Fear No Evil

People filed out doors and crawled into cars. A string of vehicles rolled along a two-lane highway with headlights on.

For a funeral, it was a nice one. And it had all the food that goes with it.

Before lunchtime, church ladies warmed the fellowship hall with casserole dishes on card tables. I counted twenty-seven thousand devilled eggs. And there was, of course, fried chicken.

“He was my brother,” said one man with red eyes. “Still remember watching Saturday cartoons with him, seems like yesterday.”

The man didn’t even fill his plate.

The white-haired woman across from me wore a houndstooth skirt suit. She spoke with an accent so thick, I could hardly understand her.

“I know where MY son is,” she said. “And I’m looking forward to joining him one day, ‘cause I know where I’m goin’ when I die.”

She smiled at her own remark.

Would that I were as fearless as my elders.

The widow of the deceased is middle-aged. She is pretty. Stone-faced. She has not shed a single tear.

“We think Mom’s still in shock,” whispered the daughter. “When the hospital called and gave her the news, Mom never even cried.”

Different strokes.

The fellowship hall was alive with small-town people. Children were noisy from too much sweet tea, running in circles.

The memorial service ran long. The preacher went over by fifteen minutes.

People filed out doors and crawled into cars. A string of vehicles rolled along a two-lane highway with headlights on.

Oncoming cars pulled over for the procession. One driver hopped out of his truck and bowed his head.

I hope this tradition never dies.

There was graveside scripture. The Twenty-Third Psalm. No matter how old I get, when I hear those verses I’m twelve, listening to Daddy’s eulogy.

“…I will fear no evil,” said the preacher in a slow drawl.

There was a hymn, sung by a man who is a part-time law-enforcement officer, part-time chicken farmer. He had a voice like a cello.

“His farm eggs are the best,” one woman whispered to me. “Much better than storebought.”

He sang four verses of “Amazing Grace.”

When he sang, the daughter of the deceased cried. Her brother cried. Parents, uncles, friends, and cousins cried.

The widow did not. She only stared.

When service was over, people lingered. Most took turns swapping stories.

“Remember when your daddy took me fishing when I’s a kid?” I overheard one man say.

I heard another: “He treated me like I was family…”

The widow sat without moving.

An elderly woman came behind her. She hugged the stiff woman. She was a small lady—five-foot maybe. She embraced and would not let go. It was uncomfortable to watch.

“I love you,” the old woman said.

“Oh, please,” said the widow.

“No,” said the old woman. “I LOVE you.” And the old girl held her tight.

That’s when it happened.

You could hear it from the other side of the cemetery. The widow let out a moan so deep it rattled the grass. It had been a long time coming.

The two-person hug turned into a pile of twenty-six people, including the preacher.

Twenty-six.

It was a nice funeral.

16 comments

  1. Juanita Ruth One - May 5, 2017 1:57 pm

    Having grown up in small Southern towns in Louisiana, I always so identify with your columns. THANK YOU, Sean, for keeping the good memories of Southern life alive!

    Reply
  2. Laura Young - May 5, 2017 1:59 pm

    Another one needing Kleenex, Sean. Oh the memories it brought back. In the South, we go to a lot of funerals to pay respects, even if we don’t know the person well. And maybe for the food…:-) I love some things about funerals but hate others. I love that law enforcement leads and follows the procession to the cemetery, that folks show respect with visitations before the service, that someone sings 4 verses of Amazing Grace, that the hospitality committee organizes dinner for the family. I guess it sounds bad to say you hate some things, but the truth is since 2 of my brothers died in a drowning accident and since Daddy died, I hate the reminder of their deaths. After the boys died, I was way beyond upset. I couldn’t shake the sorrow and couldn’t stop crying. Some kind family memory thought a valium would help- it didn’t. Another family member told me I should be ashamed of myself – I should buck up and be strong for my parents. That comment hurt me a lot more than it helped- just added guilt to the sorrow. It finally took my good friend and doctor coming to the house and sitting on the side of the bed, holding my hand and crying WITH me for me be able to stop crying. Beulah Land, a song I had always loved, was sung at Daddy’s funeral and I can’t hear it anywhere without it upsetting me. Funerals pull people together and sometimes in the midst of the gathering, someone, like your widow, are hurting with a pain others don’t see or understand, but someone , like the old lady, or my doctor, have just what is needed. Thanks, Sean, for reminding us of that.

    Reply
  3. Kathryn - May 5, 2017 2:41 pm

    I’m 56 now and decades have passed since I was widowed at age 24. I was pregnant with my first son. Everyone was concerned because I wasn’t crying and falling apart in public. They thought it was unhealthy – that I was holding it in. The truth was that I just couldn’t let myself fall apart in public. They didn’t know that at night I slept with the light on because I was suddenly afraid of the dark; that I cried and prayed and railed against God at night; that what gave me hope and faith in mankind was the child I carried. But my Daddy was my rock (yes, I may be 56 but I still call him Daddy. That’s how we do it in the south). He was strong and caring but he didn’t fall out crying everywhere either. His example helped me get through that time. A lot of water has passed under that bridge and the child I carried will turn 32 tomorrow. He has two brothers and a wonderful step-father. Through this experience, I learned to allow others the freedom to grieve in whatever way came naturally to them. I gained the ability to empathize (which is way better than sympathy). It made me a better mother, a better wife, a better nurse, and a better person.

    Reply
  4. Janet Mary Lee - May 5, 2017 4:02 pm

    I am as touched by the comments as I am by the post. I especially love when people will stand before their cars to pay respects. A beautiful custom. I remember the kindness of everyone filling our kitchen with their favorite dishes to take away some of the grief on that day. What beautiful people.

    Reply
  5. Linda Trammell - May 6, 2017 10:06 pm

    When my father in law (a farmer) died suddenly (tractor accident,) two things – no three, I will never forget 1) During the funeral procession, a man on his riding lawn mower (a stranger) stopped at the edge of the road, shut off his mower & placed his hat over his heart 2) The pastor, an educated man, compared my father in law to King Henry IV at the battle of Agincort – with all of us experiencing “that touch of Harry, in the night” – I had to look all of that up & then wept again. 3) My friend who arrived late found herself in a SS room among people who preferred that setting in which they could respond freely. She later reported, “You missed the REAL service!” All to say – life is hard – love hard – grieve hard! Would you have it another way?

    Reply
  6. Juanita Ruth One - May 7, 2017 6:44 pm

    What is meant by a SS room?

    Reply
    • Leigh - May 14, 2017 1:24 pm

      Juanita, I think it means Sunday School room. 🙂

      Reply
      • Juanita Ruth One - May 14, 2017 9:30 pm

        Thanks, Leigh, that makes sense. Blessings…

        Reply
    • Harriet - June 28, 2017 7:10 pm

      Sunday School rooms or Fellowship Halls collect the overflow crowd that can’t fit in the Sanctuary. May have the service online. Says a lot for the deceased…many, many friends!!

      Reply
  7. Kay Keel - May 8, 2017 4:51 am

    The best advice I was given when my mother died was, “Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve or when your grief should be over. Grief is personal.”

    Reply
  8. Sylvia Williams - June 28, 2017 2:50 pm

    Having laid to rest my step daughter in March of this year, her funeral was anything but southern. Although, the service was in Panama City, it had a technology feel. Her mother arranged for the entire funeral to be filmed. No one told us that our mourning would be on camera. Sort of odd, if you ask me but to each their own. The funeral you described are the funerals I remember from Mississippi. As a child you were dragged to every great great uncle, or aunt that passed. Some would even sit up with the deceased at the funeral home. No thank you! Funeral homes creep me out! I often wondered why someone needed to sit up with the dead. It did not make sense to me as a child and not to me as an adult. Thank you Sean, you nailed a funeral in the South!

    Reply
    • Joan - June 29, 2017 2:22 am

      Sylvia, I don’t know about sitting up with the body at the funeral home, but, it was custom in my younger days for the body to brought to the home. Someone would stay awake (sit up) with the body all night. That I think is from where the term sitting up with the deceased came.

      Reply
  9. Gigi - June 28, 2017 9:30 pm

    Lovely picture of funerals in my beloved South. My sister-in-law passed away at a young age, leaving behind two sons, a husband, grieving parents and her brother who loved her fiercely. The funeral was at a big church in Dallas and attended by several hundred. I remember being overcome by the sight of her grieving sons, but uplifted and filled with gratitude and awe at the sight of construction workers along the roadside of the funeral procession as they removed their hard hats, bowed their heads and made the sign of the cross as we passed. Some moments live forever in the memory.

    Reply
  10. Garry Lovette - June 29, 2017 3:25 pm

    Love your writing style. As a columnist, I’m always in awe of people’s ability to convey their life’s images on paper and make me imagine being there myself. I should like to meet you one day. We have much in common!

    Reply
  11. Mary C - July 2, 2017 4:37 am

    Sylvia your comments about sitting up with the dead goes way back to a time where families did sit up with them in their home. This practice was to ensure the dead was truly dead. Many were thought dead, buried, and find out later from a grave digger that screams and scratching noises came from below. By the time the dug up the body it was too late.

    I remember my first funeral. I was eight years old and the death of my uncle was shocking and hard to deal with. They kept his body at home, sat up with him and moved to the church for the funeral. Sitting up with the dead scarred me for life.

    Reply
  12. Mary C - July 2, 2017 4:37 am

    Sylvia your comments about sitting up with the dead goes way back to a time where families did sit up with them in their home. This practice was to ensure the dead was truly dead. Many were thought dead, buried, and find out later from a grave digger that screams and scratching noises came from below. By the time the dug up the body it was too late.

    I remember my first funeral. I was eight years old and the death of my uncle was shocking and hard to deal with. They kept his body at home, sat up with him and moved to the church for the funeral. Sitting up with the dead scarred me for life.

    Reply

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