Recently several friends and acquaintances have lost parents and grandparents. Last week I was brought face to face with death when I was the one to discover that Sarah’s sweet kitty, Hobbes, had left this world. So, as you can imagine the idea of mortality has been hanging out in my brain.
I’ve been a very lucky girl. I knew all four of my grandparents and I knew/know them well. I lost my Papa when I was 27 and my Grandma (aka to mka as Big Mama – another topic for another time) the following year. Big Daddy (are you seeing the Big Mama connection here) and Jerona (or Mama Mac as the rest of the family knows her) are still with me on Earth (I strongly believe that Grandma and Papa are also here, I just can’t see them anymore). I also have both my adoring and adorable parents. And now because I’ve moved I see a lot more of them all and that is turning out to be a very good thing. As I said, I am one lucky girl.
All this pondering on mortality caused me to remember a paper that I wrote for an undergraduate essay writing class. This morning I climbed up to the scary -cuz it’s full of stuff (Jerona and I have vowed to clean it out in the fall when it’s not so damn hot)- attic to find my college box. Yeah, I managed to shrink my 4 ½ year undergrad experience into one box. Anyway, I’ve pulled out the essay and am going to reproduce it here for you now. (I haven’t read it yet.) Please keep in mind that it was 1993 and I was 22 years old when I wrote this. I think that I see much more in shades of gray these days and am in general a much kinder and more understanding person. (I say that more to myself than to you.) Okay, here it goes. I’m sending the English teacher in me out to bang the chalkboard erasers against the outside of the building while I type this. Get thee outside, old woman!
Respect the Dead!
Supposedly, the funeral ceremony is a significant part of the grieving process for the bereaved. Through it people experience the necessary lamentation of lost loved ones. The thought of criticizing this tradition may seem heartless to some, but funerals no longer—or maybe never did—serve their purpose. When people think about them they probably picture grief stricken family members and teary eyed friends; however, this is not the portrait today. Such ceremonies have become a neighborhood social event where old friends are reacquainted and long lost family members reunite, especially in small rural towns.
Even before the fold-out chairs from the church community building have been delivered, the guest register with its gold plated pen has been positioned just inside the entranceway, the white bouquet has been tacked to the front door and the SLOW-FUNERAL signs have been placed on the street, the community phone circuits are buzzing with calls inquiring as to who is dead. When exactly who is deceased is finally revealed, kitchens from Main Street to Seventh Avenue are immediately filled with the aroma of bubbling casserole dishes. All the neighbors want to arrive first so they can comfort the family, or that is what people claim. Actually, they are biting at the bit to know if the untimely demise was gruesome or not and if Cousin Bob who left ten years ago in a tizzy will be home for the funeral. These people under the guise of “coming to pay their respects” actually come to poke their noses into the corpse’s family’s business.
The traditional 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. wake is even worse. It has become THE social event. The townsfolk scarf down their dinners so that they will have time to don their Sunday best and be downtown at Mr. Ray’s, the funeral home, precisely at 7. After a quick whiz through the receiving line and the patronizing “but he looks so good,” (How in the world can he look good? He’s dead!) the real fun commences. “Oh honey,” Mrs. Green croons, “I haven’t seen you since Old Man Porter’s funeral. When was that, last May? How have you been?” Janie replies, “Did you know that Becky ran off with the mailman and left Billy to take care of those three children? I was just appalled, simply appalled!” When nine o’clock rolls around Mr. Ray hurriedly bustles the gossip group out the door with a cheesy smile and a “thank y’all so much for coming tonight. Come back real soon. We appreciate your business, so much.” (Oh please, how disgusting! Someone just died. Have a little respect, please.)
This funeral situation is beginning to make me nauseated. The deceased’s attributes are not offered up for praise. We do not hear what a wonderful parent, loving spouse, and all around delightful person the dearly departed was. No, the room is filled with tidbits of gossip and anecdotes from last night’s big game. It appears to me that we have forgotten the purpose of this affair: to grieve. I do not see anyone doing anything of the sort, they are all hooting and hollering and having a grand old time. We must lose this socializing attitude toward funerals and gain one of dignity. In order to accomplish this goal, we must make some changes.
First of all, ax the wake! (No big loss. So you don’t find out if Betty Lou is still with husband number five, but is that really why you are there? I should hope not!) This may seem a bit harsh to some, especially those who see death as a release from this earthly world of chaos leading to a place in a kingdom of perfect peace. Granted, these people have something to celebrate, but let’s face it they are not honoring the afterlife of the new heaven dweller, they are making fun of the mourning costumes of others, “Can you believe that she wore that to her husband’s funeral?” (very Christian, isn’t it?) Once we have obliterated all this senseless hoopla, we can concentrate on what is actually important: the grieving itself.
Keep the ceremony simple; a graveside service would be a perfect solution. A few family members and close friends dressed elegantly in simple black listen attentively as kind words are delivered and inspiring words are read. In this manner, the lamenting can quietly mourn the loss of their loved one without the cackling laughter and the “oh, I haven’t seen you in so longs.” This way the deceased is laid to rest in a solemn and reverent ceremony that acknowledges the importance of the life that has just past.
Sure the traditional funeral has its high points. There is plenty of time for eulogies to be delivered and thus the lost life is finally celebrated. Also, the fact that funeral services usually take place in churches give them the religious side that many people find essential to the mourning process. And that is the final thing. We must work on our attitudes. We have let funerals become the family/class reunion and only we can remedy the situation. The time has definitely come for us to drive a wrecking ball through this unwarranted nosy socializing and give the deceased the respect they deserve.
Dang! Can you tell this was written by someone really pissed off that she was raised Southern Baptist in a small town, someone who had yet to experience great loss? Whoa, hello there bitter 22 year old! I hate to quote a cigarette ad so I’ll play with it a little bit. I’ve come a long way, baby!
Oh yeah, my professor really liked the essay, he gave me an A. And the old English teacher only changed about 5 obvious typos that the prof didn’t catch all those years ago.
Thanks for sticking with this overly long post. :)