Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Funeral Customs

Funeral customs vary from place to place, depending on the era, culture and area. I have always been fascinated by the practices in other states.

One of my earliest funeral memories was being a flower girl at the funeral of a great aunt in southern Illinois. The flower girls were often nieces or great nieces and carried flowers from the church to the burying ground nearby. Dressed in my best dress and mary jane shoes, that vase of flowers was clutched tightly to my chest. That must have been sometime in the early 1950s.

Years later while living in Michigan, I mentioned that memory to friends and they had never heard of having flower girls at funerals. I know it was common in western Kentucky as well as southern Illinois, but that custom must not have spread to other parts of the country.

Another custom that has fallen out of favor is having the viewing of the decedent in the home. When my grandmother died in the late 1950s, her casket was placed in a corner of the dining room. A family member sat next to the casket day and night and visitors came and went at will, with the remains not being moved to the funeral home until shortly before the funeral service. The smell of carnations was so strong in that room of my grandfather’s house and it made such an impression on me that, for years later, I could not be in that room without catching the scent of the funeral flowers.

Another thing that has changed in western Kentucky is the use of music at funeral home services. When my father died in 1975, a lady from his church sang his favorite hymns. I can remember her voice just soaring through that room - a truly beautiful version of "How Great Thou Art." Today, recorded music is often used and it doesn't have the same personal touch that a live person provides.

Customs and times change. Were funeral things done differently in your area? Would you share them with us?


Anonymous said...

In the winter of 1962, a seventh grade classmate at Tolu was killed when a tractor flipped. Our class attended the funeral at Glendale Baptist Church. At the conclusion of the service, our teacher indicated that we girls should "go be flower girls", and, with no prior discussion or instruction, marched up to the casket and carried the sprays out to the hearse. That was certainly our first such experience, and in my case, my last time to "be a flower girl". It was far from my last funeral. The custom seems to have waned with the development of funerals in "funeral homes", at least in Southern Illinois and West Kentucky. Years later, fifty miles from "home", that classmate's niece and nephew turned up as students in my classroom.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Interesting. I didn't realize there were flower girls that late. You may be right about the custom waning when funerals began to be held in funeral homes. My flower girl duties always took place in a country church.

red neck yankee said...

I am from New York, but my roots and heart are in Princeton (the Claxton community to be exact). I remember as a child viewing pictures of my deceased relatives in thier caskets. I have shared this with friends, and they have never heard of such practices. My grandmother made it clear she was not to be photographed when she passed, so we respected that wish and refrained from snapping photos when she died in 2001. I'm curious, do people still practice this odd tradition? What is the point? I just looked at pictures of my deceased great grandparents on my Christmas trip home, and honestly wished I hadn't.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Oh, yes. As a rule, however, now the pictures are taken privately while the family is not in the room. They are certainly nothing I would want to include in family photo albums or to pass around at a family reunion, but I do have a couple of photos of deceased relatives.

John G. West said...

Unfortunately, some photos were taken of the deceased as it was the only photo of that person (even some of the more elderly had few photos). This was done a lot for infants, especially, new borns. This last is still done to this day... it provides an image to remember the little one.

I have never heard of flower girls before, of course, I am so young!

My love of genealogy was forever increased from the stories told by family members at funerals. I can only remember some of them, but I remember how the stories would bring that deceased person back to life for a young boy to relish about a grandfather or a cousin of Mom's or Dad's. I wished I had a recorder.

Anonymous said...

I well remember being a flower girl and seeing mother and aunts do the same, back in the 1950s, in Crittenden and Livingston Counties. Also having the viewing at the home where neighbors came and cleaned the house and moved furniture in preparation of the body being returned from the funeral home where it had been prepared for viewing. I remember the smell of cooking in the kitchen as the viewing was taking place in the living room. I have taken many photo's of deceased family members before friends arrived when only the family was present. I grew up with this tradition and never considered this to be unusual. These were normal things we did back in the
40s and 50s.

Anonymous said...

Great information!!!Funeral customs have traditionally varied by religion.I think All funerals have different procedures depending on the deceased persons religion and desires.

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