How to Plan a Southern Funeral
How to Plan a Southern Funeral
By Elaine Viets
I grew up in St. Louis, which is the southern-most northern city, or the northern-most southern city. Either way, there’s a keen interest in the southern way of death. We expect high drama for the last rites.
My grandmother, who spent her childhood summers in Tennessee, was a little more southern than the rest of us. She liked to take me for long walks in graveyards. Mom was afraid this would warp me, but the damage was already done. I grew up about as morbid as my grandmother.
A little over three months ago, I woke up out of a coma and found my husband had been planning my funeral.
"What did you plan?" I asked.
"I can’t remember," he said, vaguely.
"Did you remember the bagpipes?"
"Damn," he said. "I knew I forgot something."
This was my big fear – my husband and friends were too tasteful to give me a real southern funeral. Let me write down some elements:
The music: Bagpipes. Not required for a southern funeral, but there’s something wonderfully eerie about that music skirling around the tombstones. Makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, which is a proper reaction for a traditional southern funeral.
The body: I’m not anxious to contribute this for a few decades. But when it happens, keep that coffin lid open. Southerners get suspicious if you close it. We suspect foul play.
I’d appreciate being buried in something gaudy that will cause lots of talk.
The coffin: Shockingly tacky. There’s a coffin that has "Return to Sender" like the Elvis song. Please avoid the Monet "Waterlilies" coffin. I’ve seen that poster in too many doctor’s offices, and Florida is awfully soggy. Ditto for coffins with flames all over them. I don’t want anyone to think it’s a preview of my final destination.
I promise to haunt the first person who says I look like I’m asleep. I look dead, dammit.
The eulogy: I read the comments you wrote for TLC when I was sick. I was touched. But even Mother Teresa didn’t get that kind of a send off. As an ex-reporter, I’d like a little truth along with the praise. It’s OK to say you thought I was a panel hog, or monopolized the conversation.
The first person who says, "I’m not going to say anything that will make you cry, because Elaine loved jokes. She wouldn’t want us to cry" is outta the will, pal. When I’m dead, excessive weeping, hair tearing, garment rending and teeth gnashing is acceptable. I won’t be back, except to haunt the people who said I looked like I was asleep.
The graveside ceremony: I hereby reserve a thousand bucks for the first person who throws himself/herself on my coffin and wails that he/she can’t live without me. I realize that many of my friends have had back and/or knee surgery, so this could be risky. If you want to sit on the edge of the grave and lower yourself in gradually, like a swimmer in a pool on a cold morning, fine with me. Just make sure you’re yelling how you can’t live without me.
The funeral scandal: No southern funeral is complete without a scandal. There’s another thousand bucks to the first young man who claims to be my love child from Woodstock, and the first person to contest the will on the grounds that I was a crazy old bat. There is no love child, as DNA will prove, and this blog is proof my elevator is not going all the way to the top. But I appreciate the effort on my behalf.
Flowers: The bigger the better. Please send tasteless displays, like a mob funeral. In lieu of flowers, you can also make a donation to Mother Hubbard’s Home for Retired Chippendales.
Pall bearers: Six Chippendales. The less they wear, the more they get paid. If they want to dance for tips down the church aisle, fine with me.
The sermon: None of this Father Cool from the First Church of God Is an OK Guy. I want a fire and brimstone preacher, who scares the heck out of the mourners and makes them all feel they’re next.
Duration of the visitation: At least three days, so the mourners are happy to finally shovel me under.
Funeral-baked meats: No stale sandwiches and sheet cake in the church basement. Let’s have a real sendoff with scandalous amounts of catered food and liquor.
Anyone too drunk to drive home gets a free cab. I don’t want any company.