(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.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.
"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)
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…
(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.
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.