Some Things You Just DON’T Do at A Southern Funeral (or any other funeral, for that matter)

Of course, no one enjoys going to a funeral. It has been said that some of the strangest things happen at wedding and funerals. The South is no exception. However, here in the South, we have a few ways of doing things that are unique. Here are some tips for surviving a Southern funeral.

1. Do not say,” I know how you feel.” That is straight up stupid and wrong. No one ever truly knows how another person feels. In the south, some families have certain rituals when someone passes away. Some of them may seem strange to others. But whatever you say, don’t say that! Under no circumstances are you to indulge in your old, worn-out sob story about any losses you may have endured. The recent loss has caused enough misery and we do not have the time or energy to comfort you, at that time, but maybe later we will bring you a homemade pie.

2. Do not bring a dish to my house that you expect me to wash and return to you. If you are kind enough to bring a dish, bring it in a container that does not need to be returned. From personal experience, I could not remember who brought what in each dish and worried myself into illness trying to get the damn serving platters back to the rightful owners. It was not worth the effort. If you really want to help, get a gift certificate to Longhorn Steakhouse. That would be the bomb diddly! I would also recommend one of those delivery services that bring you ready to cook or already cooked meals!

3. Do not say, “let me know if you need anything” if you do not mean it. Southerners pride themselves on their ability to take care of themselves and their families. We come from a longline of hard-working folks. However, during times of grief or strife, we may ask for help. So, if we ask you to take our kid for the evening, do not be surprised. If you do not know how to entertain kids, send them out into the yard with an air nail gun. I promise you they will figure it out! If that fails, try Benadryl. That stuff is made by “sleepy fairies” and will buy you hours of peace and quiet.

4. Do not get carried away with your expression of your grief. No one is allowed to openly grieve more than the family of the deceased. By this I mean, if the family is calm and collected while at the funeral, you cannot be in the corner screaming and crying like a baby. Some Southerners believe their grief is private and grieve in private. It is hard enough to have to attend a funeral for a loved one, but to have to deal with someone coming up to you in crazy tears is too much. If you are having a break down at a funeral, take it somewhere else until you get a hold of yourself.

My family for example. My great uncle AJ (Andrew Jackson West), good Southern name, passed away when I was young. The entire family attended the funeral. I met aunts, uncles and cousins that I had only heard about or seen in pictures. My great uncle was a cantankerous, old fart, but a funny man. He worked hard all his life in the railroad business. Uncle AJ had two grown daughters that attended the funeral with his widow. One of the daughters had had a tumultuous relationship with AJ throughout her life.  At his funeral, she could not keep it together. I mean she was openly sobbing and crying throughout the graveside service to the point to cause others to stare. Meanwhile, my great aunt, wife of the deceased, is trying her best to keep her composure, in spite of the situation. The finale was when AJ’s daughter broke away from the grasp of her husband, who was physically supporting her, in order to throw herself across the casket and sob. I was so shocked to see this grown woman physically drape herself across the casket and hearing her screaming inaudible words into the side of the casket. At that point, my great aunt “cracked.” My great aunt did not like outward displays of grief such as this. The daughter was then lead away by her husband at the request of my great aunt.

Some Things You May Do at a Southern Funeral

1. You can  help with setting the tables, put out food and get drinks ready for after the services. This may not seem like a large task, but hospitality is our specialty. In the South, we pride ourselves on our ability to dote on others and make people feel welcome. Good food is a large part of having people over.  At a Southern funeral, the food to be served after the funeral will be discussed at the church service, the grave side service and all throughout the car ride to the after services gathering. The food will also be discussed for several weeks after the funeral, along with the how the flowers looked. This is how we do it.

2. Do help with keeping guests with food and drink, always make sure dishes are put to the kitchen and lend an ear to visitors. This may involve frivolous conversations with a “batty” relative or long list of cousins that show up for free food and drinks. This will keep these people away from me! Most of them are just plain nuts and want to share their “pearls of wisdom” about the deceased. This is also the time to catch up on the latest family gossip! Some folks think that after doing their duty by going to church, that now was the time to dish out all the latest rumors or share that quiet family secrets.

3. Do know that whatever you do is appreciated. Southern women do have a wonderful way of recognizing your intentions, even if you do it wrong, which is often I am afraid. That being said, we do have an honest thank you for your thoughtfulness, unless you scrub the cast iron skillet clean.

4. Do bring a cooked meal for the family to eat later will be appreciated. May I suggest foods that can be eaten cold. Most times we do not have the energy to even put something in the microwave to heat it up. I usually bring fried chicken, cold salads, diced fruit or some kind of yummy bread.

These meals are much appreciated when one is lying in the bed at 2:00 am trying to remember who brought the silver platter with the congealed salad shit that no one eats in order to identify who you would have to return the platter to later. See my point?

Yet another family example.
When I was very young, my family traveled to Texas for my great grandmother’s funeral. It was an epic experience in my small world. This side of my family is German. I mean tall and stocky type. The average height was 6’2” and that went for the women too!

I was not close to this side of the family, but my dad loved his grandmother. So, off we go to Texas.

Once in Texas, I met many warm and loving relatives that I had only heard about in my dad’s stories. I met smiling aunts and jokester uncles as well as distant cousins. We had a time. Now I understood why my dad would “escape” his parents and blossom into a happy boy when he was with these people. There was so much love there that all I could do was bask in it.

After the funeral services, we went back to my great aunt’s house. There was food EVERYWHERE! This looked like a pot luck dinner on steroids. I am not sure if I had ever seen so much food in one place at one time in my short life.

After everyone consumed copious amounts of food, the tables were covered with sheets with the food still out! I was awe struck. I ventured to ask my great aunt about putting the food away or in the frig. She just smiled her big grin and said not to worry about it.

Then the strangest thing of all happened. (Remember, I said some Southern families have traditions) I look around the room and everyone is asleep where they were sitting! People were sound asleep on the couch, the recliner, the chairs and everywhere else! I was in awe and shock at the same time. I had never seen anything like this before. It was as if fairies had sprinkled “sleepy dust” on everyone.

A short time later, maybe an hour, everyone was back up and awake. You are not going to believe what happened next. My great aunt took the sheets off of the tables and everyone started to make more plates of food! Are you kidding me? Did we not do just the same thing less than a few hours ago? It just goes to show you that even in your own family, some traditions are just straight up weird!

If you are not sure how to help after a Southern funeral, just ask the family. The family may say no in the beginning but may later take you up on your offer(s). I usually try to make a phone call to “check in” and/or offer to take a family member to lunch. Rest assured, if you want to take me to lunch at Longhorn Steakhouse, I can be ready in ten minutes or less!

If you decide to bring food, note to self. DO NOT bring any of that congealed, fruit salad. That stuff always reminds me of that weird chunky bar soap they sell in “them fancy boutiques.” Besides, no one really eats that mess anymore.

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