A dear lady in our church passed away Tuesday morning, when looking up the past traditions of funerals in the southern Appalachia's I was surprised by how much we still do in some way or another. First off the use of "passed away" is our way of saying they have passed on to heaven or hell, mostly used when the deceased left a testimony that they were saved and going to heaven. You will hardly ever hear that the person died, always passed away or passed on.
Notification of the passing is spread quickly among our congregation and friends thanks to cell phones and facebook. It is especially fast when a member of your church works for the local funeral homes. When notified you don't just accept it, you continue to tell others you know so that no one is left behind or out of mourning. People also send flowers: fresh cut arrangements, fake flowers, or live plants, to the funeral home upon hearing the passing of someone they knew. In the past the viewing of the body would be at the home of the deceased in a designated room called the parlor. The flowers were meant to cover the scent of death and to cheer up mourners. The viewing of the body is also known as visitation around here; funerals are one of the major social happenings when you get reacquainted with people you have not seen in months or years. Food is also provided by friends of the family at the funeral home, usually cakes and other rich foods along with a few pots of coffee (even during the dog days of Summer.) Viewings used to last through the night for many days, now the viewing is typically one or two evenings with a funeral following the next afternoon.
The funeral can be held in a designated chapel in the funeral home or at the deceased home church. Before the funeral even occurs close members of the family cars line the funeral home behind the hearse. The preacher's car is in front of the hearse, with police cruisers ahead of the preacher: so it is police > preacher > hearse > closest family > friends. Once all are in line the funeral begins inside, first the non-family members sit closely to the back of the church to allow the family to sit closely to the casket in the front of the church. A prelude of hymns is played on the piano with no singing, the preacher walks in first and announces everyone to rise to their feet and the casket is then wheeled to the front of the church with the family following behind. Once all the family and pallbearers are seated in a reserved area everyone is told to sit. Then there is usually the singing of hymns by pre-chosen people or by a choir, these hymns are usually favorites of the deceased or songs explaining life hear after, such as "Holy Angels" or "What a Day that Will be." A sermon is preached and like our preacher says "I have never preached at any one's funeral, they preached their own" he means to say their life's testimony is the true telling. Our preacher like to comfort the family with past stories and events in the persons life. Once he is finished there is more singing and then the casket is rolled to the hearse and everyone leaves in an orderly fashion from the front pew to the back. Then it is on to the internment.
Internment is the ceremony following the funeral, usually held grave side. The drive from the funeral to the cemetery is an awe inspiring moment in the south. Mourners follow the hearse, usually with their hazard lights on to warn others of the precession and to make sure those following behind know they are going the correct way, this is especially helpful to out of town mourners. Police blockade the roads off at every red light to keep the mourners in one large group and safe, our precession was over a mile long line of cars. The awe moment is when most vehicles on both sides of the road pullover to the curb of the road even on the four lane highway and on the side of the mountain with a twenty foot drop feet away, out of respect for the deceased and their family. I was not terrible closed to the departed, but I wept at the sight of all the cars, strangers on their way stopping for a moment to say a prayer and/or pay respect. The precession is slow and when we finally reach the church you park and walk to the cemetery where the second smaller sermon is preached mainly out of comfort to the family. Usually by this point the pallbearers have already carried the casket to the platform over the pre-dug grave. Once the last prayer is spoken members of the church, including myself, head to the fellowship hall to make sure the meal is ready before the family comes in. Oh the meal.
Some church members did not attend the funeral or left before the hearse to set up the meal of covered dishes and sweets. The family begins to trickle in with smiles and laughter blooming over the meal as family finally begin to live for themselves again or forget for a moment what they have just went through. We women stayed in the kitchen having our own get together and talking. Finally the meal ends a few hours later, the family leaves, and the hall is cleaned up with excess food being sent home with the family. We continue on with our life with God's peace and knowing that the deceased has finally reached the prize of meeting their Saviour.
Also, upon looking for a few of my ancestors I found this website that helped me locate the graves of some family members. Find A Grave is a great website that includes pictures and other information.