I remember going to my grandfather's funeral when I was eight years old. This was my mom's dad. He died of melanoma cancer, and outlived his six-month prognosis by seven years...succombing only after it had spread to his ...(shudder)... brain. I felt very close to him and remember this being my first experience with significant grief. I have six memories of that moment in my life:
1. Mom coming into my bedroom to tell me the news, and crying with me on the floor.
2. Mom teaching my brother and me about death and resurrection, using a glove as the person's body and her wiggling hand as the person's spirit.
3. Dressing in a blue dress, because Mom said blue was better than black for a funeral, because we were celebrating life.
4. Going to the wake and feeling overcome with grief, but not wanting to admit it, so I told everyone I was crying because I had a stomachache.
5. Riding in the limousine, and sharing caramel "bullseye" candy with my aunt.
6. Hearing a man sing, "In My Father's House Are Many Mansions" during the funeral service.
Speaking of mansions, I also remember when my grandmother died when I was 23 years old. This was my dad's mom. Her husband (my other grandfather) died before I was born, so she had been widowed for a long time. She was serving as a missionary in Tennessee when she died of heart failure in her late sixties. She had lived an extraordinary life, and one of my memories of her death was when someone at the funeral commented, "Gee, I'd love to see HER mansion!"
Six months before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we bought a new home. It was the fifth house we'd lived in during the ten years we had lived in Plano. It was my son's third home (he was four years old at the time). We were so excited to have finally found THE house we could stay in for a long time. It has all the rooms we wanted. It has a nice backyard. It is in a great neighborhood, and very close to a great elementary school. It has enough space for large gatherings of family and friends, fulfilling my dream of being surrounded by loved ones and making memories together and making a huge mess with all of our playing and eating and stuff, and no one caring about the mess because we all just love each other. It has a floorplan that accommodates my home office, plus growing children and retiring parents, since we are potentially part of the "sandwich" generation of couples who may find themselves caring for young children and aging parents at the same time.
Our previous house was the opposite. It was a nice house, but we outgrew it way too fast. I felt like we hadn't made the best of our housing dollar (which in Texas can usually go pretty far). We were short-sighted in our decision to buy it, and we suffered from buyer's remorse for a long time. It had a tiny backyard that was not kid-friendly. The house was too cramped to accommodate visitors, a home business, and our plans to grow our family. For three years we built a list of the things we wanted in our next home, and prepared ourselves financially so that we could maximize our equity and other assets, optimize our credit score, and take advantage of the best interest rates.
It was nice to shed that house and move into a place that matched our list. One that met our needs as well as many of our wants. Our planning and preparation paid off nicely. We decided that this new house was "IT": the last house we would buy until retirement.
Even so, there is one dream house that we drive by once in a while, just for grins. I call it a dream house, because it could not possibly exist in our reality. It is in a very exclusive neighborhood, and is worth about twenty times what we paid for our current home (which wasn't cheap). It is a huge, gorgeous house. The rear exterior looks like a Mediterranian resort, and I swear it would make an ideal film location. It is indeed a mansion. We do a "drive and drool" every so often, just to enjoy its beauty.
Enter cancer. Suddenly houses aren't that important anymore - even that dream mansion - except that I did appreciate having enough space in our current home for the parade of family and friends who have come to visit. As I pondered this, I naturally realized an important parallel.
In our Father's house are many mansions. If we are shortsighted, we might end up having to settle for a less-than-optimal dwelling place. If we plan and prepare carefully, we may find ourselves in a glorious home in the presence of God. When I consider the focus we placed on scoring the right earthly house, and the kind of preparation and resources that would be needed to obtain the "drive and drool dream mansion", I realize that we are really better off putting our energy and effort into building our eternal residence. I hope to live near the grandparents and other good people from whom I descend, because I know that they invested in beautiful heavenly mansions.
And I hope that someday our heavenly home will once again be filled with family and friends. President Ezra Taft Benson shared his goal that there be "no empty chairs" in his family circle in the next life. Likewise, I don't care whether our heavenly home has Travertine floors or a swimming pool. My list for this home is short: good location, and no empty chairs.