Photo by Simeon Muller on Unsplash

Dearly Departing Funerals to Die For: When Gettin’ There is Half the Fun- by Jana Barrett

Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with pre-planning your funeral. I think it is prudent and I think it saves the family a lot of extra heartache.  I’m just saying that some people have a little too much fun going through the process.

A case in point would be my sweet little Mama and Daddy.  They were notorious planners. I think they even had a bathroom schedule on the side of the refrigerator.  But, they began planning their graduation from this life when I was 14. It should have been an omen to me one evening when my future husband (this is the South, we plan ahead and I didn’t want to be an old maid) came to take me to church and the salesman from Gardens of Memory cemetery was there.  As I went out the door there were papers and pictures of graves all over the place. I wondered if I shouldn’t have had a special altar of prayer for them at church that night, but we got to singing praise music and I thought it would quench the Holy Spirit.

The first problem was this cemetery was one of those places where all the grave markers are flat on the ground.  All you can see are these flowers sticking up and you have to walk until you find the names. I just knew that unless there was a map I would be sunk because I’d never be able to find them. So, I suggested that they stick one of those ping pong balls with a smiley face in their vase.  It was a great way to find your car in the Wal-Mart parking lot in the 70’s and it would also add a little cheer to such a dreary place. My future husband, who just happened to be at the head of his high school auto mechanics class, suggested that they attach an alarm to the marker and use a panic button on a key chain that would flash lights and honk.  I thought how festive that would be on New Year’s Eve. Yet, I still couldn’t come to terms with them being buried in what looked like a huge croquet court, no matter how much our family loved the game. But that was their journey-not mine.

They then had to decide which funeral home they were going to use.  They were in their 40’s and time was of the essence. Heaven forbid eternity beckon and they not have a decent funeral home picked out.   I’m not sure how one goes about this, but the dining room table was covered in Funeral Home fans and calendars from seven surrounding counties.  We passed by one funeral home that touted they had low cost funerals. I wondered if they had coupons, because there was a lady in church not doing too hot and I thought I could slip one in her get well card just in case she took a turn for the worse.  

Time moved on and things got a little hairy.  Over the years we witnessed the most remarkable burial ritual metamorphosis you have ever seen.  First, they changed churches. They scratched Bro. Fred and penciled in Bro. Homer. The new church sang out of the contemporary hymnal so out with “Where we’ll Never Grow Old” and on to “There Are No Facelifts in Heaven”.  In a few years their pall bearers started passing away so they started adding 5 year olds to the list in case they lived to be in their nineties.

After a while, they decided that they wanted to be buried in the church yard.  They had to sell their plot at the croquet court. It didn’t take long. Someone had relatives next door to them and just bought up the whole neighborhood.  There was quite a little issue over what to do with Mama’s granite stone that had her name and everything on it. They had to dig it up and she used if for a door stop until they got the new plots picked out.  Daddy had to wait for his, he was a veteran and didn’t get one until he was gone. That was one less stress they had to deal with.

Picking out caskets turned out to be a big deal. Daddy was taken by a sleek black one that had a cream interior with the words, “Gone to Heaven” embroidered on the lid  just in case we weren’t sure exactly where he was, sort of a final post-it-note. They loved post-it-notes so we just humored them. He was pretty ramped up by his choice.  In about six weeks the funeral director called them and said he had just gotten in a model like the one Daddy wanted if they wanted to come and have his picture made in it.  I thought he was kidding, but had to absolutely put my foot down when they grabbed the Polaroid and car keys. They were very miffed with me. Apparently I had ruined their Christmas card photo.  

Then Mama decided she was not going to burden us with the cost of a pall for her casket, so she spent three years working on what she called her casket quilt- I called it her shroud.  She was mean. When I would show up, she would snatch it up and start sewing on it with a satanic glint in her eye. She did start a trend, however. Everyone then started making their own casket quilts.  Some even made pillow shams and skirts to go around the outside. Then the race was on for who was going to die first so it would look like the casket quilt was their idea. They all prayed for each other’s health constantly and kept each other up on modern techniques for curing diseases and the use of vitamins and herbs. They all gave it a run for their money, but, alas, they were the healthiest women in the county.

Well, sad to say, the day came for each of them.  Daddy in his sleek black casket with embroidered post-it-note and military foot marker and two years later Mama won the casket quilt competition in her lovely pink casket covered with her hand sewn casket quilt. They settled in a beautiful part of the church yard spitting distance from the pavilion where they have Homecoming on the first Sunday in June every year.   All we had to do was show up and everything took its course, just as they had planned. What they didn’t prepare us for was how to deal with the pain that followed us home like dead plants. We were on our own with that.

Four years later, their great- grandbabies play around their headstones while butterflies flit over our heads and birds fuss in the trees as we pick, primp and clean and get things just the way they would have wanted for another first Sunday in June.  Funny thing, they didn’t have to leave a post-it-note for us to know how to do that, some things you just know by heart.

About the Author – Jana Barrett is the mayor of Altamont, Tennessee, a small town in the Appalachian foothills.  She is an elementary art teacher, business owner, (*) and author. Her work has been published in Reader’s DigestChicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul and Stories for the Family’s Heart.   She has authored three books of humorous essays, three children’s books and a book of poetry.  All are available on amazoncom.

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