I’ve attended several funerals lately and it got me thinking about how much a part of growing up in Appalachia funerals have always been. As a child I often went with my parents to funerals. Shoot, everyone went. It’s just what you did.
The two things I remember most were open caskets and all that food. It was rare to go to a funeral where the deceased wasn’t on display. Everyone passed by the casket. The family would be stationed at the head so friends could offer condolences and hugs. Someone would inevitably say, “Don’t she/he look natural.” (My grandmother put considerable thought into what she would wear for burial.) Then, after the funeral, everyone would go back to the family’s home where there would be a ridiculous amount of really good food supplied by the community.
And, of course, there were quite a few superstitions associated with death. I didn’t necessarily see these things, but I certainly heard about some of them. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:
- When someone died, you stopped the clocks to mark the time and prevent another death.
- Deaths come in threes. If two people died reasonably close together, someone would always predict a third. I always found this a wee bit unnerving.
- If you hear a screech owl at dusk, someone will die. I still feel a jolt when I’m hiking in the evening and hear an owl hoot.
- It’s bad luck to walk across graves. We helped mow the church cemetery when I was growing up. This one worried me.
- Pregnant women aren’t supposed to look at a corpse lest their child be “marked.”
- Setting an empty rocking chair in motion signifies death. This one feels like a lovely metaphor more than a superstition.
- And my favorite–bees carry the news of death.
All in all, these customs and traditions made death pretty approachable for me. And, as the people I care about get older (as do I!), I find myself grateful for growing up in a place where death was very much part and parcel of life.