Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Funeral Foods and Funerals in the South



The Cajun and I attended a funeral yesterday - his grandmother passed away early Sunday morning. She was 95 and had been bedridden for about the last year. Though she had been very alert the past few weeks, she had also sort of been what we call 'between two worlds' lately, so we knew it would not be long. She passed away peacefully in her sleep.

Attending the funeral mass, traveling in the funeral procession and then of course, the family gathering afterward reminded me of our southern traditions relating to funerals, and I told my husband "I need to blog about this."  Being a southern girl who has never lived outside of the south, I can't say for a fact, but I'm pretty sure, that there are certain things about Christian funerals that are fairly unique to us southerners.

Of course there's the whole wake, or viewing thing. This is often held the same time as the funeral service, and sometimes in the church, but the event can often be spread out over two days and involve both. Sometimes the wake is held the evening before the funeral at the funeral home, with the funeral service the following day. Sometimes it is all done at the church.  Either way, the "viewing" involves having an open casket, where people can visit the deceased one last time and offer a prayer for their soul. The family gathers and there is a small service, and if the deceased is of the Catholic faith, sometimes there is the reciting of the rosary.  If the funeral goes into two days, the following day, there is a small funeral service, and then a procession to the gravesite. And, if services are held in a church and the deceased is Catholic, there is almost always a Mass.

We have a large Catholic population down here of course, so the chances of you attending a southern Catholic funeral mass is pretty high if you attend a funeral down here. Course that isn't unique to the south at all, it just reminded me of how prevalent the Catholic faith is here. Personally, I am a "non-practicing Catholic," though most other Catholics would tell you there is no such thing. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, they say. But for a number of reasons that I won't go into here, my church {sigh} has essentially rejected me - the primary reason being that The Cajun and I - both Catholics - chose not to marry in the Catholic church in this remarriage. In short, I consider myself to simply be a Christian these days, but it is funny how old habits and that connection to the Catholic Church tend to stick with you.  Though I do not take communion, I still find myself reciting the responses and prayers of the Mass. It's just an ingrained part of anyone raised Catholic I guess and I'm betting that all of that standing, sitting, kneeling and chanting must really freak out those of other faiths the first time they experience it at a funeral mass! 

One of the most prominent things that is traditional in the south is what happens during the funeral procession of vehicles to the gravesite. The Cajun's grandma had a large family - many came from New Iberia and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which was her home until she met her fisherman husband and ended up here in Biloxi, Mississippi, raising a very large family in some very hard times. My father in law is no stranger to hard work and he is truly a traditional southern daddy, that's for sure! There were and still are, of course, strong ties to Louisiana for my husband, his father and the rest of the family, which is why my hubby is deemed "The Cajun" in much of my writing.

All that family and the funeral procession was a good mile or more long as we traveled from Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to the Biloxi Cemetery, taking up what seemed nearly the full length of the brand new Ocean Springs bridge.  I have to give kudos to both the Ocean Springs and Biloxi police departments for their excellent escort service. They did a fantastic job of diverting traffic and keeping the funeral procession together all the way to the  Biloxi Cemetary. There were at least 5 police cruisers escorting us the entire trip.

The thing that I think is unique about our processions down here though is what happens with other drivers.

If you are traveling our roads in one direction and you see a funeral procession traveling on the other side of the road in the opposite direction - yes, even on a divided 4-lane highway - chances are you will see the traffic on your side - opposite of the direction the funeral procession is traveling - pull off of the road and come to a stop. Not the traffic in front of the procession, but the traffic on the other side of the road!

Because you see, when a funeral passes down south, we pull our cars off to the far edge of the road, or off of the road, turn on our headlights, put our cars in park, and pay our respects by waiting for the funeral procession to pass. A prayer or two is usually offered for both the departed and their family. The police officers who stop to block the intersections to allow the procession to remain together, step out of their cruisers, remove their hats and hold them over their hearts as the cars pass - for everyone, no matter who you were.

Honestly, no matter how many funeral processions I have been in, just seeing this still brings tears to my eyes every time, because it reminds me of how connected we are in the south to one another, even those who we do not personally know.

The other thing that we do in the south has everything to do with food ... of course! And yes, it crosses all faiths.

Besides the food that is always immediately delivered to the house, once the funeral service is over, and the procession has carried the deceased to their final resting place, all of the friends and family gather, either returning to the church hall or else to a private residence, and the party begins. Done pot luck style and never in a restaurant, everybody brings their favorite dishes and all of the family and friends gather, eat, chat and catch up with one another and reminisce about the departed.  Don't be at all surprised if somebody breaks out some music and the dancing and general merriment commence - a celebration of life and the passing of a loved one into eternity in their next life is reason for celebration down south.

Click here to see a few of our traditional southern funeral foods.



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22 comments:

  1. I am a born and raised southerner (Arkansas) and we have the some of the same funeral traditions here. When my Daddy passed away a year ago yesterday, those traditions provided a lot of comfort and support for my family. Plus the fact that we survived on left over cassaroles and sandwich trays for a week.

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    1. I spent 16 years up North, and most of my formative years in Northeast Arkansas, ...when my Southern grandpa died, it was like a party, that is, a celebration...it was loud, and joyous, and nothing like any Northern funeral I had ever been to...I think I like the Southern traditions better...:)

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  2. sorry to hear about the loss. very interesting on how the police escort!!! never knew that. people will occasionally pull off to the side here in ohio, but I don't see it as much anymore. sad.

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  3. Most of these customs are also still observed in TN...I always like the police stopping traffic and the police escort for the funeral procession...The gathering for food after the funeral is generally a healing and meaningful time...Friends, neighbors and relatives always show up and help...
    Sorry for the loss of your husband's grandmother!!!
    I also love your food blog...I enjoy it every day!!!

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  4. I don't remember people ever pulling over when I lived in St. Louis, but here in TN, yes.

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  5. I was shocked when in some places I've lived they didn't have the funeral escorts and the pulling over. Only a boor would keep driving!

    One thing that really stuck with me from being born and raised in the South was the idea of bringing over food to the house of the kin as soon as you heard someone had passed. I am very big on that. I like to get a spiral-sliced ham. Spendy, but it's got to be something to tempt them or they won't eat.

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  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. ((HUGS))

    And that would bring me to tears to see others stop a moment to pay respects. That people can still show some type of humanity by doing that, even for strangers.

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  7. I am sorry for your loss.
    I was raised in "The South", and all of my Northern family do the same things as we did in the South.
    I think it was due to my Mother's
    guidence and the Irish in us.
    God bless your Grand Mother and welcome her with open arms.

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  8. wow...what a great insightful post. I am a Northener...and we hold big Catholic funerals up here (at least in my family).

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  9. yep, that is pretty much what we do here in Kentucky too. But, it seems that less and less ppl actually do pull over and/or slow down. It makes me wonder what the parents are teaching the kids.

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  10. Oh, and I remember when my mother passed away her best friend cooked a roast with all of the fixings, including canned pear on a bed of iceburg lettuce with miracle whip in the middle of the pear. Exactly like Mom would have made. Dadgum it, it meant so much to me.

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  11. Mary, this was a fascinating post! You know, of course, how sorry I am for your family's loss. I was touched to learn about the funeral procession and police escort. I've never seen that happen. I've added my prayers to the many that were said for your husband's grandmother.

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  12. i am sorry to hear about your husband's grandmother. We have some of the same traditions for funerals around here but it seems there is more respect in some of the traditions of the south, which is very important and should be implemented in other places as well.

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  13. Jim-49 said
    Mary,so sorry for your,husbands and family loss!! We are "Blessed",for our bring-up,here in the South!! I can also say,our "Law enforcement,in Jackson County,with Mr.Mike Byrd,but I speak of many of the men,who serve us in many offices"!! I do like to always pull over for the families,where we know them or not.Been busy lately,I'm about a week behind in e-mails.Always enjoy the posts!!

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  14. I so wish we could do this for my mother's funeral lunch next week, but there aren't enough people who don't HAVE to be at work to get it together for me. I'm going to kill myself just trying to feed the family coming in with a 3 & 5 year old to manage and a full time job!! It's hard being a southern lady in a modern world.

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  15. I'm so sorry for the lost of your grandmother, but she was obviously well-loved and respected and I'm sure she had a front row seat for the processing and the meal. I too am Southern-born and bred and have lived in Georgia all my life. We take food when someone passes, even before the funeral arrangements are made most of the time. I still get goosebumps and tear up when I see people pull over for a funeral process as well and will actually hold up traffic myself (wishing a flat tire for anyone who ignores it and passes!). I grew up going to funeral visitations because my father was the local druggist and we went to the funeral home whenever one of his customers would pass...it's an ingrained part of me to honor the family that way whether I knew them or not.

    By the way Mary, Catholics make great Baptists...come check us out, we'd love to have you! :)

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    1. I truly love the Baptist church & faith Harriett! Thanks to one of my most favorite aunts and the fact that I lived up the street from a little Baptist church, I think I spent just about as much time at First Baptist Church in Biloxi as I did at my home parish of Fatima. I loved it!!

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  16. I'm from Oklahoma and I have a very large family so I've been to my fair share of funerals. I was a bit surprised when I stumbled upon this post because everything in it is customary here. I was even more surprised when I read the comments and discovered that police escorts and cars pulling to the side of the road isn't customary everywhere! I don't normally share this but I find it relevant to this post... one of my cousins lost his life to the assassin at Ft. Hood in Texas a couple years ago. His funeral took place in my hometown, a large suburban area. During the procession, not only did every single car within view pull over (largely due to the massive police escort) but somehow people knew who the procession was for and there were LOTS of people standing outside their cars with their hands over their hearts or in salute. I've never seen anything like it and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

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    1. Unfortunately we've seen a few of those here where I live too. Our local media always notifies us of military funerals & folks will line the streets. It's always so touching when you see an elder veteran standing on the side of the road in a salute.

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    2. You two have made me tear up :). One of my husband's best friends (they were like brothers) was killed in action in March of 2012. As his body left Lackland AFB to go to his hometown, hundreds of airmen lined the streets and stood at attention and saluted him. Though I was not present, I saw pictures and it warmed my heart to see the respect that they all showed to a complete stranger. Most everyone in his hometown attended his memorial service (about 800 people) but those who did not lined the streets with their hands over their hearts as the procession passed. It was such a sweet sight to see. I live in Louisiana now, but I was born in southwest Mississippi. I can identfy with all of the traditions you mentioned, and I thought that they were only a part of my small corner of the world, but obviously they are not. I love reading your blogs because I can truly identify with the culture and the food! :)

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    3. {{{{HUGS}}}} I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  17. I just moved to Baton Rouge. I've never lived in the South before. So glad to know this tradition. I have never heard of it before. I love living here. Sorry about your loss.

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