Last week a member of my ward died, so tomorrow we Mormon women will do what we always do: Flock to the church to prepare and serve food.
A few of us will get to church early, wearing a quirky combination of Sunday dresses and comfortable shoes. Probably the Relief Society president, a counselor or two, the compassionate service leader, and an assortment of women who are friends of the above, or of the family of the deceased, or who don't have day jobs or young children.
They'll set up tables and chairs on the indoor basketball court as they chat and laugh and cluck in compassion over the grieving family. When the funeral begins in the chapel, a few of them will remain behind in the kitchen to receive the women who will, one by one, knock on the kitchen door to deliver jell-o salad, or green salad, or trays of brownies, or thirteen-by-nine-inch pans of funeral potatoes.
Today I assembled two pans of this creamy, utterly unhealthy side dish. Lots of cream and cheese over little tidbits of frozen, industrialized potato--the ultimate comfort food. And as I measured and stirred, I offered up these potatoes as a sacrament of love and fellowship to the family. As children slammed doors and swirled around me, I didn't hold a moment of silence, but I did consecrate moments of memorial and condolence, mixing it all into the potatoes.
This was not an unexpected or particularly tragic death. It was more a sigh of relief after two years of waiting as this young man's body slowly, slowly, slowly succumbed its youth to a myriad of problems. So this funeral, even more so than most Mormon funerals, will not be so much about grieving as about marking and celebrating the stages of eternal life. We will gather together to remind ourselves that this life is the milisecond midpoint in our trajectories as eternal spirits.
After the funeral, family members will adjourn to the cultural hall to eat our potatoes. The women in the kitchen will wear out those practical shoes rushing back and forth to replenish the buffet line. They'll smile at the family members and encourage them to eat, eat, eat.
When lunch is over, some husbands will arrive to put away tables and chairs and sweep the huge floor. Leftovers will be packaged, dishes washed. The last woman will turn out the lights, shut the door, and carry a stack of now-empty pyrex dishes to her car.
At some point in the evening, there will be a knock on my door, and my empty pan will be returned. Then we'll all go home to live another day.
My mom's version of the recipe (with commentary):