Seeing the whole: Why I’m learning to love funerals


My grandma, Mom-el, loved funerals so much that we used to give her a hard time about browsing the obituaries for her next social engagement. It was a joke and something I honestly didn’t understand then, but over five years after her own passing, I think I’m starting to realize why my Mom-el loved funerals so much. When someone we love is gone, we can find joy in remembering the best things about them. Certainly, there are cases that require healing, but little annoyances are cast aside after someone has passed and all we seem to remember are the things we loved about them. I have found that I especially love going to a funeral for someone I admired but didn’t know incredibly well. Such was the case two weeks ago as I attended the memorial service for Ann Crane Santini. 

From March 1997 to July 2016, Ann was the director of international affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington, D.C.  When I interned at the Public and International Affairs office, I thought she was the model of grace. I remember her sharing spiritual thoughts with us as a staff, flawlessly engaging with diplomats and world leaders, and hosting events like the Festival of Lights Lighting Ceremonies at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center with charisma, charm, and a movie-star smile. But there is one moment from my time as an intern that I will never forget.

My other grandma, my mom’s mom, came up to visit while I was interning. My grandma Judy grew up in rural North Carolina, the daughter of tenant farmers, and so she was excited to come visit me in the big city. During the trip, we went to my office where I introduced her to those I was working with, when next thing I knew Ann and my grandma were walking down the hall arm in arm, instant best friends. Ann made my grandma feel like the most important person in the building. To me, this is the essence of Ann Santini. She was the same no matter who she was with; she treated any ambassador the same way she treated an intern’s grandma. As my former co-worker and the current director of international affairs, Mauri Earl, put it at the memorial, “that was Ann’s gift.” 

But I learned a lot of things about Ann I never knew from our brief four-month stint working together during her funeral. For example, I never knew that she had gone through a painful divorce in her mid-20s and was left to navigate life with two young daughters as a single mother. I knew that her second husband and the love of her life, Jim Santini, had served as a member of Congress representing the state of Nevada, but I had no idea that for most of their marriage, Jim was not a member of the Church. He converted later in life. I had no idea that her son, Mark, was born with spina bifida, had survived spinal meningitis and a hit-and-run accident, and at the age of six had spent more time in the hospital than at home, having endured ten surgeries. A Church leader from Washington, D.C. recalled watching Ann get out of her handicap accessible van in her bathrobe, lower Mark down into the parking lot and wheel him into their ward meetinghouse one morning before early morning seminary. As I listened, I thought about how, in the four months I knew her in D.C., Ann never looked anything but perfect—but she was also a woman who had her priorities totally straight. She understood the value of looking put together, but she knew that getting Mark to seminary was of far greater importance. 

As part of the 2000 BYU Women’s Conference, Ann spoke of what she had learned about what makes a perfect life: “I believe . . . a perfect life is a whole life. Do you doubt there is a wholeness about a woman who knows who she is and accepts what she can and cannot do? There is a wholeness about a woman who can give her time, her energy, her talents, her compassion, and her strength to others and not feel diminished. There is a wholeness about a woman who can lose someone through death, through estrangement, and still feel complete. Blessed is the woman who has endured her pain and come through it whole.” 

Ann never thought of herself as perfect. That was simply my perception of her from the outside looking in. The interesting thing is that after hearing about the many challenges she faced in her life, I had even more respect for her than I had previously. 

The Greek translation for “perfect” is “complete, finished, fully developed.” Ann Santini’s earth life was not without flaw. In fact, it was very hard. But it is now complete and finished. I have reflected since Ann’s service on why funerals or memorial services are so special, and I think it is because rather than just seeing one part of someone’s life, we are able to see their life as a collective whole. Perhaps it is because it is often not until someone’s life is complete—when we are able to truly look at their “whole” life—that we can begin to see them as God sees them. 

Featured image- Ann Santini, provided by Mauri Earl.
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