Monday, March 22, 2010

Procession

funeral_procession
                             (photo credit)
Have you ever been a part of a funeral procession? The hearse carries the departed from the funeral home to the church, and then to the cemetery for burial. The lead car is often a police car, followed by the hearse and the cars carrying the closest family members, and finally, the rest of the mourners… other police may follow the procession, or be stationed at intersections along the route… all vehicles drive in single file formation, lights on… a slow and formal procession through town, not stopping at lights, other drivers pulling over to allow the procession to pass, etc. It is somewhat disruptive to traffic, but it’s a minor price to pay to show a bit of respect to fellow humans who are suffering the loss of a loved one.
I just read this article and found it very sad:
Police escort fewer funeral processions
By Larry Copeland USA TODAY
ATLANTA — When the police department in Gulfport, Miss., recently ended long funeral processions by limiting them to five vehicles, the news was not well-received by some residents, who saw it as killing a cherished tradition.
"We could either limit the number of vehicles, or not do (funeral escorts) at all," explained Lt. Brian Smith, head of the city's traffic unit.
Police-escorted funeral processions for ordinary citizens are a rarity in big cities in the USA, and increasingly so in smaller cities.
Liability and staffing concerns have prompted several police departments in large metropolitan areas to stop providing the escorts. Police in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Miami, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Los Angeles said this week they no longer provide escorts, except for police officers, firefighters or military personnel killed in battle. (more)
My father had a procession. Although he had insisted that he did NOT want any sort of a fancy funeral… I believe he phrased it as “Just stick me in a cardboard box and do not waste the money”!… I couldn’t do that for him because I had my mom, who was suffering from dementia at that time, and the rest of the family to think of. Mom was going to need a viewing, church service, flowers, etc., and my sister wanted our father buried near them, especially since my mother would be going to live out near her (which meant travel and a separate graveside service). I kept costs down as much as possible, but didn’t skip any steps. The funeral is as much about the living as it is the dead.
That entire time period, surrounding my father’s death, was a strange combination of stark reality, and float-y surrealism. I’d spent about 3 months living with my parents after my father found out he had terminal cancer. Honor was still a baby and was with me; Brad and Brian were back home in Maryland, Brad working, Brian attending a Montessori day school. On one hand, I’d never felt more alone in life, yet on the other, I was completely surrounded… not only by my father’s friends and our extended family, but by the whole community. People called, mowed the lawn, visited and brought food. Neighbors helped me with so much! Southern people hug, btw, and not just people you know. Random doctors, nurses, bankers, you name it, they all hug. I only had to hand the pharmacist a list of medicines for my father, for her to realize that he was terminal and she came out from behind the booth to hug me! It was weird, but very comforting.
I got to know the ER all too well – not just for my dad, but my mom too. We had too many scares, and at one point, I thought we might be burying them both at the same time; she managed to outlive dad by 5 years. I also, in general, had a difficult time dealing with my mom over day to day things. We never got along smoothly anyway, and the dementia did not improve that, but we did ok.
Dad passed away quietly, this month 7 years ago. I miss him terribly and wish that he weren’t missing out on knowing his grandkids. Losing my dad was one of the toughest things I’ve ever been through. During the whole ordeal, I just wanted to hide, yet, it was on me to get us through it. And we managed. I think we even did a pretty decent job of things.. maybe not neat, pretty, or all that traditional stuff, but I met the goals I set on the stuff I had to do, regarding the needs of those who mattered most, which was all that was important to me. I’m in agreement with Dad when it comes to all the ridiculous hooplah… I tried to keep the hooplah levels sane; it wasn’t easy.
When it came to the actual funeral, I tried to keep that simple too. One thing that made it a bit strange though, was that while my mom and most of the family are Baptist, my father was Catholic. Tricky. I wanted him to have a final mass, although I’m not sure how I managed to stick to that plan… I was quite ticked off with his church at the time. In hospital, he was denied final sacrament and absolution because he was married, for 37 years(!), to a non-Catholic (with 5 plus years of dementia under her belt by the time of my father’s death; she wasn’t going to be converting, and the priest knew that). Theirs was a valid marriage, but the priest said it was non-sacramental, never mind that my mom was baptized in her church. I think that he was wrong. The Catholic Church has all sorts of rules, yes, but mixed marriages are acceptable… yet… dad accepted the refusal, he nodded his head and said ok. I wanted to lash out at the priest, but I kept my mouth shut. My belief in God is stronger than randomly applied, bone-headed dogma, where the word of man is more important than the spirits of humans. If Dad was ok about risking death without the rituals, then I was ok too, because I know God would know the truth and that He would be ok with dad, and mom too – they’re probably up in heaven right now, enjoying the spring weather, hitting a few golf balls, and sipping cold beer. Anyway… despite my personal annoyance (Thank you dad, you were a great influence on my life and spirit, and bless you for not condemning my soul to abuse by the Catholic faith - actually, thanks to mom too, if either had tried to force me into either of their religions, I would have turned my back and walked off forever. Both gave me education - not brain washing, and let me find my own true path.), I know that my dad was a good man who spent his life devoted to his church. So even though I truly do not ‘get it’, I wanted his final farewell to be done right. His way. Thankfully, a neighbor attended the same church and was able to help. Of course, the whole ceremony was probably confusing to the non-Catholics in the gathering (meaning, most of the family), but this part was for dad, not them… and mom was going to be confused anyway…
disk5 007
(Long time ago – my sister was brand new, and I just turned two… I love this photo.)
Where was I? Oh yes, getting there. Mom and dad had retired, up ‘north’ from Florida, to a middle-sized Southern town, and we used the funeral home recommended by their friends. They did a nice job for us, and when we arrived on the day of the mass, we lined up behind the hearse, and slowly left for the church. Up until that point, the point when the vehicles pulled out of the driveway and onto the main street, I don’t really think I’d realized that all the stress of caring for my dad had truly ended, that most of the chaos of arranging his funeral was over, and we were now to the part where we could say goodbye. That realization hit hard and sudden. All that float-y surreal-ness… grounded.
We drove through town… uniformed police stopping cross traffic at intersections, and traffic pulling over on the side of the road to let us drive by. Some people did not just pull over - they actually stopped their cars, got out, and stood solemnly by the side of the road with their hands over their hearts. My dad wasn’t a public figure, and while he was a Navy veteran (WWII era) we didn’t have anything on the hearse to indicate that. To these people, he was a fellow human and that was enough. That display of respect and tribute, from total strangers, touched me deeper than anything else that day.
dad
I hope that US communities find some better way to incorporate funeral processions into ‘modern realities’. Educating young drivers would be a start. Like Ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, my parents always told me to give any funeral procession the respect I would give if it were my loved one being tended to. One day it might be my loved one. They were right. It would be a terrible shame to lose this particular ritual of mourning.

8 comments:

SeeThroughGreen said...

you know what! I agree with you with all my heart! I know that here in Saint John people even pulling over to the side of the road is becoming more rare with each passing year. I also know that even though I am young, 19, I ALWAYS pull over to the side and stop my car when there is a funeral. No acceptions.
I remember one time I stopped and let the funeral pass and one man behind me got out of his car and started swearing at me. I said... is there an emergency, are you late for work, school...etc. turns out he was out for a drive. I told him to sit the hell back in his car and show some bloody respect. If I could make myself late for work, he could miss a couple mins of his perfect drive.

anyway... there be my rant lol!
P.s! Southerners really do hug...everything, anything and anybody! I love it!

A Daring Adventure said...

So sorry for the loss of your Dad, and all the difficult complications during that time. :(

Blessings to you...

Connie said...

SeeThroughGreen - I think that people get too wrapped up in the day to day and forget the big picture. That siren behind you means "let me through now!" Whose seconds are more precious? The person in the ambulance who might survive if they get to the hospital in time? Or the person who wants the extra time to grab coffee on the way to work. Hello people?! I always thought it was nice when people stop for funerals, I never realized exactly how nice, until they stopped for my dad.

Connie said...

A Daring Adventure - Thank you (:-) The loss of a beloved parent is a hard thing, but I suppose it's a rite of passage we all must go through. I knew I'd lose them sooner than later. They married late in life and both lived past 70, so I shouldn't feel gypped, but yea.. I sure wish I could call home sometimes! Hopefully dad's got a good net connection up there and can keep up with my blog, see the photos of the kids, etc. ;)

Christine said...

I am so sorry for the religion you were exposed to. I have personally not experienced anything you have mentioned albeit I am not Catholic. God is about relationship-- and you are so right-- He absolutely knows our hearts and wants Him in them.
Blessings Connie.

Connie said...

Christine - I sometimes think some people get so wrapped up in the man-made words and ritual of religion that they forget that God is the one in control! To me, religions are like languages. Can we say that Latin is better than Greek or better than Arabic or any language? No. They are just imperfect tools that we have created to speak to one another. Religions are what we have created to speak to the divine presence we feel in out souls. We are not All-Knowing and therefore incapable of knowing what is the absolute truth regarding God - I don't think we are meant to or we'd KNOW it! - so we just do the best we can. These human noises we make with our mouths - not important. What matters is that we know that God knows what truths we hold in our hearts and that we accept that and live our lives accordingly. Of course, this is what I understand, and believe, and accept in my heart, but when I run into contradictions and 'imperfections' like I did with my father's priest, I still get very mad and hurt. But that's just me being human. Ah well... humans were not meant to be perfect (otherwise, we would be).
btw - I would never wish to be Catholic, it doesn't fit me, but I have great respect for the religion simply because it was an integral part of who my father was and I loved and respected him. I get mad, but then I work on adjusting my attitude. I remind myself of what is human and what is Divine - and I get over it :) ... eventually (:D !!

Limningedge said...

I was a late edition to the family; so I guess if I had really thought about it (but you don't when you're young, cause you are gonna live forever and so will all those around you, right?) I would have realized that there was a strong possibility that I would lose my parents when I was younger than average.
I did pretty well really, better than average I think.
I was pregnant with my 2nd child when I lost Dad - he was 75; more than the average "three score and ten".
My Mum was a few months off 90, and the kids were grown, so I did a lot better than average there.
However, there is never a "convenient" time for those who are left, so the best we can ask for, is the easiest time for those who leave.
Regarding keeping in contact with them read http://smouldering-mushroom.blogspot.com/2008/05/questions.html
Keep well friend.

Connie said...

Limningedge - You were blessed to have your folks for a good long time :) You are right, we don't always realize how fast time can fly when we are young and the future seems so far away. I do take comfort that my parents had good lives and easy passings... my dad was independent to his last day. I think he'd have been terribly depressed had he not been able to fend for his own basic needs, but that wasn't the case. What you said about the best time of passing being what's best for the one who leaves, made me think of a quote in a book that I've always liked. The character was Death, and in response to someone who complained about an innocent dying too young, she said "You get what anyone gets; you get a lifetime". That sounds very fair to me. I'm wandering over to the link you've suggested :)