By Arlene Jones
Have funerals simply become social events, routine procedures or (yawn) what one has gotta do because someone inconveniently died at a bad time?
Admittedly, I have had very few funerals to attend in my lifetime that were of tragic origins. My mother, aunts and uncles all died of old age. Yes, it hurts to lose loved ones, but the order of life was such that they had lived a long one. So I cried because I lost them, but not because they necessarily left too soon.
Over the past couple of months, I have lost three friends, all of whom were younger than me. I am not a pro at funeral etiquette, so when one funeral went on and on, with people not really talking about the deceased but rather blabbing on about their personal agendas, I got up and left. If the two minutes people are given to speak are about the deceased, then the length of time wouldn't have bothered me. But I don't want to hear about "pulling up one's pants" or their experiences in a halfway house or political messages that aren't directly related to the person's death while the deceased's actual life remembrance only gets a momentary subject mention.
What is the etiquette for limiting someone who gets before the microphone and goes on and on? I heard a pastor chastise the mourners because he only wanted six people to speak and as the friend of the deceased said in response, "I can't sum up a friendship of 50 years plus in two minutes, nor will I." The mourners applauded and the pastor backed down. But the pastor remained at the altar unhappy that the deceased fraternity members sang their song and was cutting into his time to end it all.
I saw one of the most impressive displays of tributes at this last funeral. First, his fraternity brothers stood. Then there was a call for his Masonic brothers to stand next. Then there was a call for all the former and current CTA employees to stand. Finally it the class members from his high school stood. Each group was an impressive number who all had come out to pay tribute, not to anyone famous but to one who had touched so many hearts and lives that they came to pay respect.
Years ago when I was a child, a wake would go on for at least three evenings. Now one might possibly get a visitation at the funeral home, and the wake is an hour before the funeral.
There can also be a lot of callousness on people's parts. I prefer the casket to be reopened at the end of the funeral for those who couldn't make the wake. The importance for those who like to say their final goodbyes should never be dismissed callously. I know it can be hard on the family, but it's also hard on friends, too, who may have been there more for the deceased than the blood relatives ever were.
I normally don't do the burial, but I wanted to see my friend all the way to the end. There were far too many headstones of people, whose total life experience amounted to less than 20 years, surrounding his grave. I know my friend enjoyed being around young people. I just wish this was the one time there weren't any around.
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