June 17, 2013

Southern Funeral Traditions: Pre-Planning

Funeral traditions vary all over the world, but here in the south...we take them pretty seriously. From flowers to food and other ways that we honor the lives of our departed loved ones, southern funeral traditions are unique. 

I guess to some people, funerals and talking about death is morbid. But my great-grandpa was a preacher so he regularly officiated at funerals when someone passed away. Each day, he and my great-grandma would listen to the obituaries on the radio. We all knew better than to talk or make any noise while the obits were read on WHUB, our local radio station. 

It was a small town so he pretty much knew everybody. This meant he attended a lot of funerals as well. 

To my grandparents, planning your funeral was not morbid. They saw it as an important task, just like any other, and a way to ensure their last wishes were carried out. 

I recently came across this sheet of steno paper in my grandma's handwriting. It contains her funeral arrangement wishes. Maybe it seems weird to you, but it gives such a true picture of who she was...I wanted to share it. 

She outlined who was to speak and that each speaker had the same amount of time as well as which songs were to be sung. If you knew her, it would make more sense. She was a devout Freewill Baptist and never cut her hair, based on the belief that a woman's hair was her crowning glory. I think she was afraid someone might cut it after she died so she made special note of this. 

She also specified a lady who could fix it in the exact style she liked, but I think that lady preceded her in death. My mom, who was like a daughter to her instead of a granddaughter, ended up doing her hair the day of her funeral. Again, that might seem weird to some folks, but it was a way to honor her wishes. 

It's not written in her arrangement notes, but she wanted a blue casket "to match her eyes." Nobody ever mentioned to her that her eyes would be closed by the time she would use it, but she had her blue casket all the same. 

Last week was the 10th anniversary of her death (she passed away in 2003 before my senior year of college). I've always wished she could have met my southern beau. She liked men with hearty appetites, especially when they enjoyed her cooking, and I know he would have. I miss her all the time. Especially the way she would call you at the crack of dawn on your birthday to sing in her earnest (yet off-key) vibrato. I miss the delicious food she was famous for...poke sallet with scrambled eggs, her made from scratch yellow cake, fried pies, vegetable soup, and homemade pickles. 

I miss how when I told her "I love you grandma," she'd reply "and I do you, little darlin." 

My grandpa, her one true love, lived for seven years without her before passing away. I like to think they are reunited again as she says "on the other side. In Heaven."  

When you believe that this life isn't all there is, death isn't so scary.