Friday, January 25, 2008

Things Have Changed with Funerals

Things change all the time, and that's true with funerals as well. This week, as we buried my brother, Jim, I had an upclose and personal interaction with funerals. I wasn't involved in any of the arrangements so could look at things from something of an outsider perspective. But, of course, it was a funeral for someone I loved a great deal, so I was very aware of everything.

1. Something I think is a great innovation in the last few years is the picture board. I think these really add something to the event - giving a sense of the person over a lifetime. For those close to them they're reminded of events in which they participated. For others it's a way to give a glimpse of the life they lived.

2. People don't send baskets of flowers that go to the graveside nearly as often as they used to. Instead, they send things that will last - plaques, mementos, live plants, memorials, and even cut bouquets that are meant to be taken home. I was shocked at how few things covered the grave at the end of the day, because most of the things sent were not designed for that. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just something I hadn't realized had changed so much. Each remembrance is meaningful.

3. People still think "death portraits" are odd. It is a long standing southern tradition to take death portraits. I believe it was once more common all over the country, but has remained in the south. At one time, people would dress the departed and put them in a life-like position to make a photograph. This was at a time when people had few photographs made so it was all the more important to capture that person's visage - even if it was after they had departed.. It is something I've always thought of as perfectly normal - "the norm" in fact. I have photographs of my father, my mother, my grandmother, and various other relatives. I asked Johnny if it would be OK for me take photos of Jim and he said absolutely. I didn't want to do it if it would upset him. Greg took them for me. It's generally done by a friend of the family and provided to the family.

I considered putting one on the blog the night of the funeral because for the last year or so of his life Jim read my blog faithfully, and loved it when he was on it. But, I decided it might shock people to see a death portrait so I didn't put it up. Instead I shared the photo Greg snapped of me at the graveside. He took a series of them while I was there late that day. He liked that one because it's so odd - I'm moving and my whole body has motion blur, except my face, which is clear.

4. Music at funerals now includes a variety of styles. The funeral started with "When I get where I'm Going" by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton. It was in January of 2006 that this song started popping up in my life with amazing regularity, and continued long after it was on the charts. I would flip the station and say to myself, "the third (or second or whatever) song that comes on will be important to me..." I'm betting that song has been the seond, third or whatever song at least four dozen times since then. Considering how little I listen to the radio, that's amazing. Jim hadn't even been diagnosed at that time, and I wondered why that song kept coming up. And I had no idea it would be part of the ceremony, but there it was. Again.

5. Something that never changes, I guess, is that every call, email, note and remembrance is meaningful..I have been so touched at the number of people who've emailed or commented that read the blog, or that I know from online groups, as well as those in "real life." I'm so very thankful for people who have let me know they're thinking of me, that they're remembering us in their prayers

In real life, it was Teresa who drove from a neighboring town to my house the day it happened, to see if I was OK. It was Terry who sprung into action to help me unload the van for the trip. It was Greg and Mark who started making arrangements to come to the funeral. And Greg is still here with me. I need him at the moment. I need that bit of "normal life" in my life here. Greg's mom loaned him her car for the trip, and I'm so appreciative of such gestures. He will leave soon to go back and I'm not ready for that. But, I'll just have to get ready.

All of us can do whatever we have to do - but it was easier having Greg on one side of me and Mark on the other during the funeral. They were here at my mom's funeral, too. It is at times like this that you know these are people you can depend on - they will always come through for you. I'm thankful. So very thankful for that.

When you're grieving you want to feel like the world understands your sorrow. It seems obscene to you that the world is continuing to turn, that people are going on about their lives, and yet you know it's essential. As Mama used to say, "Life is for the living."

It just takes some time to feel like being one of the living again.


When I Get Where I'm Going
Artist/Band: Brad Paisley - with Dolly Parton

When I get where I'm going
On the far side of the sky
The first thing that I'm gonna do
Is spread my wings and fly

I'm gonna land beside a lion
And run my fingers through his mane
Or I might find out what it's like
To ride a drop of rain

Yeah when I get where I'm going
There'll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years
And I'll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear
Yeah when I get where I'm going
Don't cry for me down here

I'm gonna walk with my grand daddy
And he'll match me step for step
And I'll tell him how I missed him
Every minute since he left
Then I'll hug his neck


So much pain and so much darkness
In this world we stumble through
All these questions I can't answer
So much work to do

But when I get where I'm going
And I see my maker's face
I'll stand forever in the light
Of his amazing grace
Yeah when I get where I'm going
There'll be only happy tears
I will love and have no fear
When I get where I'm going
Yeah when I get where I'm going