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When Good People Go Home to Glory

Five things you should know about a Southern funeral.

​​​Last week the Good Lord of Southern Pawpaws called mine home. He was top tier as Pawpaws go. He snuck sweets when Grandma wasn’t looking, cheered for the home team, hugged our necks, and gave every kid in the grocery store a dollar. He served his country and his family and when the Mayor one time around 1992 told him to recycle cans, not a single one has gone to a landfill since.

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Although I probably appeared strong and stoic, I was and am still sorrowful and momentarily rudderless.

It’s true what they say though, fried chicken and holding the hand of a good friend makes anything tolerable. They do say that, right? If not, they should. Because we had beaucoups of fried chicken and held good friends’ hands, and it was certainly all the more tolerable.

There’s a strange mix of gratitude and mourning when a person aged 93 goes on to glory. There’s appreciation for a long life, yet the poignant realization that there’s never enough time with the people we love. 

And in a whirlwind of emotions that no amount of anticipatory grieving can assuage, a funeral must be planned and endured. 

It was then that I was grateful for funeral directors and proud to be from a small town in the South. If you plan on dyin’, I’d recommend findin’ a small town and livin’ there awhile first. Because nobody does dying like Southerners. Maybe it’s that nobody does living like ‘em, either. 

Here’s the thing about a Southern funeral: 

We’re gonna pay our respects to somebody. If you ain’t been ugly, we’re gonna pay ‘em to YOU; if you have, we’ll pay ‘em to the people that put up with you. If y’all all been ugly, we’ll offer prayers. 

We’re gonna fry some chicken and cover a dish. Church men and women showed up for us with paper goods, banana puddings, chicken spaghetti, strawberry and pound cakes, and enough canned drinks to rebuild the Taj Mahal. When you’re wanderin’ around in a fog, it helps not to worry about supper or toilet paper. 

We’re gonna have a processional and pull over for one that passes. Having grown up in the South all my life, I didn’t know that pulling over for a funeral processional isn’t commonly accepted in other parts of the country. Honey, give me people who aren’t in such a selfish hurry that they can be courteous to a grieving family. If you see a hearse, ease on over to the side of the road and thank the good Lord it ain’t you or someone you love.

We’re gonna bring you flowers livin’ and dead. Several years ago Tanya Tucker came outta hiding with a song Bring My Flowers Now (While I’m Living) and she ain’t wrong about it. But Southerners want to see that dirt blanketed with flowers as a sign of their presence and care. If it bothers you that the flowers will soon be dead, send a green plant that will go home with the living. As long as there’s a green thumb in the family, someone will look at it and remember there are people who love them. 

We’re gonna have something to say. Southerners are rarely speechless. We don’t talk, we visit. We were lucky that you couldn’t say anything bad about my Grandpa. He lived a life of integrity and devotion to us. Be a good person and do good things and that’s exactly how you’ll be remembered.

Life is full of surprises: good, bad, and ugly. And as much as I hate to say it out loud – we all die. Surprises and death are more easily encountered in good company and with an ounce of preparation. 

In addition to having a will and all your paperwork in order, I encourage you to consider a funeral home and burial place while you’re alive and well. Having all that in order is the best gift you can leave behind for a grieving family. 

As morose as it sounds, keep a digital photo album with some of your favorite photos of the people you love, separated and labeled by name. If you don’t know where your loved ones went to school or conducted military service, ask them and clarify dates and spellings. Ask questions about what they think are their most important accomplishments. Make sure you know who your parents’ closest friends and neighbors are and have their contacts. Keep a written record of some of your favorite stories or memories. Sometimes in a fog of grief, you forget things you thought you’d never lose. 

More than any of that – love your people now. Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” Show up for holidays and special occasions and go to the ballgame. Hold the babies and kiss the mamas. Wear your seatbelt, drink your water, and take care of yourself. 

And when your time comes may you be as lucky as my Grandpa, who was remembered by a funeral home full and left an impeccable legacy. 

May the storytelling he mastered carry on in my words. And may the “Good People” in your life carry on in yours.