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Burying My Parents - Literally


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#1 sleepless sleeper

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Posted 05 December 2008 - 05:56 PM

My mother was buried on the Friday before Mother's Day, 2007. We buried my daddy with her, even though he died August 30, 2005.

I'm going to need to give a bit of family background to explain this story. I can't make anything simple no matter how hard I try so this will be long winded.

I was born in Biloxi, MS. At the age of.... Oh sorry, I guess I don't need to go that far back.

My family (both sides) is as Deep South as you can get. If any of you have read fiction and nonfiction which takes place in the true South, much of what you think you understood what life must have been like to grow up there is probably right on the button: warm, lazy, humid, hospitable, barefoot, fried food, Bible Belt, Protestant, characters, porch swings, welcomed unannounced visitors, spankings, etc. I'm not discussing racism, so let's please not bring that up. We moved from Mississippi when I was 15, and I think that my recollections of southern life were reflective of what southern living, heritage, and traditions had always been until that time, which I believe have changed greatly to now be reflective of generic American living. Yes, the history lesson is needed here. Manners were ingrained. The use of the words "Sir" and "Ma'am" were as natural as using your nose to breath air, and just the same as when one does not use her nose to breath air, if a kid were to not address an adult with "Sir" or "Ma'am" he could end up black and blue. Awkward sentence. Sorry, but I can't spend the time editing. Respect of your elders was just a part of life. It didn't matter if you were sick as a dog and wanted to sit in a chair to watch TV. If someone older than you walked in the door you quickly got out of the chair. There was an almost religious reverence for grandparents. This is a way of life that I find akin to how many Asian cultures honor their elderly. Also similar is how polite people were to the point of self effacement, and family ties were definitely thicker than water.

Okay, I think that is a good background to help explain some of the extreme measures that we took to keep Granny from having a heart attack. Wait, I have to tell you that I did not have a clue what "cremation" was until after we moved from Mississippi. People had funerals that were days long, and I never knew that it might be acceptable to have a closed casket. It took at least a week to finally get people to let go of their loved ones, get the ado over with, and allow the body to be put into the ground. Then there were the nonstop, food filled family gatherings that would last every damn night until 2 or 3 am.

My father wanted to be cremated, which my mother had done. Mama then put one of his obit in the Jackson, MS paper, and in his obit, Mama stated that Daddy had been cremated. Okay, this is my mother's mother's son-in-law. This is not her child. My grandmother cried for at least a month because my daddy was not "properly" disposed of. His body was "burned." How can you treat someont that you love like that? Even though she eventually stopped crying, she to this day is horrified. My mother wanted to be cremated, also, and have her ashes mixed with my dad's and then be buried in the local cemetery, which is in the Ozark mountains many miles from Jackson, MS. I mistakenly said this to my grandmother, who turned white as a ghost and couldn't breath. We were in my parents' living room, and my mother was in her bedroom only hours from passing. (that is another thing: in the South, you don't die, you pass to the other side) One of my aunt's quickly added that I had meant that my mother had wanted my father's ashes placed in her coffin. Thus began this disgusting, hilarious, and true story. To make this go more quickly, I may type incomplete sentences, etc, but do enough to get the point across. I never wrote any of this down so I don't think I remember everything.

my sis and i buy a full plot. this is so granny won't be suspicious as to why Mama is getting buried in an "urn" plot, or whatever they're called.
we then rent a casket, a hearse, a driver, a large tent, a ton of chairs, and a super large fake grass carpet.
the funeral home didn't have someone to mix the ashes, and because we don't have time to wait, they take my sis in a back room and dump both sets of ashes out for her to mix. she got my parents' remains on her clothes, in her nose, etc. as she was making a mental note that one set of ashes had larger chunks of bone than the other set, the funeral home person began, without prompting, to explain that cremation procedures had changed in the time period between my parents' deaths. Something about how they could now get the pieces ground smaller, I cna't remember.
oldest uncle, thomas, ordered a floral arrangement from the local florist to place on top of the casket for the sole purpose of keeping my grandmother out of the casket. It was the largest, most expensive floral arrangement that the shop had ever made. It was very heavy.
we had to inform EVERYONE to NOT let granny know that my mother was cremated. at the viewing the night before the funeral, my grandmother wanted to open the casket, and my aunts and uncles had to repeatedly tell her that my mother requested a closed casket because she wanted to be remembered by the way that she used to look. My aunts and uncles pleaded with granny to accept my mother's wishes. I can't imagine how I would behave at one of my children's funerals, it must be grief beyond imagination. My grandmother went to 3 guests (and these are only the ones that informed me) and asked if they would open the casket for her. She tried to play tricks to get them to open it for her, but I don't remember what they were.
I forgot- just as the funeral home had no to to mix the ashes, there was no one available to dig the grave.
That evening 2 uncles, my sis, and I get a shovel and drive tothe cemetery. We had to do dig the grave under a moonless midnight sky. when we got there we used the only light available, my youngest uncle's truck's headlights. He had the truck running with Marty Stewart (ex son in law of Johnny Cash) singing a johhny cash song which was somehting about being buried or in the ground. It was not played on purpose. Stewart reminded me of Cash, and that deep soothing voice, much like daddy's, was the best sound. We all tried our hand at digging, but the men were the best at it. sis fell in the hole and couldn't get out - was covered in mud. once the hole was dug, the urn was placed, and each of us tried frantically to get every speck of dirt appropriately situated because we dug a hole for a large urn, not a casket. it was hard to do in the dark. We knew that granny would question it the next day, hence the large fake grass carpet.
oh, sis nad I had been there the day before with the cemetery owner and marked off the grave. when we got there that night, someone had removed the markers. we did our best, but it ended up being right on the line, which we found out only a couple of months ago (they had to be dug up and moved- the cemetery wanted to know how that happened - oops).
After services, there was a large procession out to the parking lot and granny heard someone mention ashes and why was there going to be a grave side service. successful damage control and again all guests were secretly informed of the secret.
at graveside granny wanted to know why there was a carpet on the ground and why couldn't we watch the casket be lowered into the ground. she was told that the cemetery did not have anyone available pre-service to dig a hole, so it was going to be done after we left so we better go. yep, she noticed dirt here and there and wanted to know why a hole had been dug that was no longer there, etc.
My poor grandmother. my uncles respectfully took her arm and said I don't know, Mama.
and that's it. maybe it's not that funny in the retelling, but it's nice to get out.

#2 Marcianna

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 04:24 PM

All though I am very sorry for your loss and all the stress it clearly must have been, I have to say it is very funny in a cute and respectful kind of way! I know it doesn't seem right but you obviously loved your grandmother enough to lie to her over and over again just to make sure everyones wishes were up held. Not to mention the extra money, Funerals are not cheap! You should really consider writing a book or a screen play. this is really that good! Only wish it had been fiction for your sake though!

#3 angellus

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 08:48 PM

remind me (unless i die before i meet you) not to let your family make my burial arrangements.