The Funeral

My friend Kevin’s funeral was held tonight. As much as I expected a terribly tragic evening, it was not.

I’m not saying it wasn’t sad. Of course it was.

I brought three hankies and they did not go to waste. This, however, was more than sadness. It was what a funeral should be – a celebration of Kevin’s life.

Kevin was, and Melanee and their families still are, devout Mormons. It’s a religion where lay people officiate at services. Before cancer, Kevin was the Bishop of his branch&#185.

His faith was very much part of his life. I greatly respect Kevin’s devotion, even though he and I reached very different conclusions on faith and God. It was easy to see how it also shaped his out-of-church life.

I suspect faith serves his family well in this time when questions are many and answers few. There is reassurance when you believe a higher purpose awaits all of us, that heaven is a very real, and Kevin is waiting there for us.

Helaine, Stef and I drove to Cheshire and followed our friends Harold and Karen to the service in Waterbury. The building that now houses this congregation was once a Jewish synagogue. In fact, Harold’s brother was married right here.

As you might expect, there were lots of people attending the service. The sanctuary, normally divided in two by a movable wall, was opened to its full size.

Good people draw large crowds and few were as good as Kevin. The place was packed.

The service began and within a few minutes it was my turn to walk to the stage and eulogize Kevin. I speak in public a lot. Crowds don’t phase me. Still, this was very different.

I was a nice Jewish boy speaking in the Mormon’s place of worship. I didn’t want to inadvertently do something wrong.

Kevin’s eulogy, based on a web entry I made last week, went well. He was so nice, telling stories about his life couldn’t do anything but touch the congregation.

Then, I came to a part of my speech I hadn’t fully considered. Standing before this Mormon congregation, I looked at the paper and saw:

In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.

“No one ever dies scared,” he said.

I pondered for a second… broadly turned to the church officers sitting behind me and excused myself for what was to come. I was going to say something that had never been said there before.

And then I read the line.

“In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas…” It got a very big laugh.

A laugh at a funeral is different than a laugh at a comedy club. This laugh said, “You are not offending us. Permission granted to continue.” And, I did.

It was an honor to be asked to give the eulogy. I sat down satisfied I had properly portrayed Kevin and our relationship.

Later, both his sister and sister-in-law also spoke. Their stories of Kevin’s life were priceless and brought new context to things I already knew from personal experience.

These weren’t sad speeches. In fact, both of them were very funny and delivered as if these two women were stand-up comics. There was lots of laughter from the crowd. How could you celebrate Kevin without celebrating his amazing spirit?

Can a funeral be perfect? This one was pretty close. There was the structured reverence organized religion brings and the genuine warmth people can only express when there’s real love involved.

Don’t you think I’d like to be able to pick up the phone and discuss this with Kevin right now? And, of course, that’s the tragedy in all this.

Here’s the good part. Nothing said tonight would have surprised Kevin. He knew that was how we felt. I take great satisfaction in knowing that.

&#185 – I apologize for being a little vague, but I don’t know the full structure of the Mormon Church. I did some quick research, but was still left confused.

I think the regional grouping of congregations is a ward and the individual congregation is a branch.

I am avoiding the word church to describe the congregation Kevin attended, because I think (and, again, I don’t know) the word “church” is used in a different way by Mormons than, say, Catholics

6 thoughts on “The Funeral”

  1. Thank you for sharing your love for Kevin with us. I’m sure this is not the last we’ll see here of this fine man and his wonderful legacy.

  2. I did not know Kevin well; rather I knew of him and have a number of friends who were extremely fond of him as a person and as a lay religious leader. After reading your blog about Kevin, I’m sure ALL of your comments were well received well and appreciated by your LDS audience. As a Mormon myself, I immediately found humor in your epiphany at a Poker Table in Las Vegas. As an aside, pioneer era Las Vegas was founded by Mormons.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Kevin

  3. Geoff:

    I also attended Kevin Webster’s funeral last evening. As I arrived there at 7:00 the fellow providing parking directions came up to me and asked me if I were Geoff Fox. He said Geoff was supposed to speak and they were looking for him as the meeting was about to begin. I understood that, because of my church responsibilities, he had seen me before and probably vaguely recognized me but couldn’t remember where. I can’t recall that I have ever been mistaken for a TV personality before. I was flattered. I laughed and told him, “No, I’m not Geoff Fox. But when Geoff gets here I want you to ask him if he’s John Greene.”

    You sized up the poker table moment exactly right. Mormons are certainly, in many ways, very serious people. But as you could see last night, we aren’t stick-in-the-muds and we love good people and good humor. We recognized and appreciated that you were trying to be sensitive to us. And so we were laughing with you, not at you, in your moment of trepidation. Your remarks were heartfelt and greatly appreciated.

    Unfortunately, I hardly knew Kevin. Obviously, that is my loss. But I was there because I knew he was a great man and I wanted to pay my respects to him and show support to his family. And what a great family they are.

    For your information, Bishop Webster and his two counselors presided over the Waterbury Ward. At one time it was the Waterbury Branch, presided over by a Branch President and two counselors (I don’t recall if Kevin was once the Branch President or not). When the branch met certain criteria such as attendence and the number of Melchizedec Priesthood holders, it was designated by Church authorities as a Ward and the Branch President was ordained a bishop. The New Haven Connecticut Stake is comprised of 8 wards and 2 branches which cover the area from Bridgeport to Madison to Southington to Southbury (Out west a stake might cover a few square miles, but this is Connecticut). The three men you saw seated on the stand were the Stake Presidency, President Bruce Stratford (who spoke last) and his two counselors. They preside over the New Haven Connecticut Stake. As you probably know, all of these leaders are lay leaders who, like Kevin, work for a living.

    Two things pertaining to our religion that I would like to mention to you. First, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” (D&C 130:2) We understand this to mean that, not only may families continue on in eternity, but friendships also. To me, among the most heartwarming of the words of Christ, spoken to those who worship Him in truth, are “Verily,…I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me.” (D&C 93:45) Friendships are sacred relationships. Your friendship with Kevin is not over.

    Second, these words from the title page of the Book of Mormon: “…Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile…And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God…” The Book of Mormon, Geoff, is written to the Jew.

    Now Geoff, if that nice Jewish synagogue can be transformed into a beautiful Latter-day Saint chapel, so also can a nice Jewish boy like you make the same kind of transition. A primary reason that Kevin Webster was such fine human being in every way is that he voluntarily submitted himself to the tutelage of the Lord. It has been said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t attract great people, it produces them. I submit to you the name of Kevin Webster as evidence that this is true.

    Thank you for your friendship to Kevin, thank you for your participation and kind words, and please feel welcome to come again.

    Best regards,

    John Greene

  4. Geoff –

    I am Kristy Krueger, one of Kevin’s sisters (not the funny one…). I was hoping to catch you after the service Wednesday evening but you were headed out and I couldn’t catch you.

    I just wanted you to know that I was not only touched by your words on Wednesday about my brother, but by your relationship with him. I’ve heard Kevin speak of you and know you were good friends. Thank you for that !


  5. Geoff-

    Your friend Kevin sounds like a wonderful person. But then again, you can’t have wonderful friends if you aren’t a wonderful friend yourself. Many blessings to you as you grieve…


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