Monday, May 19, 2008

The first thing I noticed as the lone white guy at a Black funeral was

. . . that the family all wears white. Some of the suits were kind of cool, like the little seventh grader's, who was the only person in attendance who I knew, while others were more of the pimp-daddy variety. I was picturing a wake situation, where I come in, say who I am, I'm sorry for their loss, shake a few hands, fake like I know how to give a prayer, and be on my way. Instead, everyone was seated, the family was all spread out, so I was standing on the side waiting for a window when a good amount of family members were by the casket. It was then that a woman approached me and asked me to be seated because they would be "beginning" soon. I told her I was all right, but she still yelled at one of the white-suited youths to fetch some more chairs. I remained standing, looking for that window, when the same woman approached me, motioned for me to follow her, and sat me in one of the chairs lined up along the aisles. I'm very pleased to know that this many people came to honor her, but I'd be lying if I said that the aisle seat didn't make me, being the only white guy there, stand out even more.

The aforementioned seventh-grader is one of my students. He lost his mother, who is really his aunt, but she's been raising him as his legal guardian since he was eight months old. I gave him a hug when I saw him, and he asked me if Miss So-And-So "and all them" were there. I said I hadn't seen them, but that I'd keep an eye out for them. I actually could say with certainty that they weren't there, because I would have seen them due to their whiteness. I just didn't have the heart to tell him, nor did I think it appropriate to point out just how easy it would have been for him to tell if they were in attendance.

A preacher dude, who was one helluva public speaker, came out to give the introduction, getting it off to a most rocking start, with the organist and drummer punctuating certain key phrases with bombastic flourishes. I really didn't know much about this kid's mother, and I wouldn't really know much more about her until four or five rocking songs into the night. With the funk based guitar and danceable beat, I'd liken this overqualified church band to hey-day, George Clinton's Funkadelic, the more rock oriented counterpart to his more famous Parliament. One particularly rousing number had the melody of Wilson Picket's Land of 1,000 dances with the Na-Na-Na's replaced with "I got a prayer" over-and-over. It was slammin'. Moments later, three of the deceased's sisters got up to the stage to say a few words, but before long they were breaking into song, which I thought odd at first, but then I just couldn't help but be amazed that they were singing it a cappella and very well.

As strange as it sounds to tell you, this funeral was right up my alley, but even with a band as tight as Funkadelic and a pastor as excitable as James Brown was in the church scene of The Blues Brothers*, I still didn't feel compelled to dance down the aisles like some of the folks there. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that they are in the wrong for handling the affair in any way they see fit. Hell, if a toga party helps people get through a tough time, I say pull off those bed sheets, turn on Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, and grab a hold of a bottle of Jack. It's just that I'm not used to that type of funeral, and I didn't feel it right for the rogue white guy no one knew to dance up and down the aisles. Plus, although I did crack a smile a few times watching little kids dance, I was really, really bummed about this poor kid losing his mom. However, as I bobbed my head and allowed the music and the vibes of the room to soak in, I began to feel really, really good, somehow. I may find myself on the west side of Chicago next Sunday for a 5:00 mass. Fuck it.

Maybe all the stuffy white funerals I've been to over the years have it all wrong. Maybe the next funeral I go to I'll put on a pimp suit and turn that mutha' out. Maybe not, but after this experience, I'll certainly be more open to new and interesting ways to approaching the grieving process.

What's the most interesting funeral you've ever been to, be it as a result of the culture of the family or just one that was noteworthy in general.

*As I watched the sermon at the church, I couldn't help but think of that scene in Blues Brothers, and it occurred to me that it really wasn't that far off from the real thing, only without the people doing flips.

17 comments:

logorrheic. said...

at my grandfather's funeral, and if this customary in all cultures let me know, i was deeply disturbed that a number of my uncles that it had been ok to take numerous pictures of his body in casket. and of the mourners when saying good bye to him at the casket. i'm a private person by nature but that really wasn't a moment i was up for remembering.

Coconut said...

That was really nice of you to go to the funeral. I'm sure it meant a lot to your student.

Now we know that when you die you want a toga party, Animal House style. Do you want to be buried in a toga as well?

Sadly enough, the most interesting funeral I've been to was of a girl on my second grade softball team. It was only interesting because it was an unusual circumstance. :O/

The Charming Hedonist said...

Hands down, my dad's funeral was the coolest! We're Irish, so we celebrate -- my Dad knew he was going to die (cancer) and specifically demanded that the song Hit the Road Jack be played at the party after the service. It was a huge party. We laughed, we cried. It was great fun. And a great send off for a wonderful man. Funerals should be a celebration.

Zen Wizard said...

Anything I say would be a cliche'--like "Every church has their own culture" and "People grieve in their own way."

Jake Titus said...

personally I cannot attend funerals. As I see it they should be a celebration of life. The problem is that I just can't get past the "Im never going to see them again" thing. It sounds to me like these folks did it right.

Grad School Reject said...

Huge props for going to the funeral. From one current teacher to an ex (but I know you are still a teacher at heart) - well done sir.

Sabina said...

I haven't been to many funerals; the one unusual moment from my grandfather's was when my great-aunt comforted my crying mother by saying, "when I was a little girl, I cried so much that my teacher told me my bladder must be behind my eyeballs." The only other service I've attended was for a close friend who'd committed suicide; it was intended to be all hippie spiritual, but everyone just wandered around like a stunned zombie. I wish at least the former had been more like the one you just attended, and I'm sorry about your student's mother.

TOPolk said...

That was awesome of you to go to that that funeral. That kid will never forget that.

As far as your question goes, I'm going to ignore it a bit..but still be on topic. I've been to my share of black funerals (go fig huh) and there's two types of them:

1) Lots of crying and carrying on (seriously, its ridiculous)
2) Lots of good music, good times, good fun, with a little bit of reminiscing mixed in.

Sounds like you went to the latter.

When the situation calls for it, we like to have a good time at a funeral/repass. Not only is it a celebration of eternal life, but the deceased would want it no other way. My mom's told me many times that when she passes (which hopefully is no time soon) she wants a New Orleans style funeral.

Now as to where I'm going to find a 5 piece NO jazz band from in SC, who knows? I'll worry about that later.

blackdog said...

Only been to the boring white guy type, but plenty of them. I guess the most memorable, or most unmemorable (not a real word) in this case, was my Dad's. Since it was unexpected, at age 50 via a car wreck, and only a day after his death, I honestly can't remember one word that was spoken, or a song that was played.

I sat there in shock, unable to speak, just with tears streaming down my face....

Casey said...

One: I hope they just haul me out to the desert and dump me under a tree.

Two: I was deployed somewhere doing something a long time ago and the Armed Forces Network had some movie on that had a black funeral. My chief, an at times extremely ghetto black man was watching the scene play out with random singing people and all the crying hollering and so forth you would expect. He said, "You know what I really like? White folks funerals. Black people just get retarded at this shit."

I was thinking of how pointless the stolid white people way of doing funerals was when he said that.

So, keep in mind everybody hates their own people's way of doing things equally.

Except when we dumped my aunt out of a cigarette carton into the lake by her favorite boat ramp.

Kadonkadonk said...

That sounds so much better than all the funerals I've ever been to. That's how I want to do it when I go!

5 of 9er said...

You should of called me... I could of told you to wear a white suit. I'm sure Cherry has one you could wear.

pistols at dawn said...

I don't think I've ever been to a funeral, now that I think about it. Now that I've said that, I'm sure I'll be attending my own shortly.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Log: I've heard of that. Kind of creepy, but who am I to judge?

Coc: Toga Party Funeral is a good band name.

Hedon: Hit the road jack is a fine choice. I'm sorry to hear about dad, but I'm glad you all made the best of it.

Zen: Zenny is speechless?????????????????

Jake: I agree. They can be brutal.

Grad: I'm a teacher again. I know it says agriculture in my profile . . .

Sabrina: Peeing out one's eyes would be gross.

Polk: Thanks for the info. Let's hope you're not finding that trombone player any time soon.

Dog: So sorry about dad!! :(

Casey: Do you have the tree picked out?

Donk: A good time was had by all.

Niner: I don't think Cherry and I are the same size, but thanks!

Pistols: Never?? You're lucky.

Ms Smack said...

Brilliant story. Colourful and descriptive, such a great post.

And I agree with your readers, you're very cool to attend.

I've only attended two funerals.

One was for a 3 year old client of mine who succumbed to leukemia. They released white balloons and played the Wiggles alot, and the other was the ex-husband of a favourite girlfriend. He had been taken by cancer and he was aboriginal. It was highly spiritual and as traditional as possible. Although he was an ass to her, I still cried because of the thick grief in the air. Over 900 people attended.

Michael5000 said...

I didn't know you taught. Well done to go to the funeral. Cool write-up of the experience.

When a buddy of mine shot himself a few years ago -- which was a real fucking drag, I'll tell you what -- his partner arranged for us to go to the Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake and scatter his ashes there. That's more than an hour by four wheel drive from the nearest road, so it was a little different from the usual church ceremony....

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Smack: Those both sound like interesting ones. Your only two? You're lucky.

Michael: That's different for sure. Sorry about your friend. : (