Whenever I return to my hometown, I’m reminded of things that are more prevalent in small towns that are not done anymore in greater Atlanta or its suburbs. As we celebrate the life of my grandmother, I revisit the tradition of the funeral procession.
Growing up, someone’s importance or impact was judged by the length of their funeral procession. I always hoped I would have a really long one. In Atlanta, processions just aren’t the norm–nor are they safe. I know that it is expected for slain police officers, politicians, or celebrities to have significant processions (wherever they take place, no matter how big the city). In small towns like my hometown, everyone gets a funeral procession between the church/funeral home and the cemetery.
The first time I vividly remember being part of a funeral procession was surrounding the death of my paternal grandfather when I was almost sixteen. Several people pulled over, and I remember one person in particular stood with his hat off, placed over his heart, in honor and contemplation of someone he did not even know. Wow. Today, people pulled over and watched our long line of cars proceed slower than the usual flow of traffic.
When you are part of a procession, the funeral home personnel tell you to turn on your blinking caution lights. It’s as if to say “Caution. Death coming through.” I’ve been on the other side of many a procession. It has been very good for me to take a minute and realize that life is fleeting, make it count, be thankful for what AND WHO you have. Waiting for a funeral procession has been a different kind of interruption for me. Instead of being annoyed, I think to myself, “I wonder who they lost. I wonder how they died. I wonder how they lived. I wonder how the living will adjust to the new normal.”
The procession is one area where the small town wins. It whispers, “Slow down and appreciate.” I revisit my losses and memories, but I also tap into gratitude for all relationships I take for granted–even the monotonous. There is beauty in the everyday when tomorrow will never be the same.