Delivered by Michael at the Funeral Service for James Anderson Green at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Montgomery Ward, Cincinnati Ohio East Stake, Tuesday 8 July 2008
One day when I was coming home from kindergarten, when whichever mother it was who was driving that day pulled into the cul-de-sac where I lived, there was no place to park because there were all of these cars everywhere. A man I did not recognize stuck his head in the window of the back seat where I was sitting and asked me if I were okay. I found it quite a strange question. Why wouldn’t I be okay?
He or someone else opened the car door and walked with me into the house. I immediately sensed something unusual was going on because there were all of these strange people standing around and they started looking at me. Because I didn’t know any of them, I started looking for someone I could recognize—preferably my family. I found them all in the back den, with my mother sitting on the couch crying. My oldest sister, who had been standing behind the couch, came around to the front when she saw me. She knelt down and asked me a question that I have never forgotten: “Do you know where Daddy is?” At the young age of five, I had my first spiritual experience. I knew where my father was. I knew that he was gone and that I would not see him again on earth. No one had to tell me where he was—and no one ever did because the spirit already had. I knew that he was alive, that he was with God, and that someday I would be able to see him again.
I have doubted many things in my life, but I have never wavered in my conviction of this truth. Today, I bear witness that I will see my father again. I bear the same witness that I will also see Jim again. I bear witness that they live in a non-mortal realm. In the days leading up to Jim’s passing, he and I spent some precious moments together. We often talked about the next life. He, too, had the same testimony of its veracity that I have. He was not afraid of it. Though he wanted to stay here and be with his family that he loved so dearly, he knew that something real and something more awaited him.
Since that momentous kindergarten day, I have learned how tragic my father’s death was. He was a top notch naval pilot and never made mistakes. But on that cloudy January day, he and his crew took off and within a couple of minutes flew the plane right back into the ground. All four died immediately when the plane exploded on impact. The only possible explanation for the crash was a faulty instrument—but even that doesn’t mitigate the tragedy. Without reason and warning, my mother was left alone at age thirty-six with four young children. She did the only thing she could do, which was move us from Florida back to her home town of Blackfoot, Idaho.
A few years after the move to Idaho, the branch manager of a small bank in the little town of Grandview on the other side of the state, buried his wife who had just died of cancer. His tragedy was not only that he also was left with four young children, but that he did not have parents and family to move back to. The small community rallied around him until he was transferred to Blackfoot. A year later, Bob became my stepfather when he married my mother.
What I admire in both BernaDean and Bob, is that they never let their tragedies control them. They were never bitter. It was hard enough for us all to just survive physically and financially. I’m so grateful that they never added any unnecessary psychological or emotional burden to the family as a result of bitterness, despair or un-reconciled remorse.
Twenty-two years after the start of that blended family, my oldest sister Chris and her husband were raising their own family in the same town of Blackfoot. One day she passed out, never regained consciousness and within two weeks, died of an aneurysm, leaving Jim with six young boys. When I get to the other side and God offers to give meaning to the one situation which puzzled me the most during mortality, I will ask Him to help me understand why my sister had to go when she did.
I know that my mother will probably want to know the same thing, since she has often claimed that losing a daughter was exponentially more difficult than losing a spouse. But to her credit, she again never became bitter or despondent at this her second great loss. She simply mothered her daughter’s children just as her father had fathered her own.
Within a month of my sister’s death, a good friend in their ward was killed in a canoeing accident with the scouts, tragically leaving his wife alone with three children. Within a year, Jim and Gayle began their own experiment with a blended family.
Though similar to BernaDean and Bob’s situation, Jim and Gayle faced a different set of challenges because I’m not sure they were ever completely able to let go of their hurt and pain. Bitterness is too strong to describe what they held onto, but my sense is that they weren’t as able or possibly as willing to deal with the tragedies of their lives as BernaDean and Bob were. Part of that is because Jim and Gayle were of a different generation—my generation, and that of Jim and Laura. We question things more than our parents did. We ponder and wonder and try to make things fit together possibly in ways that they weren’t meant to.
When their youngest child graduated from high school, Jim and Gayle checked out of the small Idaho community, of the church and left behind what I suppose they could never make sense of and moved to Connecticut. They did not turn away from family and friends, but they did turn away from church and community. Because they were not able to reconcile the tragedies of their lives, they had to leave behind the structures they had known and which they felt had failed to give them the answers they so disparately needed.
Though I have not had to experience the tragedy of losing a spouse, the gift of faith and knowledge I received at the loss of my father has sustained me for forty-eight years. There are not a lot of things that I feel I can bear a really strong testimony of, but this one I can: “I know my father [Phillip Harward] lives and loves me, too; the spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true.” I know Jim lives and loves you, too, Laura. He will live and love you forever and ever.
I pray for you, Laura and children—and for all of us here—that we will allow the peace and grace of our Father’s and Savior’s love to eventually take over and purge our hearts of all pain, sorrow, grief, despair, and remorse so that they never become bitterness. May His Love and the witness of the Spirit ever sustain us in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.