The Circle Unbroken

When my father died, adults planned a funeral. There were photographs scattered on the kitchen table. A few of his personal items. His eyeglasses. I stole his glasses when nobody was looking.

Somewhere outside Mobile, Alabama—a string of car headlights. There must be one hundred forty-four thousand vehicles behind us, stretching from here to Ardmore.

I pull over.

So does every car on the road.

First, the blue lights pass. Then, a long black car. This, followed by a mile-long chain of high beams.

When my father died, adults planned a funeral. There were photographs scattered on the kitchen table. A few of his personal items. His eyeglasses.

I stole his glasses when nobody was looking.

My father once found those glasses in the dirt, outside a supermarket. He dusted them and said, “These look expensive, don’t they?”

He put them on.

I laughed. The wire frames looked out-of-place on his face. He stared into the rearview mirror. He grinned at himself, then tucked them into his pocket.

He visited an eye doctor for an exam. The doctor said Daddy had perfect vision.

“You don’t need glasses, sir,” said the doc.

“Not even a little?”

“Nope, you’re twenty-twenty.”

Daddy insisted he replace the lenses with fake ones.

Thus, he wore phony glasses. He didn’t wear them all the time, but he wore them often. For family photographs. For Sundays. For trips into town.

“These things make me look smart,” he once remarked.

Smart.

After he died, I locked myself in the bathroom and tried on those glasses. I inspected my reflection for nearly ten minutes until the floor was wet.

That night, I fell asleep wearing them. During sleep, the wire frames cut me on the temple. I woke up to dried blood on my pillow.

The morning of his funeral, I wore his tweed jacket—which hung off my adolescent body. And I wore his oversized eyeglasses to complete my ensemble.

Then, we piled into cars and drove with headlights on. Nobody spoke. I looked out the windows with those glasses. I cried in them.

Cars pulled aside for us. A rusty vehicle moved to the shoulder. Then a delivery truck. Then a pickup. One or two folks stepped out of their cabs and stood with low heads.

Mama looked at me and said, “I wish you’d take those damn glasses off.”

One day, I finally did.

Anyway, Mobile. Right now. We’re still in the car. The last funeral vehicle passes. Traffic resumes once the blue lights are far enough ahead.

The man standing outside his vehicle crawls inside.

We are driving in a matter of minutes. I’m looking out a car window, listening to an engine, wondering if the circle will ever be unbroken. I hope it will.

Because the world will never be the same for some unfortunate, grieving family. And God knows, there’s nothing I can do to change what those souls will go through in the coming weeks. Months. Lifetime.

But, I can pull aside, by God, when their car passes. And I do it gladly because I believe in such demonstrations.

Because people did it for me. Because it’s our way. Because it’s how we say: “Even though this is the worst day of your life, you’re not alone today.”

And you won’t be tomorrow, either.

Sometimes I wish I had those glasses.

38 comments

  1. Kathy Rondon - June 30, 2017 12:50 pm

    I moved from Alabama to just outside of Washington DC when I was 23. The first time a funeral procession passed me on Route 7, I stopped until they passed. There was no shoulder to pull off onto, so I pulled to the right lane and stopped. People behind me earned on their horns. I was astonished. Didn’t they know how to show respect? Apparently not. I’ve lived up here over 25 years now. I’m not astonished anymore, but sometimes I wish I was.

    Reply
    • Marine cockerill - August 19, 2017 8:30 pm

      Bless your heart, Kathy. It is that way in too many places anymore, no reverence for the one now missing or for the grieving family left behind.

      Reply
  2. Sara Bush - June 30, 2017 1:00 pm

    Dang, Sean! Do you have stock in Kleenex? It’s every time! We still follow this custom where I live, but then, I live in Chipley.

    Reply
  3. Richard Jones - June 30, 2017 1:13 pm

    Always makes me proud to be from The South when I pull over to the side of the road and see others do it as well.Good chance you might get your @ss whipped if you don’t pull over and somebody can catch up to you,its all about love and respect.And take your hat off too if you have one on.

    Reply
  4. Connie - June 30, 2017 1:26 pm

    I love this today. I was born and raised in Mobile, and have never lived away from the South. I always love seeing that sign of respect from people on the road. I know how much it means when you’re in one of those cars, in that procession, going to say goodbye to someone you love, and I always pull over, and my children and grandchildren have been taught to pull over. It’s just respectful to me.

    Reply
  5. kathy Fridley - June 30, 2017 1:28 pm

    Thank you, You captured my heart and soul again this morning.

    Reply
  6. Jack Quanstrum - June 30, 2017 1:47 pm

    Your story touched me in a special way. My Dad was a tough man, was in WWII, quit school at 16 to get a job during the depression because my grandfather lost his job. He worked construction 43 years. He raised me sternly and very firmly. We never saw eye to eye on many issues even though I tried and tried. He has only been gone a little over two years but his impact on my life is more apparent every passing day. At times he drove me nuts. But I loved him with all my heart. His presence in my life is the single greatest influence on my life today. And thankful for him and grateful to God that He chose him to be my Dad. Thank you Sean for your story which prompted me to express what I did. Peace, Brother!

    Reply
  7. ben martin - June 30, 2017 1:56 pm

    The last time I pull over for a funeral procession it was for Johnny Cash.

    Reply
  8. Laura Young - June 30, 2017 2:03 pm

    The sign of respect for families (pulling over for the funeral) is truly Southern. I have traveled all over the US but never see this outside the South. I love it, too, when the law enforcement officers at turns, stop, get out and hold their caps over their hearts (I don’t see that as much as I used to except in South Alabama around Ozark, Dothan and all. ). I even see this on 4 lane highways with traffic in opposite lanes just stopped until the procession passes. Once in awhile I see a car keep going- always an out of state tag..:-) I know losing your father as you did is really a tough thing to experience. I am so amazed that you can write about it – it lets us all remember and appreciate more fully our own families. You always can get the emotion from me. For you, it was glasses that reminded you and helped you feel close. For me, it is an old windbreaker that doesn’t fit me and a cloth handkerchief. I wear the windbreaker only once in awhile but often, still 14 years later, tuck that handkerchief in my bra to feel closer to Daddy. I never use it – Kleenex for the tears and runny nose – but somehow it is like Daddy still hugging me and telling me as I leave him to be “double careful” .

    Reply
  9. Sylvia Williams - June 30, 2017 3:05 pm

    One of your best, Sean. Joel and I felt that feeling, just this March when we said good bye to my step-daughter. Thank you for sharing such a difficult memory. You are not alone.

    Reply
  10. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - June 30, 2017 3:13 pm

    We live in Indiana and we do pull over. I believe it’s the right thing to do no matter how long it takes.

    Reply
  11. Nedetria Talbot - June 30, 2017 4:22 pm

    I am so thankful to live where we show respect for the person and the families of the person headed to their final resting place.
    I love your writing…but most of all, I love your heart.

    Reply
  12. Susan in Georgia - June 30, 2017 5:22 pm

    We still pull our cars over and stop for funeral processions in Troup County, GA. As a sign of respect, it’s a tradition that I pray never ends. When Daddy died, I would open his closet and bury my nose in his coats and shirts just to re-live the familiar smell of him. When Mama died, I would open her closet and look at her row of neatly arranged size five and a half shoes and long to hear her walking down the hallway. Ah, such memories. After reading your post, Sean, nostalgia reigns on this rainy day in Georgia.

    Reply
  13. Debbie Galladora - June 30, 2017 6:12 pm

    🙏🏻

    Reply
  14. Sharon - June 30, 2017 6:50 pm

    Before my Daddy passed away , he started to give me a few of his things that he acquired during his service during WWII. My daughter is the oldest granddaughter so she will inherit them. I think that that is what Daddy would want.

    Reply
  15. Amber - June 30, 2017 7:56 pm

    Sean,

    This is magnificent. I’m just a two day in a row reader now, but I promise that it’s gonna become a habit of mine.

    The following is a poem I wrote, not long ago, about a friend and her husband as he was dying–a gift to them. He has since passed on, but I’m sure neither would mind me sharing. If it’s inappropriate for me to share here, just moderate it out. I understand.

    Chain
    by Ams

    There is a circle that is unbroken
    of the journeys of God’s living creations:

    One touches another, who magnifies the next,
    who overshadows the next.
    One who respects the . . . repulses the . . . admires the . . .
    rejoices over the next.

    There is a chain of feelings uniting each one of us.

    Some chains delightfully fun, some unkind that hurt.

    Once in a lifetime,
    the link that binds is pure love.
    Of the sorts that is gentle and knowing.
    Knowing of when to say, and when not to say,
    words tender and replenishing.
    A love that is so great that it’s like a circle of chain,
    made link-by-link of mostly fabulous memories.
    A love so restful to the spirit with so many bonding links,
    it can’t be broken.

    Reply
    • Jack Quanstrum - June 30, 2017 7:59 pm

      Beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
      • Amber - June 30, 2017 11:03 pm

        Hi Jack,

        It’s so kind of you to take the time to both read and comment on my “work.” Writing to me is much too fun to be called work, though.

        Reply
    • Sandi - June 30, 2017 9:42 pm

      Amber, your poetry is beautiful and deeply moving. I read it twice.
      It goes so well with Sean’s fine essay today.

      Reply
      • Amber - June 30, 2017 11:10 pm

        Hi Sandi,

        What kind words. I tend to shy away from sharing my poetry, because it seems many people just don’t “get it” and I tire of explaining. You made my day by reading it twice!

        Reply
    • Audrey Davidson - August 19, 2017 9:52 am

      Beautiful poem Amber❤️

      Reply
  16. Mary Ellen Hall - June 30, 2017 10:13 pm

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the tradition of “pulling to the side of the road,” when a Funeral Procession drives by!! People do NOT HONOR it as much as in the past. I would LOVE to see MORE PEOPLE do it again!! Mainly, out of RESPECT for the deceased & their loved ones!!

    THANK YOU for sharing this SPECIAL STORY!!

    Reply
  17. Wendy - June 30, 2017 11:50 pm

    When any loved one dies unexpectedly (as opposed to leaving a life of pain), it will hurt our hearts for a long, long time. Others’ comments caused me to remember that after my Dad died so suddenly in 1976, I’ve kept the skirt & jacket I wore to his Home-going service. And I also talk to the beautiful cardinals that daily frequent their feeder, because I’m confident they’re Mother & Daddy.
    Thank you, Sean, for your writings. They’re always such a blessing…whether we’re left crying happy, humorous, sad, etc. tears. Wish I owned a Puffs factory!

    Reply
  18. Angie - July 1, 2017 12:35 am

    This is exactly right.

    Reply
  19. Bobby Reeder - July 1, 2017 1:56 am

    Southern respect. Let’s not let it die.

    Reply
  20. Bobby Reeder - July 1, 2017 1:56 am

    Southern respect. Let’s not let it die.

    Reply
  21. Kathy Lane - July 2, 2017 2:53 pm

    This was a harder post to read today as I am waiting on the call about my brother. He is 18 months older than I am and has stage 4 cancer everywhere. He has not eaten in 8 weeks now and I just don’t know how he is still with us. He used to be a strapping 6’3 and 260 pounds and now he is barely 100 pounds. My thoughts are on how my folks and I are going to make it through the funeral and burial. He is a wonderful person, father, brother, son, husband and a fighter- Drs gave him 3-6 months and he has fought on for 8- he has 2 children ages 12 and 14 and a sweet wife. I am trying not to think of it and your post just brought it all to mind. But I loved what you said about those that pull over and even get out of the cars. For a moment the world stops-I just hope it can restart again

    Reply
  22. Debbie - July 4, 2017 3:13 pm

    I pulled over just the other day, on a 4-lane divided highway in deep South Georgia, as a funeral procession went by on the other side of the highway. Cars went flying by me, most with out of state tags, as we live in a town with a university and an Air Force base. They don’t understand the southern way of showing respect and how the traditions of my mother and father and my grandparents is passed along to me and, hopefully, to my child as well. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe when you’re in one of the cars following the hearse that contains your spouse, at the age of 42, or a beloved parent, or elderly grandparents, when you see people pulling over to show respect. When my 42-year old husband suddenly passed away, our small town also flew the flag at our local post office at half staff. He was a well-loved and respected volunteer firefighter, first responder, and was involved in many aspects of our community. I had never felt so alone as when he died, until the outpouring of love and respect from our community. (And when my Daddy died, I wanted his watch…he was never without it, and even though it was an inexpensive item, it meant the world to me.) God bless America…and God bless our small towns.

    Reply
  23. Stan - July 4, 2017 7:55 pm

    Sean, was introduced to your blog by a friend of mine from Alabama just a few days ago. I just want to tell you that you have a new fan and reader. I wanted you to know that I can feel your pain in how you lost your Dad. I lost my Mom to suicide when I was 13 and my oldest son the same way he was 42 and a veteran we lost him the 29th June 2014 and some days it feels like last week. My Dad was a veteran of WWII and a former POW he passed in 2012. I always pull over and stop when a funeral procession passes as it is the final respect that you can pay someone. I have already been exploring your older posts and you have touched my heart and I thank you for that.

    Reply
  24. Kay Keel - July 6, 2017 9:42 pm

    The practice fields at Northview High School in Dothan lie along Westgate Parkway, the main route to one of the local cemeteries. When the young men and women practicing on those fields see the blue lights indicating a funeral procession, they give shout, practice stops and those young men and women “take a knee” in respect to the family of the deceased. I’ve witnessed it, taken part in it and my eyes filled up with tears just telling you about it. Respect for others and empathy for what they are going through must be taught to our young people. Thankfully we still do that in the South!

    Reply
  25. Linda - August 19, 2017 8:31 am

    My only son committed suicide in 2006. He had recently bought a new Dodge truck that was his pride and joy. We took his casket to the graveyard in the back of his truck. I have never seen such a huge procession. Cars and trucks for miles or so it seemed. I slept with his favorite shirt for a year. It comforted me and made him feel close. Over the years I have tried so hard to dream of him. In all these years I’ve dream of him twice.

    Reply
  26. Ellie Jones - August 19, 2017 9:41 am

    After my Daddy’s funeral Mass, the trip to the cemetery took a turn down a two lane street. As the procession moved slowly down the street, an elderly gentleman, sitting on his front porch, got up, walked to the street, removed his hat, placed it across his heart, and bowed his head until the procession passed his house. I will never forget that.

    Reply
  27. June Browder - August 19, 2017 2:38 pm

    Sean, I love your post but this one really got to me the most. My husband of 57 years passed two years ago. I miss him every single day & the thing I miss most is he made me laugh. This tough hardworking man would stop & pull over for funerals, it did not matter if they were on the other side of the median, he stopped. He wore Old Spice, I still have his last bottle, sometimes I open it take a deep breath & it seems he is with me. I’m proud to be from the South hope we never lose some traditions.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  28. Rebecca - August 19, 2017 4:27 pm

    Sean, as I sit here with tears I am reminded of the too many family funerals I have attended. And yes I still pull over as far as I can when for a funeral procession.
    I don’t remember anything about my father’s funeral, nothing past leaving to go to it that day. Memory block? Maybe. Far too painful even now knowing how he lived out his final days. Most likely guilt and pain.
    I remember pretty much all of my mom’s.
    God bless you and keep on making us who we are.

    Reply
  29. Mary Beth - August 19, 2017 7:12 pm

    My daddy was a truck driver while I was growing up. That meant long times away from home. To a little girl who loved her daddy, 2 weeks was a long time. I got “homesick” for him, so my way of dealing with it was to get his pillow & lay with it because it smelled like him. It wasn’t the greatest substitute, but it got me thru. As I grew up, every now & then, when he would hug me, I would take deep sniffs of his head & when he would assk why, I told him I was storing them up for the times when we were apart. He has been on his eternal journey now for 12 years. I can close my eyes & still remember the smell of his hair. My mama gave me one of his hats & his hairbrush after he passed. I have them stored in a bag & every now & then, I open it up to get a refreshing of my memory. Things like this & the stopping for grieving funeral processions remind us of who we are, where we come from & who we belong to. So thankful to belong to a group of folks who care enough to remember & for you who bring it to our attention from time to time. You are a blessing each & every day!

    Reply
  30. Melodie - August 20, 2017 4:35 pm

    I’ve had to experience this too many times, just for my own family. I am always impressed how people do respect a funeral procession. Those who don’t pull over, usually are caught unaware, at least I like to think so. I always pull to the side when I see the long, sad, line of vehicles with their headlights on. Those moments taken from me, will never compare to the moments they have lost with there dearly departed.

    Thank you again, for a beautiful story.

    Reply
  31. unkle - September 12, 2017 4:34 am

    I worked for a man from Boston , he did not have a clue about the southern thangs we did just because. Joe got cancer from his Vietnam agent orange exposure. He died. His funeral procession was shown great respect in Dothan. I was sure he would have appreciated all of yall pulling over just for him. I know that I did . Like the tee shirt said “It’s a Southern Thang you wouldn’t understand”

    Reply
  32. Dianne - September 18, 2017 10:21 pm

    It’s custom for us in rural areas of Canada to do this too. I can’t speak for the cities as I love the rural life.

    Reply

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