Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

The Last Kiss

Posted by Andrew on January 16, 2008

As I stared down at him laying in his coffin, my eyes were drawn to his hands. Enormous vice-grips of bone, muscle, and sinew that bespoke a man who spent his life working with his hands. Hands that baled hay, shod horses, and roped cattle. Hands that engulfed your own when you shook hands with him. His hands looked the same now as they always had, only they were an unnatural pasty white. My eyes moved up to his lifeless face, and studied the rosy makeup they’d brushed onto his dead skin to make it look alive. And for some reason, at that moment, I remembered the last time I kissed him.

The last time I kissed him was at the funeral for my other grandfather–my mom’s dad. Before the funeral, we all wondered whether they would be coming. They were my dad’s folks-the ones we hadn’t seen for about ten years. The ones who had disowned my mother and decreed she could never set foot in their home again. For what reason? We never knew. We only knew that my grandmother hated my mother, and that my dad’s father seemed to go along with her out of a sense of loyalty to his wife, I suppose. It had been that way all growing up. When we were kids, every few months or so my dad and brothers would say “goodbye” to my mother, hop in the car, and drive out to the desert to visit my dad’s folks. We boys knew mom didn’t come along with us because mom wasn’t allowed in grandma’s house. Grandma hated mom.

So seeing them at the funeral for my mother’s father was a bit awkward to say the least. And it became only more awkward for me when I got up and spoke about my mother’s father, and told about how much I loved him, about how loving he’d always been to us, and about how much we missed him. And I talked about how each time I saw my mom’s father during the last year of his life, I felt as if it might be the last time I’d see him alive. And so each time I said “goodbye” to him, I would kneel down at his chair, and hug him, and tell him I loved him, and kiss him on his cheek.

As I poured out my heart about my mom’s dad, I looked out at the chapel through teary eyes, and my eyes settled on them. And the tragic juxtaposition hit me.

When the funeral ended, the audience stood as my mom’s family and I left the chapel. And as luck would have it, we had to file past them on our way out. I didn’t know what I’d do when I walked by them. Would I smile? Say “hello”? Ignore them? But for whatever reason, when I walked past my dad’s father, I took hold of him by the shoulders, leaned forward, and kissed him on the cheek. He smiled a bit sheepishly. We never spoke. And I never saw him again.

Not until now, looking down at him in his coffin. At another funeral for another grandfather. Only this grandfather didn’t feel like a grandfather. And I had no idea how I was supposed to feel at that moment. How to feel about a man who had seemed so thrilled when we had visited him as children, but who was so willing to sever all contact with my family when my grandmother desired it, turning us into total strangers for the last ten years of his life. And I remembered our horseback rides together, and him wrestling with my brothers and I in his living room, and making fires together in his fireplace, and him telling us war stories. But that was long, long ago. And since then, he’d been absent from my wedding, and my brothers’ weddings, and their mission farewells and homecomings, and our baby blessings.

With all these mixed memories and emotions I was at a loss for words. And almost without thinking I just blurted out under my breath: “Thanks for all the good.” And quickly turned around and sat back down in the viewing room.

Since the funeral, now and then I’ve found myself thinking about that last kiss I gave my dad’s father as I was leaving the funeral for my other grandfather. And in a way, I’ve been proud of myself for taking the higher road and showing him love in spite of his incomprehensible coldness toward our family in his last years.

But at the same time, that last kiss has also been a sickening reminder to me of a more infamous last kiss in a garden. And although my dad’s father was certainly no Jesus, and I certainly don’t want to consider myself a Judas, I cannot escape the similarity of the kiss I gave my dad’s father, and the kiss the betrayer gave the Christ.

What made that kiss so evil was that it was the appearance of love, without the substance of love. It was a farce, and the essence of hypocrisy. As farcical and hypocritical as the temple mission my dad’s parents had served. Traveling to the Los Angeles temple each week, assisting in ordinances designed to weld families together for eternity–all while they shunned my mother and severed the bonds of love with my family. But had I allowed myself to follow in their unhallowed footsteps?

If I had truly meant what was intended to be conveyed with that kiss, should I not have just picked up the phone and called my dad’s parents? Pled with them to become reconciled with my mother? Pled with them not to shut us out of their lives? Done something to try to restore the bonds of love within our extended family?

As I talk to my friends, both inside and outside the Church, I hear these sorts of tragic stories all too often. Spouses sleeping in separate beds. Siblings who won’t speak to each other. In-laws who can’t stand each other. Until those uncomfortable occasions when social conventions force us to pretend as if everything is normal. At Church. At each other’s homes during holidays. At funerals. And we embrace. And give each other the Judas kiss. Pretending to love each other. When quite the opposite is true.

And it shouldn’t be this way.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

(1 Jn. 4:20-21.)

I have thought long and hard about “spilling the beans” about family secrets like this. Especially in a public setting. But at some point, the facades have to come crashing down. So that real faces can take their place. So we can stop betraying each other with a kiss.

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One Response to “The Last Kiss”

  1. Craig A. said

    I don’t think it was a fake bro. That was a hard moment for both of you and looking back is so much easier than knowing what to do in the moment. I shook his hand that day and I remember seeing an intensely pained sadness. We didn’t speak either. I was at my officer’s basic course in Texas when he died, so Grandpa’s funeral was the last time I saw him alive. I never knew what to feel when either of them died. They were like strangers; the fruits of pride. I hope we can all eventually be reconciled via the atonement of Jesus Christ.

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