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TOPIC: Funerals the Old Way? Still allowed anywhere?

Funerals the Old Way? Still allowed anywhere? 01 Nov 2009 06:39 #292

I have wondered whether people are still allowed to hold funerals the Old Way. I attended a funeral for my great-aunt when I was five years old. My memories of this may be a bit rusty and inaccurate but here is what I remember:

The funeral was held in the home of my great-aunt, who was also the person who had passed away. It was very small home. The night before the funeral, all the women and female children gathered in the kitchen where great-aunt Bo was lying on the blanket padded table, covered with a white sheet. The women took bowls of warm scented water and gently washed Aunt Bo, each taking an arm or leg, or other part, and making sure she was modestly covered throughout the washing. She was then dressed in a plain white sack type, almost nightgown-looking long gown, cotton panties, no bra. One of the ladies braided her long hair and wrapped around her head and pinned it in place. Her hands were folded across her chest. There was a discussion about no jewelry, and instead holding on to it for the children to pass on. There was not much crying, just a few silent tears here and there. Mostly, the atmosphere was loving and caring, like when one soothes a sick child. As the women washed and prepared her, the female children of all different ages either helped fetch fresh water or wrung rags or played among the feet of those attending to Aunt Bo. The men were not permitted in the house during this process.

The men gathered in the backyard. They were selecting from several pieces of flat wood that had been brought to the house, to decide which they would use for the grave marker. The rest of the evening, a couple of the men took turns sketching and carving the wood with Aunt Bo's name, dates and a short message chosen by her daughter. I don't think any of them slept that night.

I didn't see the preparations for this part, since I was sleeping in piles with the other children on a huge feather bed. But the next morning, the livingroom and kitchen furniture had been pushed back against the walls and stacked in the bedrooms and on the back porch. When you entered through the front door into the livingroom, you saw old wooden chairs, buckets, a board across a couple buckets, etc., was laid out for seating across the room like church pews, all facing toward the kitchen entry way which was directly across from the front door. You could walk through the house from the front door, to the kitchen entry way, through the kitchen and to the back porch door, then out into the backyard, almost in a straight line.

The back third of the livingroom where it exited into the kitchen was partitioned off with blankets hanging on a wire (or maybe a rope?), tied off, which made a wall-to-wall curtain across the room that opened in the middle. Behind the curtain, on a table a bit lower in height than the kitchen table, was great-aunt Bo, laid out in her wood box coffin, dressed all pretty from the night before, hair braided, smelling sweet. The lid to the coffin was on the floor under the table. I remember that smell even today, and still do not know what it was. It was sickly sweet, not jasmine or anything I can really identify, but so very, very sweet with a little taint behind it, but pleasant and memorable.

People arrived off and on through the day. The men and children would seat themselves in the livingroom, and the women would go straight to the kitchen with a carry-in dish or bag of some type. I later found that these were food items and home canned jellies and preserves. The women would then join their family in the livingroom where they would sit for a while, and then, they would file through the partition in the curtain and spend a few moments alone with Aunt Bo. Children were not permitted to go through the curtain without an adult escorting them, and in fact, most of us were shooed outside to the backyard. The adults would then proceed on through the kitchen entry way and out into the backyard where more chairs and tables had been set up.

The tables covered with string beans that women were stripping and breaking, women making pies and other foods, and women organizing the items that were brought by the guests. I caught pieces of many conversations, everything from favorite memories of Aunt Bo, recipes they were preparing, the last funeral they attended, comparisons of other funerals they had attended, who had new babies, and of course, family gossip.

Late in the afternoon, a hearse came to the house. The men placed the lid on the coffin, and nailed it down. The women placed a big colorful quilt on top of it. The men carried it out to the hearse, and we all climbed in vehicles with many of us on a big flat bed truck for the ride to the old homestead.

The old homestead was a big farm on the hill several miles away. We parked and then walked quite a distance (it seemed) to the top of a hill, where there was a small family cemetery. The hearse drove much closer. (I've tried to find it since then and never could, and all the family who could tell me where it is have passed away. I'm searching records for land my ancestors may have owned at that time in order to find it.) The men unloaded the coffin and carried it to the cemetery. I don't recall the coffin having any handles. It seems they just carried it with their hands under it. (Remember these are recollections of a five year old.)

At the cemetery, the plot was already open. The men placed the coffin above the hole, then set it aside, and picked up shovels to square it more. Then the preacher stepped forward and asked everyone to gather. He said a short piece and then several others stepped forward and said a bit. Then the preacher said a closing, and the quilt was pulled off the coffin and it was lowered into the hole by ropes that run underneath it, and they were pulled out after it was lowered all the way. At that point, several threw flowers on top of the coffin, but most started back to the vehicles. Only a few of the women remained, the immediate family. But five or six men stayed behind to fill in the grave with dirt.

After the men had filled the grave, one of them placed the wood marker, and a couple of women planted what I think was flower bulbs on top.

Everyone went back to the house, and the next few hours were spent eating and serving the people who attended the funeral, and then cleaning up. The whole affair was like a family event, quite common, somber but light at the same time, filled with sadness and joyful memories. I've looked back on it many times over the years and wished I could have the same send off for my own family.

Is this even allowed anymore? Can you skip embalming and do your farewell like it happened above? Can you bury a family member in a private cemetery, or your backyard, or other personally owned property?
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Re:Funerals the Old Way? Still allowed anywhere? 18 Feb 2010 08:04 #305

I believe there are places out there that do "green burials" like you are referring to. I'm not sure exactly of the rules of doing it on your own property but I'm sure that if you could find a company in your state that does this type of funeral they could give you the details of the legalities.
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Re:Funerals the Old Way? Still allowed anywhere? 02 Mar 2010 19:14 #311

  • Don
  • Don's Avatar
At the time of her death, our mother will be taken to a funeral home where her body will be washed but not embalmed. The staff there will dress her in a linen shroud we made for her, then, place her body in a bamboo casket we bought on line. We will then rent a van to take her body to our home town where we will lower her casket into the grave. Everything I've described is legal in the states of WA and OR - I don't know about other states. We have been told that we could legally prepare her body ourselves at home, but have chosen to have the funeral home staff do that.
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Re:Funerals the Old Way? Still allowed anywhere? 02 Sep 2010 22:37 #389

  • tumbleweed
  • tumbleweed's Avatar
What a wonderful memory Msrana. Please make an effort to check around your area. A good funeral director will do his or her level best to accomidate your needs. I see no reason why it could not be done prima facia.
Best regards, Tumbleweed
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