Funerals don't put all questions to rest

Opinion: Arlene Jones

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By Arlene Jones


Funeral trends fascinate me. Not because I'm morbid about death. It's simply that within the black community we have always established our own culture about them. As a child, I remember we would go to the wake for at least three days, followed by the funeral on its own day. These days, the wake is reduced to one hour, followed immediately by the funeral. 

In the early 1980s, a friend whose father pastored a church in K-Town told me they no longer hosted funerals for individuals who were not members of their congregation. I recalled being shocked by that. But the reality was glaring even back then. Those who were killed because of their lifestyle or during the commission of a crime, brought about a continuation of that culture at their homegoing. His father's decision was also essentially a rebuke to his own parishioners. Their loved one's actions were being judged by a pastor who not only preached the gospel but lived it.

There was a time when wearing T-shirts with the deceased's face and name emblazoned on it was quite fashionable. No more. The current trend is to have a funeral color palette (presumably the deceased's favorite colors). Also they have a huge photo cutout of the deceased so people can take a final picture with it. Not surprising, that photo usually involves black women twerking in the process.

One of the things I have found especially interesting of late is that when people have posted obituaries of those who died in the commission of a crime, their families put angel wings where devil's horns might have been more appropriate. The notion that everyone who dies goes to heaven is being perpetrated as a given within the black community as if a person's life decisions/choices have no consequences. God gave 10 simple commandments. They are not hard to understand. They are even easier to follow. So when a person dies in the process of violating one of them, it seems rather ludicrous to promote the notion that the person is on the stairway to heaven when they're more likely to be on the escalator to hell!

I acknowledge that funerals are for the living. Thus we promote the deceased in the best light we possibly can. But if the message we send to the living is that, no matter what you do in this life, heaven awaits, that is a disservice. There is also the tendency to utter sympathetic phrases like, "They are in a better place," while ignoring the main reason the deceased is dead to begin with.

Every last one of us will one day have a funeral. When the end comes after a long life, I can see the joyous celebrations. But when one's life is cut short because of senseless behaviors, the messages sent regarding that behavior can resonate. The question is, will that resonation involve a change for the better or a continuation of the negative?

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