November 22, 2010

A Celebration of My Grandpa


After a week-long break from blogging, I am so glad to be back. Without meaning any disrespect for my dearly departed grandfather, I just can’t justify the operation of a blog that celebrates “all things southern” and not at least devote one post about the anomaly that is the southern funeral.

I know that funeral traditions run deep and wide, depending on where you live or how you were raised. It is such a peculiar thing though when you really stop to think about it. In this case, probably even more unique because my grandfather was a) a retired minister and b) had a very specific idea about how things should be done.

He started planning his funeral something like 11 years ago. So that definitely takes some of the pressure off when all you have to do is just carry out the person’s wishes. Last Monday, my extended family gathered at our town’s largest funeral home to “view the body.” Once again, I mean no disrespect, but because I believe we go on to a much better place after death, the body left behind is such a shell of a thing. I’m not really a fan of open casket funerals, but this is what my grandpa wanted. After our family had a little time together, folks started arriving. We stood in a receiving line and greeted them (all 687 of them) for hours.

Since my grandpa was a preacher, he knew a LOT of people. It was so special to have complete strangers tell me how much he and my grandmother had meant to them. My feet hurt and I went through an entire box of mints, but to me, this felt very important. Greeting these folks, hugging their necks and letting them know their presence was appreciated was a way to honor my grandparents and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Tuesday was the funeral. Several of my family members spoke and that made it special. My grandpa had requested that 4 songs be sung because they had also been sung at his father’s funeral (When the Roll is Called up Yonder, In the Sweet By and By, Amazing Grace & Victory in Jesus). Afterward, we filed out and got into our cars for the funeral procession to the gravesite. All morning it had been pouring rain, but at this moment the sky just cleared right up and the sun burst forth from the clouds like nothing I’ve ever seen. That was pretty neat.

I don’t know if this is common in other parts of the country/world, but here in the south, when a funeral procession goes by, any other drivers on the road pull of to the shoulder with their lights on to show respect. Some even got out of their cars and stood with hands on heart. This touched me so much. Because the gravesite was at a family cemetery out in the country, the procession had to travel about 18 miles or so. I never saw one vehicle the whole time that wasn’t stopped on the shoulder. Just one more thing I love about the small town south.

Typically in these parts, a church where one of the surviving loved ones attends will offer to provide food for the family after everything is all over. In this case, several churches offered to host us because my grandpa had connections to them at one point or another when he was a pastor.

funeral food grandpa 2

Here’s a shot of the spread they prepared for us…including 4 different types of deviled eggs! Be still my southern heart. Even this part of the day felt like a celebration of my grandpa because he loved to eat good cooking and would have enjoyed this immensely.

Everybody thinks his or her grandparents are the best and they are. I cherish every memory I have of mine. I still want to call my grandpa and picture him sitting at his house waiting until the phone rang twice before he answered it (another eccentricity I can’t explain). He had actually moved to an assisted living facility near the end of his life, after my family could no longer provide the necessary in home care services that he required. But we have great memories of those times too -- taking over the dining hall with our whole family gathered around him on his birthday.

I know I’ll see him again and that helps. His funeral truly was a celebration of his life, probably the first like it I’ve ever attended. Thank you all for your kind words while I was away.

{grandpa & me 2009}