A Funeral for Granny
A Funeral for “Granny”
I am sure that all parents at one time or another fantasize about what their grandchildren will call them. “Granny” was not a term that our mother was looking to be known as when her first grandchild came along. We had known our grandparents as MawMaw and PawPaw and she may have expected something along those lines. I’m not sure but I believe my brother instigated my daughter calling her “Granny”. I am sure I remember some protest from her early on but soon the name stuck for Sharyl and the six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren that followed. I know there are friends of ours that never knew her as Anita or Mrs. Berry, they knew her as “Granny” because that’s what we all called her.
Almost everyone alive has experienced ceremony in their lives, whether it a graduation, a wedding or a funeral. Ceremonies allow us to come together as families and friends and share in an occasion to remember a special event. Most ceremonies are made up of different elements which add meaning to the occasion. Recently we planned the ceremony to celebrate Granny’s life of 91 years and had to select the elements that would make this event meaningful and memorable. In many aspects, the rituals we observed were traditional.
First of all we did not rush things. As a funeral director sometimes I see families rush to pull off a funeral quickly. My advice would be to take some time, relax, breath and grieve. Granny died early on a Thursday morning after several days of gradually declining. Since Sunday, some of us had set with her around the clock. We were all tired and needed rest before the visitation. We planned the funeral for Sunday with visitation on Saturday evening. This allowed plenty of time for the out of town family to arrive in time for visitation. We were able attend to various details without feeling rushed on Thursday and Friday and gathered for a family meal on Friday evening for a time of reflection on “Granny’s” life.
Remembering one’s life through photos has become an element of many funeral ceremonies. Whether they are displayed in a collage or presented in a video, they allow family and friends to remember significant or humorous events in a person’s life. I had gathered pictures for a video that we showed at her 90th birthday celebration and my siblings contributed additional favorite photos for the video that played during visitation. My wife, Sharon, tries to personalize the videos we produce through the use of captions, special sayings and motion to create something more than a static slideshow.
We had visitation the evening before the funeral for four hours which seemed to pass quickly as a steady stream of guests made their way through. It was humbling to experience the support of those that turned out to share their condolences. My brother and sister who have been away from the area for several years got to see friends they hadn’t seen since high school days. My wife and I had come back to this area to purchase the funeral home nearly two years ago and have met many people who didn’t realize that I was Vernon and Anita’s son until they came to the visitation. My older sister that never left the area and still lives in the next town was blessed by the visits of many of her friends. While some try to downplay the importance of a time of visitation, I am convinced that it is beneficial to those that come by to pay their last respects as well as those that they come to see.
Music plays some role in almost every person’s life and is an important element of most funeral celebrations. Mom had written down the name of two songs she wanted played at her service. One song was Dad’s favorite that was sung at his funeral as well as the funeral of both of his parents. The other was a song none of us was really familiar with but it became very meaningful when it was performed by our son-in-law, Kent. I found his upbeat renditions of the songs to be more uplifting than many of the songs I hear at funerals we host.
Symbols of a person’s life can add significance to a funeral service. Something of importance in one’s past can be displayed or incorporated into the service adding meaning to those in attendance. Even though time and distance had diminished the closeness of her relationships with her grandchildren, the bond remained. Granny was proud of her grandchildren and the great-grandchildren so it was only fitting to symbolically let them have a role in her service.
We kids had decided that we wanted Granny’s casket closed prior to the service. Being a funeral director, I have seen this done in various ways over the years and preferred to have the immediate family step out of the chapel for a few minutes while our staff attended to the closing. Minutes before the service was to begin we had an impromptu gathering at the casket that started with tears but ended in laughter as one of the great-grandsons asked a question regarding heaven we all found humorous. I’m sure the guest watching this wondered about our laughter as we left the casket. We knew that the time had come and it was time to say goodbye.
Upon re-entering the chapel, my wife and I entered carrying a vase containing only greenery. Each family then entered the chapel to take their place with each grandchild carrying a pink rose that they handed to Sharon to place in the vase. This was not only symbolic of each grandchild’s place in Granny’s life but portrayed Sharon’s role as a caretaker these past few years. Now the vase that once contained only greenery now symbolized the offspring that she leaves to carry on her legacy.
We chose not to have any of us to eulogize Granny but left that to her most recent pastors. When she left Campbellsville to move in with Sharon and me, one of the most difficult things for her to leave behind was her church where she had been active for so many years. It was only fitting to have her most recent pastor and her former pastor there to reflect on her life. They did a great job in briefly reflecting on her roles at the church as part time secretary and senior’s trip organizer.
Our comfort with her passing comes from the knowledge we have in our faith and assurance we have that she is in heaven. We can only imagine what that is like and we find peace in knowing that it does not include a failing body, a confused mind and fear of the unknown. The pastors reminded us of the hope that we have in Jesus that one day we will be reunited with all those we loved that have gone on before.
In funerals that I see conducted at our funeral home, I see the difference in folks that know the Lord and those that don’t. It reminds me of why I do what I do and why I wanted to have a funeral home of my own. I want to provide a place where family and friends can come together to share in a loss. Also I want to provide a place where the gospel will be spread. I realize that experiencing the death of a loved one may be one of the only times when a family member or a friend will be confronted with the gospel message. My hope is that through what we do and the place we provide that people will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ through a funeral message.
I guess I got off on a tangent there. Following the funeral service, as is customary, we went in procession to the cemetery where Granny would be laid to rest beside my father. As I do on a regular basis, I led the procession, but this time it was a little different. I noticed when oncoming traffic slowed or came to a stop. Chances are no one we met realized who they were slowing for but it was significant to me and others in our procession. I am thankful that we live in a place that for a few fleeting moments we can slow down enough to acknowledge that someone, someone’s loved one, has passed and that they are worthy of honor.
At the cemetery, a pastor from the church where Granny attended during the time she spent in Lexington, performed the committal service. In life, Brother Tim made a point to make over her anytime he saw her at church and she liked anyone that would give her attention. It was fitting that he got to make over her one last time.
It was a beautiful early fall Sunday afternoon and folks hung around after the closing prayer for a few minutes to chat. I had our guys go ahead and place her casket in the vault. I strive for this to be done in such a dignified manner that I am not hesitant for it to be done as others watch. Several observed as the casket was slowly lowered into the vault which was suspended by cables above the grave. The vault lid was placed on the vault while it was above ground and then the entire unit, vault, casket and Granny were lowered into the grave. There her body now rests, next to Dad, at a place selected years ago when his dad died.
That being done, it was time to depart for the traditional after funeral meal. For many in our local culture, a meal prepared by friends and or church members, follows the committal service. This marks the end of the formal funeral proceedings and such was the case for Granny. There’s no telling how many casseroles that she had prepared over the years for such a meal and today it was to honor her.
Did we do it right? I think that we did. Our family came together, friends expressed their concern for us and we celebrated her life with a ceremony. In the days since, our family has come together as we have over the years for Thanksgiving and Christmas. While we carried on with our usual holiday traditions, her physical presence was missed but our memories of her remained.
My thoughts as I close this out. I think back to that day at the casket when we shared a laugh through the tears.
Rest easy Granny.