’t the only one they individually thanked. One of my cousins even gave us a hand-written thank you card.

I couldn’t help thinking, “You just went through one of the most devastating experiences of your life, and you still remembered to thank us for giving you treats?!”   I was so impressed with their graciousness, I made several mental notes–to make more of an effort to remember and express gratitude for things people do for me, ESPECIALLY when I go through hard times.  I noticed when they were thanking us, they had beaming smiles on their faces–which only reminded me that gratitude in general helps everyone feel better.

Uncle Richard lived a really good life. He left behind a loving wife, 9 kids, a whole ton of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and a legacy of kindness and respect. I have no doubt he will be happily welcomed into the Savior’s arms, who will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Farewell Uncle Richard. I’ll be good, and I thank you for your testimony.

The Dentist

For me, trying to stay away from sugar, candy, desserts, has always been a battle…  so it wasn’t too often that I would leave  dentist without battle scars. We went to the dentist once a year, and for the most part, I didn’t think too much about the battle with sweets–until it was the dreaded day of the appointment. Then I’d be dying with curiosity, wondering if I’d won or lost. Cavities = I lost. No cavities = victory for me. If it were a batting average, my no-cavity average would be about a .097.

But MY dentist made it so that getting teeth worked on wasn’t so bad. Not because of the laughing gas (though, let’s face it, who doesn’t like the laughing gas?), but because of his nature.

My parents would load up the van with anywhere from 4 to 6 of their kids, make the hour long trip up to Layton, and we’d flood the small waiting room, looking for Highlights magazines and any kind of game or toy to pass the time.

In the waiting room, I always felt an even mix of dread, nerves, and excitement.

Dread, well, from being conditioned at an early age to fear The Drill.

Nervous, because besides the fact I was about to go under the pick and drill, my parents would pay us 5 bucks if we didn’t have any cavities…so for a kid under the age of 10, I felt like I might win the lottery. Could this be the time that sugar didn’t get the best of me?

And excitement, because I was about to see my uncle Richard, who was my dentist–and one of the kindest people I know.

After getting patched up, I’d chew my numb cheek and tongue in the waiting room, and wait for my siblings and parents to get finished. I’d almost feel disappointed–like my time in the spotlight was over. The attention, the equipment, the care, the focus–Uncle Richard was so good at taking what could be a bad experience for a kid with a sweet tooth, and turning it into something not only bearable, but enjoyable. He could actually make you feel like a little bit of a rock star in that moment. He was gifted in this regard, and I’ve never had a dentist since with that ability.

I rarely won the no-cavities lotto, but it was never a disappointing visit. We’d load back up in the van and head home, a little less excited, a little less energy. The excitement was over, back to ordinary life, but it always had been a pleasant visit.

We don’t see each other as often as I’d like, but every time I do, I’m filled with excitement just to be talking with uncle Richard. As gifted a dentist as he is, he is just as gifted inter-personally, making me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. This has happened countless times at weddings, baby blessings, baptisms, funerals–whenever I run into uncle Richard, we pick up right where we left off.

Well, I’m praying we can have another conversation like that soon. Because right now, Uncle Richard is fighting a much harder, and much more significant battle of his own, while his body tries to recover as he lays in a hospital bed, hooked to machines keeping him alive.

Unlike the slow formation of pesky cavities caused by neglect or carelessness, this came on quite suddenly. He has always done the physical equivalent of “flossing daily”, by exercising and eating healthy, but for some reason, his healthy strong body had a negative reaction to some medical treatment. Without getting into too much detail, it set off a chain reaction that led to sedated life support. Without much warning, he went from playing with his grandchildren one day, to the shutdown of vital organs the next. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for his wife of over 50 years, and all of his children, grandchildren.

His doctors initially didn’t give him much hope. Said he might live a day, maybe a week. Well, it’s been over a week, and he is battling. He’s battling because he is a warrior. Not the fighter, confrontational type of warrior–he’s one of those optimistic, always cheerful kind of warriors. And in a world filled with doom and gloom, dispair and disappointment–to be that positive, that cheerful, you HAVE to be a warrior. And that’s what he is. I’ve never seen him unhappy, even though I’m sure he has been. He’s just one of those people who chooses to be happy, and is.

And with that warrior spirit, his body is making progress.

I talked to my parents today and got an update. They were just returning from the 5 hour drive to the hospital where uncle Richard is staying. He is responding to people’s voices, to his wife’s voice, his daughter’s. He is squeezing back, and showing signs of listening, of being able to understand what is going on. Doctors are much more hopeful now.

My thoughts about this have been all over the place. At first, the harsh reminder of our own mortality, and the fragility of life. It was shocking to hear the news that all of the sudden he was on life support, and was a rude awakening. I also couldn’t help but think about how awful it would be for me to go through what my cousins are going through–with my parents also healthy, and about the same age.

But as he has continued to improve, my thoughts have gravitated towards the power of hope, prayer, and positive thinking. Because of the man he is, I can attest that the progress he’s made in this battle is a direct reflection of who he is.

My prayers are that he will continue to improve… that I’ll be able to see him soon and have another one of those moments where I feel like I’m the most important person in the world to my dear uncle Richard. The best dentist I’ve ever had, one of my favorite uncles, and a truly great man.

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