Funerals and Weddings

4 Jul

Having had a very diverse group of friends and neighbors over the years, I have had the occasion to attend equally diverse weddings and funerals. There have been the secular where the individual officiating clearly did not know the individuals involved, the formal Roman Catholic, a variety of basic Protestant, and even a traditional Chinese wedding and a Chinese funeral. I’ve listed funerals and weddings together because they actually share some of the same things: an official, traditions, family and friends, and both laughter and tears. All are part of life experiences to be shared.

We have now lived in Texas for 4 years. We’ve spent so much time working on the house or planning trips that we’ve been wrapped up in our own lives. I keep saying we need to expand into more community activities but we really haven’t done much. We know a few people in town by sight but not as many as I’d like. Being a Southern town we’ve had lots of invitations to join them for church but we have not done that either. We also know a few neighbors and even some of their extended family. It is through the neighbors that we have attended two funerals in as many months.

Both funerals were for women who had many friends and family members in the community. Both were known for their generosity and kindness to all around them. They took the role of mother very seriously and will leave a large hole in the lives they touched. They brought both tears and laughter in a true celebration of their lives. Oddly although we knew their husbands and daughters, we had never met either of the women. Learning about them at their funerals saddened me that I had never gotten the chance to know them. We had attended not as mourners but as a sign of respect.

The two funerals were also extremely different. The first was held in a funeral home just up the street from our house. There was standing room only not long after we arrived. The service was dominated by stories from friends and relatives.  The musical selections were recorded popular songs from the last 4 decades. They had me thinking about what type of music I would want at my own funeral some day. As apposed to weddings, funerals are a fact of life for all of us but we just don’t get to enjoy them. I’m sure that family gathered to share food and stories after the service. It is just what families do.

The second funeral was at the Black Southern Baptist church a little farther up the street and over two blocks. It was raining so I decided it would be best to drive. We arrived early to a packed parking lot and even more closely packed church. It is a tiny church and the ushers were scurrying to find seats for even more people who followed us in. Almost half of the pews were reserved for family but we were placed in a row immediately behind the reserved ones. The young woman next to me asked if we were from Honey Grove. She had driven up from Ft Worth to attend with her mother who was a long time friend of the deceased. She said the the church seemed to be much smaller that she remembered from childhood.  She didn’t ask if we were family because we were two of four white faces in the entire church.

The service was conducted by four different Reverends with four very different styles. Two were rather quiet and reserved and conducted prayers with different tempos. Next was a tiny woman who stepped up from the family pews. She reflected in depth on the deceased and her devotion to friends, family and the church. Her speech was very lively and filled with lots of praise to the Lord. She was preceded and followed by some of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard by individuals and the entire choir. It felt like stepping into Whitney Houston’s version of The Preacher’s Wife. The eulogy was given by the fourth minister who said he had only known the deceased for a short time – 6 years. He continued for almost 30 minutes of animated praise to the Lord inter spaced with the need to catch his breath and wipe his face. The only A/C unit was located in the window beside our pew in the back. Somewhere in the middle the young woman beside me gave up an “Oh My Goodness.” I asked if it was not as she remembered. “Oh no. This is straight out of a movie.” My thoughts exactly.

As the service ended, we slipped out the door as the final viewing began. We were joined by a number of others who started to collect by the parked cars. The rain had stopped so people could easily mingle and catch up with individuals they had not seen in decades. It was a long time before enough cars started to move cars from the roads blocked solid in all directions. If anyone had had a medical emergency, there would have been no way from an ambulance to get through.

Our neighborhood streets were also filled with cars. The woman and her husband lived across the street from us and her daughter. Family members were gathering as they had for Father’s Day two weeks earlier. I’m sure there would be tears, laughter and good stories shared in remembering a life well lived.

As a people watcher, I’ve found the two functions fascinating in their similarities and differences. Next time I hope we are attending a wedding. I wonder if Southern weddings has special traditions?



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