Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Mom's Funeral

If the deceased belonged to a church, the funeral service is held there. My mom did not, so the service was held at the Funeral Home.

For funerals in this area there are certain traditions. A hearse bearing the casket leads the procession of cars to the cemetery. The order of the cars begins with immediate family, and then just whoever comes next parks in the line. Generally people in the immediate family fill up each car. Rather than have one or two people per vehicle, there will be four--or however many properly fit with seatbelts.

I already knew that my niece's fiance would be driving my brother-in-laws van, and that was 'my' vehicle for travel. I met them at my dad's (have to remember to say that now instead of mom and dad's). We arrived at the funeral home and parked the car--we were third in line. Employees were out front, checking the relationship to the deceased as each person arrived and lining them up. Each car received a magnetic yellow sign (like a taxi sign) on top saying "Funeral".

We went inside. There are never as many people at the funeral as there are at the visitation. Partly because most people are at work and can't or don't want to take time off. Unless they are close to the deceased no one thinks anything is wrong with their not coming.

There were more people than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised at how many were able to attend, I know that gave my dad comfort. Everyone visited the casket again. Except me. I always hate that part at any funeral, and I'm sorry this just isn't the exception. I've become very good at pretending to visit the casket and hurrying away. Someone told me it's a fear of death. I don't think so at all. I just don't like hanging around embalmed bodies and pretending it is anything but an empty vessel.

After a few minutes the Pastor came in and began the service. He said a few prayers, then my brother-in-law delivered the eulogy. He's been around the family for over thirty-five years, and did a really nice job in capturing my mom's life. My niece's fiance then read a poem he had been inspired to write just after my mom died.

The Pastor came back and read from the Bible and said a few more prayers. Then it was time to say goodbye. Traditionally, starting from the back row each person goes up to the casket one last time. Most just pause briefly and move on. The immediate family is in the front row, so they go by last. When it was our turn we went up. A few of my sisters were sobbing loudly and all emotional. Not really my style. But everyone had tears.

Then we waited in the entry area while they brought out the casket and loaded it into the hearse. My nephews and a few of the brothers-in-law were pall bearers. These days it is more an honorary designation. They don't actually carry the casket very far, most of the time it is on a wheeled cart.

I was surprised that the funeral processional customs in this area still existed. Basically, all of the cars with the 'funeral' sign are led by a police officer and the hearse in a procession to the cemetary. All the cars keep their lights on, and if a stoplight turns red during the procession they still continue to pass through--to keep the procession together.

As I've mentioned I've been away for many years. It has grown in population so much that I couldn't imagine they still would do that. Yet, they did.

And in this case, for quite a long trip. My parents had recently moved about twenty miles east of where we grew up. They had purchased their grave plots in that area. Since most of the family now lives in the same town that they had moved to, it made sense to have the funeral home and service there. Yet for the burial it was a bit of a drive.

So the whole procession of about twenty cars made the long drive to the cemetary. The Pastor said a few more prayers, and offered for anyone to take a flower from the arrangements as remembrance. Then (as is tradition) he invited everyone to join the family in a meal to celebrate her life. After some emotional goodbyes at the casket we all piled back into the cars. This time there is no procession. But the dinner was back in their new home town.

We gathered for a very nice meal, and there was lots of visiting and promises to see each other more among cousins and old friends. Too often, however, we tend to gather for weddings and funerals---and are too caught up in our lives the rest of the time.

After the dinner we went back to my dad's. We had asked the funeral home to deliver the leftover flowers to the Hospice to brighten the rooms. However there were quite a few plants. My sister and her husband went to the funeral home and brought those to my dads.

People purposely choose to send plants so family members can have remembrance of the deceased through the plant. The problem is, not all of us are very good in caring for plants. And it was just tiring having to make a decision. Finally we divided them up, the majority going to the two sisters who have 'green thumbs'--meaning they are good with plants and flowers.

We headed back home, exhausted after a long week. And pretty numb after all the emotion.

Rest in peace mom.

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