My Great Aunt Ida Maude Cameron passed away recently and we laid her to rest in the loamy, sandy soil of South Georgia on the grounds of the church she’d attended since her youth. It’s a ritual I know by heart.
I’ve been going to funerals for as long as I can remember, and I’ve probably been a pallbearer at 15 to 20 funerals in that time. I attribute this dubious distinction to my Mom’s big family in South Georgia, my small church and all my many friends. Fortunately, most of the funerals I’ve attended have been for people who lived long, full lives. It’s no less easy to lose someone who’s 97 (like my Great Aunt Ida Maude last week) than someone who’s in his 20’s (my friend Darryl back in the 90’s), but it’s more comforting when they’ve had a good long run.
I don’t know how it’s done around the rest of the country, but in the American South it’s very traditional to have what’s called a “viewing” for one or two days before the funeral service. The body lies in state while all the deceased person’s family and friends stand around and make small talk. This is called “visiting” or more properly a “visitation” and it’s a great sign of respect to the family and to the deceased. It’s not as fun as an Irish wake (there’s no liquor).
Naturally a lot of people are uncomfortable at funerals, I mean, who wants to stand around while somebody you know is lying dead ten feet away from you? Some folks prefer attending a memorial service where they can “remember him/her like they were”. Having grown up attending funerals I have to occasionally stop and catch myself of being scornful of people who avoid going to deal with the reality of seeing their friend or loved one dead before them. Dealing with death is a personal experience, not to be judged by others. It is hard seeing someone that you’ve known for years lying very still in front of you; hard to process the fact that they’re not just sleeping and they’re not going to get up and go to lunch with you after the service. And I suppose the more seldom you attend funerals the more strange it must seem to be there… the easier to get the willies.
If I ever die, I don’t want to be creamated. I want a full-on traditional Southern funeral service. I want people to come to visitation, stare at me in the coffin and I want them to say (as I’ve heard others say countless times) “He looks so GOOD”. Yes, I definitely want people to come take a look at me and say things like that. I also want a bagpiper.
On the Thursday before my Great Aunt Ida Maude passed, we went down to visit her in the small town hospital she was in. While her son Billy went to pick up his wife, my Mom sat next to her Aunt and held her hand and just talked to her….telling her she’d been like her second mother. It was so great to be there and just be there with her. She so wanted to get out of the bed and tried on more than one occasion to get out of the bed.
The thing I remember most is that she told us was that she was 16 years old and all she wanted to do was go outside and run.