It’s a real honor to be asked to speak at the funeral of Lee Soderborg, though I wish I wasn’t at the funeral of Lee Soderborg because I didn’t want him to leave us. I miss him too, and it hasn’t really sunk in that he’s gone. Most of the people here know Lee Soderborg better than I do, so anything I tell you about him, you already know. I’ve loved every story I’ve heard about him, and some of the things I had forgotten. But I have some things that [the other speakers] didn’t mention.
I’m going to tell you the way I saw Lee through my eyes, and maybe the way you saw him is different, but there are a lot of things that are funny and interesting about him that I’m going to talk about.
Lee was friendly to everyone. I never knew him to ever be grouchy or moody, although that probably did happen, I didn’t ever see it happen. He was always cheery when I was around him and he always tried to keep the atmosphere pleasant. He often used humor to help others feel relaxed and enjoy the moment. Whether it was at a social gathering or a meeting or at the checkout counter at the grocery store or at the nurses’ station at in a hospital. I visited a lot of people in the hospital with Lee by my side, and he always tried to get a smile out of the people he just met by being appropriately familiar with them and making jokes. He even tried to get a smile out of the patients when we left.
Lee’s sense of humor, as you know, was not run-of-the-mill. I like to think that he “thought outside the box” but it wasn’t the same box you and I think outside of. In fact, I would really like to take a peak at the orientation Lee went through when he left this life and see how he handled it; and I’d like to see how they handled receiving him.
When Lee left the hospital patient after a visit, he would say “Thanks for being sick so we have the privilege of coming visit you!” And if I had the privilege of being the receptionist in the spirit world I would have said “Thanks for dying, Lee, so that I could come here to welcome you to this new world!” Maybe he’ll be the one to greet me, and that will be exactly what I’ll hear? And I’m sure if I had done that, he would have laughed heartily and enjoyed the moment.
Some years ago, the Soderborg family lost their son and brother, Alex. He was my home teaching companion for years; I know all about the elephant story because he took it to our families and told them. I was asked to sit down with the family and help them plan a funeral and to conduct that funeral later on, and I noted during that hour that Lee continued to make humorous remarks in spite of the solemnity of the occasion and the usual mood that prevails in a case like that. I didn’t say anything, but some years later I asked him “why did you do that, Lee?” I wasn’t challenging him, I just knew he would give me an honest answer. I thought I knew what the answer would be, and I was right: he said he was just trying to keep him and his family from crashing emotionally. I guess it worked. I was with him a lot during that time. We all knew on that occasion that we professed to believe that our separation of death is only temporary and it was clear that none of us wanted to sink in despair and Lee lead out by making us smile now and then with his outside-the-box sense of humor.
A few years ago we lost a grandson who was aged 12. I thought about Alex at that time. The primary in our grandson’s ward asked the children to write a note of comfort to the family. One child wrote: “families are forever is what you’re doing right now.” I reminded my grandson’s mother last night on the phone of that statement and she said that’s profound. He was saying, very simply, that we often talk about the doctrine that families are forever but right now the talk is over and here is where the rubber meets the road; we believe it and now is the time to cling to it and take comfort in this precious truth.
The Soderborg family did cling to that truth at Alex’s passing and they need to do so again now. It won’t be hard, it’s ingrained deep into their hearts.
The Soderborg family was always one we could count on for service. I was in the bishopric for nearly 11 years and I was usually quite aware if who did what; Lee always showed up with his family when there were service projects, and they they didn’t always wait for a project to be organized to do service. One time just before a meeting that Lee and I were in, during our chitchat I mentioned that I was moving a wall in my basement, and that’s about all I said. The next day, on Monday, in the evening Lee shows up at my door with his three sons and said “We want to help, what can we do?” and I did in fact put them to work.
I’ve never forgotten that that is the kind of heart that Lee had; and he didn’t just have it on that occasion. There were times during those years when I set out to troubleshoot some situation in the ward having to do with a furnace, or a washer, or a car, or a plumbing problem and Lee was always willing to come and help me. He sacrificed a lot of his time (I’m sorry I took him away from the family) many times at my bidding. I’ll never forget his willingness and neither will the Lord.
We just sang a song that ends saying “doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, a blessing of duty and love.” I suppose Lee did a lot of things out of duty, but when he served people, I think he did it out of love. He’s one of those people who got beyond the duty stage and I haven’t gotten there yet.
I liked to banter with Lee; maybe that’s why we liked each other so much. I told Lee numerous times that I wanted to see his face, just once, shaven. I told him that I was determined to figure out a way to get him to shave; he chuckled and “said it’s not gonna happen.” So his kids overheard our conversation one day and they dug out a photo of Lee without his beard, and it was standing on the steps of the Manti Temple (I have a picture of me and Sherri standing on that exact piece of concrete right after we got married; I thought that was an interesting coincidence.) You know his kids couldn’t remember what he looked like without his beard either because they were so young when he decided it was a permanent fixture, so they had to get that picture out to show me, and I appreciate that. One day, as the bishop, I received a letter from the temple presidency asking me to submit some names of people in my ward who might possibly be able to become temple workers; so I dutifully wrote out a list of a few people and Lee came to mind, I thought he would be a good choice, and I put his name on that list and sent it back to the temple, and just forgot about it. One day I was sitting in my office with the door open and suddenly there is Lee standing in the door frame and when he finally got my attention he said “You have a sick sense of humor!” and my mind started racing thinking “what in the world prompted him to say something like that?” and in just a few moments I realized what it was: he had been to the temple for his interview, he was called to be a temple worker and informed that the beard had to come off. I really didn’t plan it that way, but it was one of my most satisfying moments.
Lee always insisted in sitting in the back row, I don’t know how Karen felt about it, but it didn’t matter, he’d sit in the back row. When he was one of my assistants in the High Priest Group we decided that we had a few rows of chairs and people scattered all over the place, and I said “let’s do it differently; let’s line the chair up on the wall, and the back wall, and the side wall, and we’ll all be able to see each other and hear each other, and it’ll improve things.” So that’s what we did, and Lee was uncomfortable about that because he’d be on the front row! I said “Lee, but you’re also on the back row!” and that seemed to placate him a little bit. And that’s what we did from then on.
I remember numerous times in Sunday School classes when someone would ask a yes/no question and Lee, sitting on the back row would raise his hand, like he had something he wanted to say about that (it was a yes/no question, you know) so they’d call on him and he would say “yes” and then there was silence. And they’ would say “did you want to say something about it?” and he said “no, I was just answering your questions.”
I knew someone once that got kind of offended at something that Lee had said and I said “oh my gosh, you don’t know Lee do you? If you got to know Lee, and once you do you’ll be fine with anything he says.”
In our Church we have a practice of allowing members to come forward to the front of the chapel once a month to to express their feelings about the Gospel, about the Restoration, about the Book of Mormon, about their family, and about God, and we call it bearing a testimony. As many of you know, you didn’t have to wait for that occasion to see how Lee felt about these things. You could see it in his daily life and his interactions with others.
Lee had the opportunity to teach a lot. As he expressed these sacred and beautiful truths on many occasions he became emotional; he had a way of coughing and clearing his throat to cover up those feelings trying to break out, but I knew what he was feeling, and I was feeling the same thing (I can identify with those feeling, although I don’t know how to cover them up.)
I knew that he treasured the truths that he was teaching. So what are those truths? To start with: Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ are real, exalted being who love us beyond anything we mortals can comprehend. They’re ready and eager to accept our repentance and whole heartedly forgive us and heal us and lift us up as we set out on the forward path. Lee knew that and I know it as well.
Secondly: heaven is a place of perfect order and rule of law; so entering there requires us to comply with law and order. But love is the supreme power behind it all; hence the first commandment is to love God and the second, like unto the first, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Lee knew both of those principles and tried to be obedient and tried to love his neighbor as himself. Truthfully I never felt any selfishness from Lee, only his caring and willingness to serve and obey.
Third: families can be together forever. Lee’s top priority was to have an eternal family, through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel and ultimately the law and ordinances of the temple. I spent a lot of time in the temple with Lee and his wife. I’ve been talking about Lee this whole time, you know Karen is like Lee in all of those regards as well. Lee didn’t just hope it was true, his conduct showed that he fully embraced that it was true. He had every confidence, like I do, that Joseph Smith was actually visited and instructed by Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and that his subsequent experiences and revelations happened as he said they did. Lee believed the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God, as I do. He believed the true priesthood of God is on this earth and in this Church with all of its proper keys, as I do. He believed that the President of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve have the keys to be spokesmen for God in their several roles, as I do. Lee believed there is a life after death, and a plan in place to give every single one of God’s children the opportunity to have the greatest joy possible in eternity. He and I fully anticipate being reunited with those we knew and loved in this life, and that the day will come when the power Christ used to rise from the dead will be exercised on our behalf to raise us from death through the resurrection; to be whole and happy in that sphere that we have qualified for through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
My council to Lee’s family may seem superfluous because I think they all understand it already but that would be: never forget what your father taught you, and the example he set for you. If he had imperfections, and I suppose he did, overlook them and remember those sacred truths because they will be the very key to your happiness in this life and in eternity.
I look forward to seeing Lee again. I don’t know how much time he’ll have to figure out what wisecrack to make, but I’m going to think about it cause I’m gonna be prepared with a comeback. I love him and I love the fact that he moved into our ward and that I ever knew him.
And I say those things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.