Earthly Fathers, Heavenly Fathers, and Dad’s Funeral

A good father is a thing to appreciate. A righteous father is a thing to celebrate. Many men are good, and some are both good and righteous. I was blessed to have a Dad that was both. He passed away just after Thanksgiving 2012 (hence my absence from writing as of late). It absolutely sucks to lose a parent. I completely believe in the Plan of Salvation and know that I’ll see him again, however, I was unprepared for the feeling of separation and loss that comes with the death of a loved one. I suppose that’s what the scripture means when it states that “the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ”.

HLW Graveside

Leaving the subject of death here for another discussion, I want to take a few moments in this post, to talk about good and righteous men and to share the talk that I gave at my Dad’s funeral.

A good and righteous man is courageous. He puts God first. When he stumbles and makes a mistake he says sorry and works to make things better, he’s only human after all. He is his wife’s companion, friend, and support. He is his children’s protector, provider, priesthood holder, and jungle gym. He always shows up (answering any time the “bat signal” goes up) with help, strength, encouragement, and a listening ear. In short, he is invested in his family and their physical and spiritual welfare.

I’ve been trying to teach my daughters that they need to listen and follow the directions and rules that we give them, because we are good parents. Our rules are for their benefit, welfare and well-being. The problem with Satan was not just that he rebelled (sometimes rebellion is necessary) but that he rebelled against a good and just and righteous Being. If my father, or husband, or Church leader is a friend of God, striving to follow Him and walk in His way (repenting and trying again when he falls) then I have no problem listening to the counsel of such a person. My dad was that kind of a person, and though at times we clashed, and I didn’t understand why he asked me to do certain things, it was a joy to have a father-daughter relationship with him because he always showered me with love and care and concern and help.

As I’ve been thinking about fathers and this post, an absolutely fantastic video was posted in Mormon Messages which corresponds exactly with what I’ve been talking about.

Finally, I want to talk a little about his funeral. My Mom asked each of the kids (four of us) to speak. I include my talk, though I have edited it in part from the actual talk because speaking and the written word are different mediums and there are some nuances (facial gestures and vocal tones) that need larger strokes when written out, as well as ideas that need more explanation.

I am happy to be with you.  I am so touched that so many of you came.  I am so touched that many of you came from far away.  I am overjoyed to be Harv Wilhelm’s daughter and I am overjoyed that you would be here as our friends and our loved ones.

Of all of the children in the family, I am the most like my Dad.  That similarity led to a lot of clashes, (and not a few arguments) because we were so similar.  However, I knew that my Dad loved me, and despite the fighting, I was a daddy’s girl.  

The greatest thing that Dad taught me was how to have a relationship with a loving Being.  My father taught me who Heavenly Father was.  I knew who Father was because of my dad – because my Dad loved me, because he always let me come back when we argued, because he always forgave me, because we always started over – I knew that Father in Heaven was the same way.  I knew it.  I knew that I could go to my Father in Heaven the same way that I could go to my father.  We would sit and talk, we would be together.  I knew the Savior was like that, too. 

My father was love.  My father would drop anything, to be with us.  My father would listen, he would counsel, he would guide. When we had a family meeting after he died, we sat together and I said, “I don’t know where to go now that Wikiharvia is gone.”  But, then I realized, of course, that I would go to my Father in Heaven, (to whom my dad always pointed me).  He would always be there for talks and for love and for comfort and for guidance.  

I want you to know how much our Father in Heaven treasures each of you.  You see, my dad taught me that we lived with Father in Heaven before we came to earth.  I knew that truth.  I knew it because my dad told me.  I knew it because he talked about it all the time.  I knew it because I found it in the scriptures.  The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before you were born, before I formed thee in the belly.  I knew thee and I gave you your mission.  I told you what I needed you to do.”  Dad would tell me that.  “Laryssa, Father has a plan for you.”  So, I constantly went to Father and said, “Okay, we did that.  What is next?”   I got taken to strange places, the same way my dad had been taken.  Very strange places!

One of those places was the Army, like my dad.  I know it is strange that a girl, his daughter, went into the Army.  I told you I was the most like him.  My dad called me up one day and he said,

“Hey, Laryssa, how would you like to join the Army?”

“Um…no.”

But the problem was, my dad had taught me how to follow the Holy Ghost, so when the Holy Ghost said,

“Ya, I want you to go into the military,”

I knew that I had promised Heavenly Father that I would go to the military and I thought,

“Darn it!”

When the Holy Ghost told me I needed to go on a mission, I knew I had promised Heavenly Father that I would go on a mission and I said,

“Darn it, Laryssa! Why? Why did you do that?”

One of the most amazing things about our Father in Heaven is that He has things for us to do.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  My dad always talked about seeing beyond the veil, seeing who people were inside.  Dad looked at people for who they were on the inside (even total strangers and acquaintances) and treated them with care and concern.  Father in Heaven knows you and He loves you, just as my dad did, and He wants you to be in His life.  He will give you assignments and, if you take them on, you will become the transcendent being that He knows is inside of you.

When the Savior died on the cross, the veil of the temple split open.  The veil had never been broken open before, no one could even be in the Holy of Holies, no one could be where Heavenly Father was, because this veil kept them from Father, both physically and spiritually.  When the Savior died, He broke that veil open so that you and I could be with our Heavenly Father in spirit on earth, here, now.

He wants a relationship with you.  He wants you to pray to Him, He wants you to be with Him.  

I hate that my dad is gone, but in the hospital when I knew it was the end, I put my arms around my dad and said, “Dad, I will be okay. But, promise you will come visit me.”  I know he will.  I know he will because I know that the gospel is true and I know that dad is in the Spirit World.  I know that his spirit still exists, I know he has work to do, I know that he will be in your lives just as he is in mine.  I know that.

So, I talked to you about the veil of the temple and that the Savior opened it up so that we, through the Savior, could be with our Heavenly Father – so that we could walk through and be with Father in Heaven again.  Now, let me tell you something about the veil.  The veil is as thin or as thick as you choose it to be.  You are in control of whether or not you feel God’s presence.  You determine whether or not you feel Heavenly Father with you.  

Isn’t that incredible? It is like an onion, you just keep peeling the layers. How do you get close to your Father in Heaven? Well, sometimes something inside just says,

“Why don’t you open that scripture.”

You’re like, “Uh, it is just the scriptures.”

But, I promise that if you open it up, you will feel something and another layer of that onion will be peeled away. I use that onion just as a little metaphor because the closer and closer you get to God, the more you will know that He exists, the more you will feel the spirits around you and the more He will show you what work He has for you on this earth.

I have a final story to tell and hopefully I can make it through.  The very last week that I was on my mission in Bulgaria, my mom knew that I wouldn’t get her weekly letter.  Since I had been in my last apartment for ten months, she had the phone number, so she gave me a little phone call in place of the letter and she said, “Oh, Laryssa, we are so excited. We will see you in three days, but, Dad is out of town and he is not going to be able to fly in until Saturday.”  I said, “Okay” with a lump in my throat.

Eighteen months without your daddy, it is kind of hard. (It is going to be a lot harder now, I know that.) But at that time, eighteen months without my dad was kind of hard and I just thought, “I will be okay, it’s only going to be two more days.  After all this time, what’s two more days?”  

All missions are different, but my mission was particularly strenuous.  It was just a very, very difficult time to be in Bulgaria.  The people there did not like our church, we were abused and we were mocked and we were not allowed to wear our name tags and I feared for my life often.  It was very challenging to be there and as I came home I was exhausted – mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  At one point I was particularly low.  My companion had a different plane to catch and I would be alone on the final flight from New York to Salt Lake.  I  just needed the strength to get on that last plane, but I wanted to collapse.  I just looked at myself in the restroom mirror and I said, “Okay, I can do this.  I can do one more plane and then I can be with my family.  I am almost there.”  

I walked out of the restroom, squared my shoulders, and walked to the gate when I heard, “Hello, Ryss.”

I stopped.

“Wait a second, I am that name!”

I hadn’t been called my nickname, my childhood  family nickname for so long, and I wondered who could be calling me by that name.

As I turned, I saw my dad standing there in the New York airport.

I said, “Daddy! What are you doing here?”

He said, “Laryssa, they let me off early and I am on this flight, in fact, I worked it out so that we get to sit together on the way home.”

I said, “Oh, Daddy!  Take me home please.  I am so tired.  Please help me get home.”  And I threw my arms around him. He put his strong arms around me and I was just so happy to be with him.

Years later, as I was telling a seminary class that story,  I suddenly realized that it is a metaphor for being with Heavenly Father. One day He will come up to us and He will call us by our spirit name, a name that is more home and more familiar to us than anything we have ever known in this life. We will look at Him and, according to President Ezra Taft Benson, we will be shocked at how familiar His face is to us.  Can you imagine that?  Your Father in Heaven loves you.  Your Father in Heaven will carry you through this life, if you allow Him to.  Though I grieve that my dad will not be with me anymore, I love that he has taught me who Jesus Christ is.  I love that he has taught me who Heavenly Father is and that I, as well as every single one of you, have access and opportunity to be in Father in Heaven’s presence any time that we desire through our beautiful Savior, who made it possible. I bear testimony of His life. I bear testimony of His love and His desire to help you with your lives to finish your mission, like my dear father, and to move on to your next one.

I bear that testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

He is Risen!

Nothing brings more peace than the knowledge that because Christ is alive again, so will we be.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;  And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man  (John 5: 24-27).