“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me so sad, I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.” – Garrison Keillor.
ROLLING FORK—First off, Lord knows I understand how everybody grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. And next, let me say that applies double to anyone who loses either a family member or loved one (whichever that might be), for whom literally almost anything is understandable within the grips of emotion.
Trust me, having endured the deaths of a mother, father and wife within a six-month period, I am well familiar with the elements, emotional and otherwise, of grief.
No, this is about everybody else, some of whom did not even know the dearly departed and some others who just want to be sure they are seen for reasons which they hope befits them down the road.
For this hypothetical exercise, let’s say somebody named Harry gets off work one afternoon and starts to drive home in his dilapidated Plymouth station wagon that his kid has wrecked twice and that his wife swears somebody backed into while she was driving down the highway. About the only things Harry is thinking about is the last cold beer he hid from the kid behind some cabbage in the fridge and how on Earth he is going to pay his car insurance premium.
Enter cruel fate: the left front retread after an initial “pow” starts to make that really depressing hissing noise.
And to close out the exposition, let’s say that just after Harry pulls to the shoulder, starts into a colorful commentary on the foibles of life, all of Harry’s worldly burdens are lifted from his shoulders by the right front fender of a garbage truck.
That’s when all the weird stuff starts to get underway.
In an almost transmigratory fashion, ole Harry will become a much more admired and adored character than he ever was in the pre-truck period when he was considerably more active. Even though it was common knowledge the Ole Harry beat his wife, gambled away the family income and carried on something awful with that little hussy down at the Hitching Post, people all over town will almost immediately wonder aloud at the injustice of how such a civic-minded family man could be so tragically cut down in the prime of life.
But that’s just the prelim. In what Southerners have elevated to ritual proportions, pretty soon, everybody from the mailman to Uncle Ned’s nephew is going to descend upon Harry’s humble house to “offer condolences,” an incredibly awkward process which the bereaving family must additionally endure and which usually is composed of one or moreof the following elements:
Some well meaning woman will invariably lighten the family’s load of grief by spontaneously bursting into tears immediately upon her arrival.
Generously huge amounts of food will be brought out of kindness and sympathy but absent coordination, the result of which is a flock of friend chickens, gobs of potato salad and four pound cakes.
One inordinately kind soul will come over to the family to remind them how close he and Herman were, fill the house with cigar smoke, eat several plates of the food, and probably stay long enough to find poor ole Harry’s hidden beer.
And all antes are upped the day they lay Harry to rest. Everyone in attendance will try mightily to look more solemn than the others.
People who would be shocked and appalled at the idea of under normal circumstances to view a dead body, will be positively compelled to “take one last look at Harry.”
At least one person in attendance will at some point begin wailing pitifully and stemming tears with massive numbers of tissues, despite the fact that she did not know Harry from Adam’s offside ox and has, in fact, been known to stop at roadside services for other strangers because she deeply enjoys funerals.
Deeply thankful for being seated apart from the throng of their loving neighbors, the family will nonetheless be forced to hear an almost unbroken string of remarkably loud “whispers” discussing in unfortunate detail, “how well they are taking it.”
And finally, just as sure as God really did make those little green apples of song, there is going to come the creme’ de la creme’ of the nonsensical, the acme of the asinine.
Someone (during the warmups I used to try to make educated guesses at whom it might be), someone is going to take that morbid last look at Ole Harry, laid out in the ornate vault his family can’t afford, and pronounce as if absent idiocy, “Oh, doesn’t he look natural?”
No, the man does not look “natural.” The man has never looked as unnatural for the very sound reason that the man has never been dead before.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.