Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Don't Call the Roll I'm Coming Home

I want to get one thing straight - white folks don't know how to have a funeral. Oh we can have the most beautiful flowers, and we can have eloquent speakers. We can have governors and judges and senators come and wax on about the good deeds of the decedent. Mourners can be a little teary and cry very quietly. We will pass handkerchiefs and tissues among ourselves. The family will proceed in. The funeral will be held. The family will proceed out, get back in the long line of black cars, drive to the cemetery where everyone will gather around the tent to hear the very last words. Respects will be paid to the family and that will be it.

African Americans, especially those in the south, know how to have a funeral or "Send them Home" as they say. And they don't whimper or tear up, they cry - they moan, they sob. Their emotions are raw and they are unabashed to show them.  Whereas we are stiff and stoic, God forbid we show much emotion. Anyone really crying at a funeral or, Lord help us, whaling, would be removed from the church and considered an embarrassment to the family. We hold it in. Being proper is going to be the death of us and is going to get us nowhere - for anyone who has any plans.

Clemmie's funeral was a true homecoming. When we walked out of the church we knew she had been sent off well. That she went with the love and joy of her family and there was peace in her soul. The casket was open as the family proceeded in and each member had their final viewing before they sat down. There was no holding back on emotions. Some just held each other and cried. A few whaled and sobbed as if they knew the worse had happened. Sometimes they were so overcome with grief that the  "angels" (ladies provided by the funeral home dressed in white, complete with white gloves)  were there to hold them, sooth them, and get them safely back to their seats in the arms of their loved ones.

There were prayers and Bible readings. There was a tribute, remarks, and hymns. Being an August afternoon the funeral fans came in mighty handy. I did not need one because so many around me were fanning themselves I found myself in a steady breeze. Sympathy cards and the obituary were not read as is tradition. But then a lady got up to sing and her performance was amazing. She rocked the house with an a Capella version of Don't Call the Roll, unlike some demur solo of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, we would have. She encouraged everyone to sing along with her once again bringing joy and participation in the celebration of sending Clemmie home. 

The point is when it was all over, the family went home in peace having let out that emotion, having shared the joy of her kinship, having celebrated her life, having sent her "home" just as she wanted. Most of them will not struggle for months (or years) with her death. If they spent the week prior enjoying food and fellowship with family and  friends calling to visit and pay their respects, they had time to reflect on her life and make peace with her death. If they poured their emotions out (whether audibly or not) at the funeral as they saw her for that last time in the casket and then celebrated her life, they will go forth without the angst and intense sadness many of us endure after the loss of a loved one.

Oh, they miss their loved ones as much as we miss ours. I am sure there are days they too find themselves feeling blue reflecting on their loss. But they have a joy in their heart and a light in their soul that we rarely have because God forbid anyone view our real emotions. Instead of truly spending time reflecting on the life and death of our deceased loved one with friends and family for more than a day or two, and for more than several hours, we want "it over with". How can anyone "waste so much time just because someone died?" We fear releasing our true emotions of grief at the time of the funeral will cause some embarrassment or shame to ourselves or the family. Showing joy, happiness or true celebration at a funeral is often seen as irreverent.  

The nephews walked behind the casket as it was taken out of the church, followed by the nieces carrying the flowers, and there was a joy among everyone. All the pain and grief had been shed, the religious rite had been conducted, everyone had been reminded that Clemmie was going home where she ultimately wanted to be. As her favorite hymn said "Don't call the roll 'til I get there. I'm coming Lord all by myself. I want to touch the pearly gates." 

Don't get me wrong, for those who want to "go home" what kind of funeral if any, one has will not matter. It is those of us left who suffer in our love one's death because the priority of our upbringing. The honesty of this event matched Clemmie's life - one of pain and joy and her love of the Lord and her family. If we are having a funeral, we should all be so honest in sending our loved ones off - for our sake.

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