Friday, August 1, 2008

Last Visitation Etiquette

Opening the casket after a funeral so that friends and family may pay their last respects is an established southern tradition. It’s incredibly emotional and taxing on the family as well as those working the funeral. But it’s not without its up side.

We were in a small country church and had finally seated the family after the viewing, and were finishing closing the casket when the light in the chapel went dim and the church seemed to rock on its foundation. I turned to the entrance and there stood the largest woman that I had ever seen. I fully expected to hear “thar’ she blows” and see a peg-legged pall-bearer whip out a harpoon screaming “she won’t get away this time”. But the only sound in the church was a small voice saying “I have to see Mr. Jimmy before you close the casket”.

In the spirit of getting through before dark, the Funeral Director noted that the casket was already closed and we were preparing to move to the cemetery. The widow asked us to open the casket for her to pay respects. “Bertha is our neighbor and has a hard time getting dressed and in and out of car which is why she’s late” (she also has a hard time getting up from the table and telling time). We obliged and she moved up next to the casket, encasing it in shadows and seeming to draw it closer by the pull of her enormous gravity.

Caught up in grief she flung herself onto the casket (as much as anyone can fling 450 lbs of anything) and started sobbing hysterically, baptizing Mr. Jimmy with her tears. My partner and I had a death grip on each end of the casket praying to the gods that we could keep Mr. Jimmy in the coffin without breaking our backs. When we thought that all fun had been wrested from our situation Bertha’s wailings grew louder and in perfect harmony with the sobs, she started farting.

The look on the Directors face was priceless; this was new territory and he desperately searched for a solution. The look on the widow’s face was more reminiscent of a WWII soldier caught up in the terror of a mustard gas attack. Owing to the tight quarters of the church, the widow was seated just behind and to the right of Bertha’s weapon of mass destruction; well within the kill zone.

I began weeping hysterically; mainly because I was biting thru my tongue to keep from laughing. The widow was digging thru her purse in search of a dead skunk to bury her head in its ass and try to escape the gases spewing from Bertha’s backside. The Director and three of the pall bearers moved as one and grabbed the small gaseous-planet Bertha, pulling her from an orbit around the casket to one safely outside the church.

Like clockwork my cohort and I slammed the door on the casket, nailed it shut and hurried off to the Hearse. Back at the funeral home as we stripped naked preparing to burn our clothes we all agreed that the story of the “sobbing, farting neighbor” would be passed down even unto our children’s children.

1 comment:

funeral directors London said...

I agree on the first part of your blog that opening the casket is incredibly emotional way of paying the last respect and is usually done by the southerns.