For some unknown reason, the other day, I began adding up the number of funerals I’ve attended since moving to the South. I stopped at eight since I quickly realized what a morbid, mental exercise I was undertaking.
Tallying funerals wasn’t what got me thinking in the first place, anyway. It was the fact that funerals are such a common occurrence for me and Ronda; so much so that, early in our marriage, she cautioned me always to have a dark suit “ready” at all times.
It is now my personal experience that — whether it’s a “home going”, a “celebration of life”, or some other kind of “send-off” — death is treated with greater consequence here in the South.
At this point, I should confess that, after my mother died, my siblings and I held no funeral for her. What’s more, after my father died, at his request, we held no funeral for him, either. My mother’s ashes are in a lovely urn atop my sister’s mantlepiece where she cheerfully speaks to our mom whenever passing. As for my father’s ashes? I’m aware they “reside” in a very lovely, wooden box. More than that, I know not. After all, it was he who made it clear, during his life, that he wouldn’t care, anyway.
Please, understand: I don’t mean to sound callous. The fact that I regard their “shuffling off of their mortal coils” somewhat matter-of-factly is due to my own beliefs, beliefs which I thankfully share with many of those here in this region and, in particular, my married-into family.
And another confession. Or, rather, a disclosure — even a bit of a spoiler for those fans of Ronda Rich: Ronda has instructed me that, when she dies, she’d like to be interred in a “Valentino red”(which, Ronda claims, is the “most perfect shade of red”) dress.
She will, of course, be “featuring” a different ensemble prior to her actual interment. Yes, she’s requested a wardrobe change between the viewing and the burial. Ronda’s also requested several songs be sung including, “I’ll Fly Away” and “They Shall Walk With Me In White”.
You may be surprised to hear that Ronda does have her limits. While she thoroughly enjoyed the playing of Elvis Presley’s “Polk Salad Annie” at one funeral we attended as the casket was wheeled from the sanctuary, that kind of “irreverence” is where she seems to draw the line. For herself, at least.
Also on Ronda’s funeral list: a procession from the church to the cemetery — nothing so grand as a New Orleans jazz procession with mule-drawn carriage, coffin in tow, mourners following with parasols and singing along the way.
No, just a long line of cars, one where folks who are not in the actual procession, pull to the side of the road and stop. If observers would step from their cars and remove any hats, that would please my wife. When she sees and takes part in such an occasion now, she dabs away tears.
If this already isn’t too much information, know that I’ve capitulated to Ronda’s insistence that I not be cremated. Our compromise was that she agrees to forego having a viewing for me (you’re welcome.) It isn’t that I regard a viewing as necessarily macabre. However, we came close at one funeral where the electricity was out and we used flashlights, coffin-side.
Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it all, though I can say for sure that when viewing someone whose life has been extinguished, they do not, at all, look a though they are sleeping.)
As for me? Unlike Woody Allen who said, “I don’t fear death. I just don’t want to be around when it happens”, when it’s my time to go, I’ll be more than fine. After all, my Savior has promised, that in an instant, I will be with Him. And nothing could ever be any better.
John Tinker, a television writer, is sitting in for his wife, Ronda Rich. He is a Southerner by choice. Not by birth.