Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't Wear Your Deadlocks Wig to the Cemetery and Other Funeral Rules

There is no more fertile ground for sending yourself to social hell than a funeral.

Last week, after my blog, Grocery Store Rules According to Jean, my older godchild, Babygirl, called me.

"Loved, loved, loved, your blog," she said. (She talks like me.)

"Yeah?" I said. "Then why didn't you comment?"

"It's hectic over here," she said.

And it's true. Babygirl teaches fifth grade and, even as we spoke, Little Babygirl was screaming in the background. Mr. Babygirl has gone back to school and is in the home stretch. Babygirl even had to resign from Junior League, which Oldest Friend and I are still gnashing our teeth about.

"It was so good," she went on, "even if you did mention Precious Angel and not me." She adores Precious Angel, but we are a competitive lot over here.

"I don't believe I ever took you to the grocery store," I said.

She couldn't deny it so she changed the subject. (She learned that from me.)

"I think you should do a rules blog once a month. We know some rules."

"We do, at that," I agreed. Never mind, that we've made most of them up and the rest of the world may not agree with us.

"Funerals," she said. "There are lots of rules about funerals. Do that." We talked about that for a while. She supplied me with some, which that I will take credit for.

1. Don’t put a picture, a football jersey, a favorite rod and reel, or anything else in the casket. No props.

2. Don’t throw yourself on the coffin or into the grave.

3. Don't wear cocktail wear.

4. Don't criticize the floral offering until you get home, even if there is a carnation wagon wheel of death with a full spoke for each living sibling and a half for each dead one.

5. Try to keep hysterics to a minimum, while remembering this is the south and we're high strung.

6. Don't pipe in country music.

7. Don't try to get people to say "War Eagle", "Roll Tide", "Hotty Toddy", "How 'Bout Them Dawgs?" or any other battle cry. It's unseemly and besides, people won't do it if it's not their team

8. And, finally, (this is for you Babygirl, though I suspect you have forgotten this): Do not, under any circumstances, wear a dreadlocks wig at the cemetery.

Here's what happened:

For a brief time, my first cousin was married to Babygirl's aunt, on her daddy's side. During this time, there was a very sad death and Oldest Friend and I set off for the graveside service. It is unclear to me now why we thought it would be a good idea to take seven-year-old Babygirl, but there we were. I suspect she begged to go, knowing full well of the opportunity a funeral provides for socializing. We lectured her all the way. No talking. No dancing. No hopping up and down. No cartwheels. No cheerleader moves. No high spiritedness of any kind. (This was hard for her, even then.)

Unfortunately, no one said to her, "No getting the dreadlocks wig your daddy bought out of the car and putting on your head, even if the service is over." Some things just should not have to be said.

Oldest Friend was otherwise occupied. When I caught sight, over my Aunt Martha Burns's shoulder, of Babygirl moving toward the car as fast as her little black patent shoes would carry her, I suspected a faux pas in the making.

"Excuse me," I told my aunt. "I have to shut something down."

She already had it on her head by the time I got there and was about to rejoin the mourners. I caught her by her upper arm and she tried to twist away from me but I won. We had a talk about how it is unseemly to draw attention to oneself, in general, but not to be tolerated in a graveyard while the preacher is still present.

We don't like that rule about not drawing attention to ourselves—her or me, though we generally keep it in check at funerals.

What's the worst thing you've ever seen at a funeral?


  1. No politicking or sales pitches at funerals. No, really. We're Not In The Mood.

  2. No falling down episodes of grief or waving of hands in the air.

    I once went to a friend's funeral with my son, who was about 10 years old. Like you Jean, I had expressly lectured him on proper decorum. He knew the deceased and had expressed an interest in going (I had never taken him to a funeral before so I thought this might be a good life-lesson for him about grief). My friend was of a particular faith (don't take this wrong - every religion is entitled to how it expresses itself) that included speaking in tongues and gesticulating when the Holy Spirit moved them. I was a little leery of the funeral because of that but I loved her and her sister (who was there) so I determined I should go. However, just to be safe, I made sure my son and I sat on the back pew. It was a beautiful ceremony, lovely flowers and everything seemed okay until... everyone started speaking in tongues and falling down. My son thought this was exciting and fun - I was scared. I had to literally drag him out the back - not because of him but because of me. To this day, he thinks funerals are exciting. Go figure....

  3. Like so many ladies of their generation, neither my grandmother nor her older sister ever learned to drive. When I was in my teens, my father bought me a car, so I soon became one of my grandmother’s chauffeurs, a job I actually loved because I loved my spending time with my fabulous grandmother. My grandmother’s other chauffeurs weren’t teenagers on summer vacation, so when my grandmother’s cousin passed away in July, I was asked to drive her and her sister to the funeral. This was far from my first funeral. I am, after all, a Southern girl, so I grew up knowing that funerals are social occasions where good manners, proper dress, and a lace hankie were requirements. I understood several funeral-related rules, such as floral arrangements are supposed to be fresh cut flowers and never silk, never under any circumstances do you wear red (or other bright colors), and a homemade food item must be delivered to the deceased home prior to the funeral. Why this particular funeral stands out in my memory has nothing to do with the funeral itself or any social faux pas perpetrated by relatives or friends of the deceased. No, it is memorable because of something my great aunt Susie said afterward when I walked her to her front door. She looked at me, a warm smile on her lovely face, the sunshine brightening the blue highlights in her hair, and said, “Thank you so much, Bevly. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.”

  4. I had a young business colleague who passed soon after being told at the emergency room that she was having pain caused by acid reflux. What she actually had endured was a ruptured abdominal artery aneurysm. She died that night at home alone and in pain. We had stood in the parking lot talking about work and life only days before.
    She was known in her community and church for her selfless acts of kindness. As a single working 30-something woman, with no children, she was expected to take care of her parents as well as a long line of cousins, aunts and uncles.
    She lay majestically in her coffin in an enormous White Satin Turban with a blue star "Jewel" and a huge feather affixed to one of the folds. She wore a blindingly White Satin long gown with a gold ric-rac bordered sash adorned with badges and bling like a Turkish Prince. And a feather, and a rose, and a bible in her hands.
    Her funeral consisted of the most beautiful rendition of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" by her Eastern Star Sisters, and then the Bishop asked for "remembrances". For an hour, people stood up in the audience, walked to the pulpit, stood by the casket, and took the microphone from the still humming Eastern Star Sisters to tell the funniest, saddest, and most heart-rending stories I'd ever heard, along with the ones that had made them blow milk out their noses in the cafeteria when they were kids.
    It was done with such familiarity and honesty. I could have sat at the kids table for every holiday meal for years and never been privy to all those stories. They saved the best for last. It was her story and it affected every person sitting there, in a good way.
    Not that it would work for everyone, but the pageantry and the simplicity, sure left an impression on me.

  5. I'm not sure I have any rules to add. You've been quite thorough. The worst behavior I've seen wasn't at the funeral but at the home afterwards. When my ex's father died 35 years ago, all the family was at the house after the service and one of the in-laws stirred up a fuss by announcing which flower arrangements she wanted to take home with her.

    I like Babygirl's idea of a monthly rules blog. When I shopped last Friday, I remembered the rules, kept to the right and counted my items to make sure I was in line with the Express Lane regulations.


  6. I remember seeing my grandmother fling herself at my grandfather's coffin and wail loudly. This particular funeral memory stands out in my mind because I was quite inexperienced in such matters at the time and unaccustomed to seeing people carry on in that manner. A definite violation of Rule 5, but we are in the South... However, it was rather unnerving back then.

  7. Maven Linda--I agree. No giving out political paraphernalia, even if it is a fan and it's August.

    Cheryl--I've been down that road too. Scary doesn't begin to describe it.

    Beverly--I love that story. And we know a funeral is not just a funeral; it truly is a social occasion. If we get too jolly, we can always say, "She would have wanted us to be happy."

    DRW--Rules vary from culture to culture. The kind of funeral you and I would expect, would have been wrong in that situation. And by-the-by, speaking of funerals. This morning there was an obit in the Decatur Daily for a Debra Sutton. Gave me the creeps. I know you don't live in Madison. I know you are fine. I know your name has not been Sutton in a long, long time. Still.

    PM--Ah, yes. The bone picking. It always starts with the potted plants and moves on to the silver and the furniture.

    Crystal--We've all seen it. Some of us have done it or will do it. It's just a matter of time.

  8. Before moving to the south, I'd only attended two funerals; both of which were long-expected, stoic events in which poeple got up and recited pleasant lies about unpleasant people while keeping a straight face. Nothing much memorable about them.

    And then came my first Mississippi funeral (for my husband's side of the family). Which leads me to a rule that shouldn't have to be said, no matter where you're from: Drunken lunatics shouldn't be permitted to roam free durring funeral proceedings.

    It had started out as a perfectly somber ordeal. One of my husband's aunts had died unexpectedly after a brief battle with cancer, leaving most of the family in shocked mourning. In stumbles Steve, the latest husband of one of the two remaining aunts. At six and a half feet, jovial, and tanked out of his already questionable mind, the man couldn't have been ignored even if he'd wanted to be. And he didn't.
    I looked on in fascination and horror as he loudly attempted to socialize, told dirty jokes, and clumsily knocked over half of the flower arrangements. By the end of it, he'd sat on and then -in- the open casket, kissed the corpse, and gotten down on one knee to propose to my husband's grandmother. I've never quite understood why no one made an effort to usher him out. I guess grief really does have the capacity to paralyze people. >.>

    ~Angela Blount

  9. RP--Oh, my. Well. That doesn't even come close to a dreadlocks wig. I can for give a little drunkenness, if is meant to subdue the bereaved. This, however, sounds like drunkenness for sport. It's a good thing there were no firearms present.

    This leads me to a rule I didn't think of: No corpse kissing.

    But you tell a good story!

  10. RP, Wow! You win! Best Funeral Story! I'm sorry and no disrespect, but I nearly fell on the floor laughing. It really should be in someone's book!

  11. Interesting post, Jean. :)

    Funerals are the pits. I'm sure everyone agrees. I abhor going to funerals. It might have something to do with going to a funeral when I was 12 and being completely shocked that my Great-Grandmother looked like she'd wake up any minute, sit up and look at me. I've had nightmares about that ever since. I will go to a funeral to be of service to a dear friend, or to a family member's funeral, but I will not go for any other reason.

    However, I love going to cemetaries. What's up with that? LOL!

    Maven Linda, I've seen politicians showing up in the weirdest places. It seems there is no shame when it's election time. ;)

    Cheryl, your son seems to have taken away good memories from attending funerals. :)

    I love your memory about funerals, Beverly! :D

    DoRightWoman, I just want to be cremated. The thought of people looking upon me and criticising whether or not I look alive or dead gives me the creeps. ;)

    PM, I've dealt with family issues like that. I find it completely horrendous that families split apart over material goods. I'd rather have the person back than have something they owned when they were alive. I never thought behavior like this was possible until my Uncle decided to disown me because I called him to task for it.

    Crystal, I'm not sure how I would act if my spouse died. I'd like to think I would react with poise and dignity, but I'm afraid I would humiliate myself too.

    RedPeril, Yikes! How horrible! Do people really do things like that at funerals? I can only hope that this man was thoroughly imbibed because he mourned the deceased, but it doesn't appear that was the case. This gives me another reason to want to be cremated.

    But I do know that I want Bagpipes playing at my memorial service or funeral. Oh! I think that is a MUST rule for every funeral. ;)

  12. I agree Kathy. I will be cremated. Then I want my ashes scattered at an undisclosed place and not sitting on someone's mantle. LOL I also want an Irish wake, none of this somber stuff. Celebrate life and be glad you ain't ashes!

  13. I am to be cremated, too, Cheryl. And I want all my friends and loved ones to celebrate my crossing into the next life...be happy that my spirit is free of the mortal coil.

    I would like Bagpipes, too, Kathy. A very fitting touch.

    Interesting that my verification word is "reeker," given the subject of this post.

  14. I'm leaving the question of cremation or burial to the ones who are left to deal with me . I figure I won't care.

    But I'd love for everyone to have a big party and tell tales about me; that just seems like the way to go, sliding into home with a big laugh.

  15. I know I'm a Southerner, but I seem to have mostly been able to skip the Southern tradition of funeral attending. Which is good, because I don't like them. I will continue to avoid them as much as possible, though I realize there are some that will be unavoidable, my own included. But, dear Lord, don't put me on display when I pass. I hate the display.

    LOL about the rules and the occurrences, especially the one Angela described. But where's PC to tell about the "Jesus Called" phone? LOVE that one.

  16. Maven Linda--I am with you about the after disposal. I want who ever is in charge of it to do what makes them feel better. I don't visit graves and not because I have issues. I just don't think my loved ones are there.

    Lynn--I've seen that Jesus Called funeral wreath. There was glitter involved which is usually a good and highly desirable thing. Not so sure in the case of funeral flowers.

    When one of my aunts died, the siblings sent a giant wagon wheel wreath with a spoke for each living sibling and a half for each dead one. This was on my daddy's side.

    My first non southern funeral was a bit of a shocker. When my husband's granddaddy died, I asked my brother-in-law and soul mate if I could ride with him to the cemetery. He said, "No because I'm not going and neither are you." Turns out, they we shipping the body three hours away to be buried and nobody went because of the distance. Here, we would have loaded but and gone if it had been a three day trip.

  17. Jean, thanks for your comment. It was a cultural thing. I kind of feel like I failed the writing assignment.

    Please save the clipping of "my death" you found in the paper. And I'm asking you now, as a friend, please, please, wear the dreadlocks wig to my funeral! Text Barry for the undisclosed location. It is to be donned right after the drunken Bagpiper proposes to my mother.
    I don't even want to think about the details, but it will be alright. Introduce yourself to my son. He'll probably be the one in the multicolored clown 'fro wig.

    By the way, did you hear I'm also "divorced"? According to several idiots, I mean people, that my mother encounters regularly at Piggly Wiggly and Dollar General, no amount of re-assurance seems to convince them that I am still married.
    So this death announcement thing might bring out cameras for my "ghost", which is acceptable per the rules.
    That reminds me,"No Firearms" should be a stated rule.

    Ms. Bone, sorry my story gave you the creeps. I had just never before encountered a funeral like that.
    Jugs full of ashes are probably a good call. I'll need one for me body and one for these whiskers that I swore Id never allow anyone to see much less criticize. Oh Lord, who am I kidding, the criticism thing wouldn't end there.
    Someone would just have to say, "Nice jugs. They look so natural."

  18. Oh, I don't visit graves because I think anyone is still there, though I do like the eerie vibe. I enjoy visiting cemetaries to read the tombstones, especially the very old ones. There are stories lurking among the old stones. In the old days, the dead were memorialized well.

    I want to be cremated because I think funeral homes get off charging grieving relatives an exhorbitant sum. Yes, I think people are taken advantage of. I've told my family that I don't want money spent on a fancy this or fancy that. Just cremate me and be done with it. No silken cushions, mahogany coffin, or copper rims. I've been turned off to funeral homes ever since they tried to milk my mother for everything she was worth when my grandparents died, my father too. Do not be fooled. And I don't want to be negative here, but those people will sell you a turnip and call it a golden nugget. Thank goodness, I had a steady head on my shoulders when my grandparents died. My poor parents had lost everything and were in shock. You cannot imagine my anger...

    If I could have, I would have brought fire and brimstone down upon their heads.

  19. Oh, DoRightWoman! I meant having people view 'me' gives me the creeps. And, only because of my aforementioned experience at 12. ;)

    I'll admit it. I just have a thing about death. I don't like it, not one little bit. Though I know it is a fact of life and that we already started dying the day we were born, it is wretchedly heartbreaking.

    And now there's talk about manufacturing/harvesting human parts via cloning so that humans never have to die. Say what? Will that curtail humans being born? What will happen to the population explosion? My head is spinning...

  20. I just had this conversation with my DIL last week. Her Grandfather passed away and although I had only met him twice, I attended the funeral for her and her family. My DIL is a lovely girl and always dresses so nicely for all occasions. Her brother is in the military and married to a foreigner from Baghdad. Whoa! The SIL came to the funeral dressed like a hooker! She had on a skin tight very short sweater dress (or shirt!) with a low cut neck, tights and boots. She could have went straight from the funeral to a bar and not had to change. I kept wondering what was going to pop out first..her boobs or her butt or both!

  21. Y'all have kept me in stitches all day but I haven't had time to post a note back. Wow, we sure do have some great funeral stories...someone should write a book. lol

    Recently a first cousin of mine passed and since I was off on Thanksgiving Break, I was drafted to be my momma's chauffeur. So I get up at the butt-crack of dawn to drive the hour and a half to get her to the funeral home early so that she can visit with all the people she just saw the night before at the visitation but hey I was just the driver so I didn't get an opinion.

    The facts that follow are true and not exaggerated for effect in ANY way...They had the casket open and filled with props (Sorry, Jean). There was a folded flag because he was a veteran- not so bad but then they had added an Auburn porch flag thingy-ma-jig, a NASCAR beach towel, a picture of him with his grandchildren and then each grandchild had added a keepsake for Paw-Paw. The music they were playing prior to the service was (I kid you not here) Hank Williams, Jr. Then the service finally began and they didn't have any hymns but song after song that was both country and western! About every third song someone would get up and read something...including a letter from someone's EX-brother-in-law. This went on for over an hour. Then we got to go the the cemetery which was at least conveniently located on my way home. The minister spoke then my cousin's only son got up and thanked everyone for attending and just as I thought, "How nice." The son asked everyone there to join him in one big "War Eagle!" because his daddy would love that all the Alabama fans had been forced to say it.

  22. Deb--You are so funny. Divorced AND dead. Boy have you had a bad day. Not to spiffy for Barry either.

    Sherry--Maybe that's how they do things in Baghdad. There might be something to be said for having funeral right in the bar.

    Stephanie--Family. Gotta love them.

  23. I see your Wagon Wheel of death floral arrangement and raise you the East Tennessee favorite.

    Picture a white sheet cake looking base, surrounded by carnations with a plastic Princess phone in the middle. Then write "Jesus Called" on the arrangement. Yeah.

    My mom giggles so much at that, so at her funeral (may it be a long time from now) I will have to get her one. Everyone will talk bad about me and say tacky things, but I know my mom really wants a "Jesus Called" flower arrangement at her funeral...

  24. Kimberly--How about an updated version with a cell phone and the message "Jesus Texted"?

    Nah. It's not the same.

  25. First of all, I owe my mother and and her best friend a huge apology for the grief I might have caused. Let's just say that even in moments of sorrow, it was still "all about me" back then (in my head!). When I told Mr. Babygirl this story he simply said "I am not surprised."

    I have a rule to add, no photography or video cameras. Period. At my great uncle's funeral (who by the way had a nub for a right hand due to an electrical accident and I was scared to death of it until I was at least 12) had a son who videotaped the flowers, the casket and then went in for a close up on his dead as a door nail father. This is not how we want to remember sweet old Uncle H.T. Also, I think a slideshow for the funeral audience is perfectly fine but the background for the show should not be puffy white clouds and/or heaven's golden gates. Nor should said puffy white clouds be on the funeral program.

    I am so glad that the "Rules According to Jean" is such a hit! I hope future topics include weddings, ENGAGEMENT ANNOUNCEMENTS! Oh, I could write a book! famiy reunions, sorority rush, and more!

  26. Laurie--You weren't that much of a cross to bear. If you had been, we would have sold you. You were cute and would have brought in a good sum. Besides, you're getting yours.

    Having never been a sorority girl, you might have to guest blog for that.

  27. So funny!! I love it!! I've never been to a bad funeral where rules were broken. I have however heard of them being broken.

    Thanks for the laughter!!

  28. Christine, Obviously you aren't going to the right funerals.

  29. My addition? Don't take pictures of the body, the casket, or people with said body or casket.

    At my grandfather's funeral, his siblings decided that a photo session with his body would be a good idea. We were all mortified-- especially my grandmother.