(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.
I decided not to stay for the interment in the local church cemetery. As I drove away I started pondering Southern funeral traditions. There are the standards – the funeral food, the gathering of the family, a funeral procession, and the obligatory call to repentance. I decided to see what others might have to say. Here are a few choice quotes I encountered…
First, there are the comments of Elaine Viets over at the Lipstick Chronicles blog…
The body: I€™m not anxious to contribute this for a few decades. But when it happens, keep that coffin lid open. Southerners get suspicious if you close it. We suspect foul play.
I€™d appreciate being buried in something gaudy that will cause lots of talk.
The funeral scandal: No southern funeral is complete without a scandal. There€™s another thousand bucks to the first young man who claims to be my love child from Woodstock, and the first person to contest the will on the grounds that I was a crazy old bat. There is no love child, as DNA will prove, and this blog is proof my elevator is not going all the way to the top. But I appreciate the effort on my behalf.
The sermon: None of this Father Cool from the First Church of God Is an OK Guy. I want a fire and brimstone preacher, who scares the heck out of the mourners and makes them all feel they€™re next.
Karen at “Did I Say That Out Loud” states that…
Although this is a solemn occasion, the time before and after the funeral service will be more like a family reunion. Southern “funeral food” will be out in abundance. Homemade pound cake, green bean casserole, stuffed eggs, and fried chicken are practically mandatory at the post funeral gathering back at the home of the bereaved. People will cluck over how much the children have grown and vow to get together on some other occasion than a funeral. Family gossip will be caught up on. Hugs will be given and received. Stories about the deceased will be shared and laughed over.
A mixture of happy and sad. Just what a funeral should be.
Speaking of happy and sad, Lyle Lovette probably summed it up with his song “Since the Last Time.”
I went to a funeral
Lord it made me happy
Seeing all those people
I ain’t seen
Since the last time
They were telling funny stories
Saying all those things
They ain’t said
Since the last time
And finally, Lyndy at Oh Fiddle Dee Dee has this to say about Southern Funeral Food…
It is a well known fact that nobody eats better than a bereaved Southerner. And every good Southern woman knows that you must have a “funeral food” that you are known for. Like Aunt Bertha’s deviled eggs or Aunt Dot’s pound cake. Seriously, I remember in my home we had casserole dishes that were just for “funeral food” because my mother’s name had been printed on the bottom of the dish, so that after the appropriate time, the grieving family would know who to return the dish too.
My sister Glynda and I are usually the ones who attend the funerals of obscure relatives and and friends. As with this most recent funeral, the families are often appreciative. Sometimes there are moments of unintended entertainment, such as when the inexperienced minister at one of my aunts’ funerals stated, “That thar (pointing to the casket) is not a purty site, but she’s now got a Gah-LOOOH-rious new body in heaven!” Entertainment potential aside, I think I’ll adopt Deirdre Sullivan’s philosophy, and always go to the funeral. I have more often regretted not going than when I’ve attended.
[tags]funerals, traditions, Southern[/tags]