Scenes from a Southern Funeral

Funeral-of-John-Lafayette-Smith

(Photo – Funeral of John Lafayette Smith, my great-grandfather)

This past week the father of a friend of mine passed away. I had known the family for ages, and I now work in the same office as my friend’s wife. I attended the funeral both as a long-term friend and a representative of his wife’s employer.

I wasn’t sure I should go. I had lost touch with this friend for over twenty years until his wife started working in our office. While I knew his family, I hadn’t been in touch in most of that time. Then I remembered one of my favorite essays from the This I Believe series on NPR. Deirdre Sullivan’s essay was entitled “Always Go to the Funeral,” and is summed up nicely in these excerpts…

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.

The funeral took place in a rural Baptist church that was founded in 1806. The family received friends and guests before the service, so a line had formed outside the church. To combat the heat while waiting, the funeral home staff passed out fans and bottles of water.

With the long line, it took awhile to get to the family. My friends seemed truly grateful that I was there, and that made it worth the visit, regardless of anything else that might happen. Since my friend is a Baptist minister, he took part in the service itself. I was amazed at his composure, and ability to speak eloquently at his own father’s funeral. As with most evangelical churches in the South, not only were there comments about the life of faith just concluded, but concerns expressed for those in the congregation who might have strayed from that path.

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