My Experience at a “Black” Funeral

This is, by no means, meant to be racist.  To confirm, I have dated people of different races.  That should vouch for me, right?

It is only meant to share my experience in funerals I’ve attended and the one funeral that was the most uplifting funeral I’ve ever seen.

I’ve only ever been to funerals for white people, specifically family members.  In 24 years, I’d never been to a funeral for a friend.  In 2013, I attended my first funeral for a friend who happened to be a black man.

His name was Dale.  He was 54 years old.  He started working at the post office a few months before my dad started there.  So, when he was alive, Dale knew my dad longer than I did.

For two years, he delivered mail to the law firm where I worked.  We were in a downtown office, so he walked a good bit of his route.  During the Mississippi summer, he would be sweaty and parched by the time he reached our office.  I would anticipate his arrival and have a cold bottle of water waiting for him.  I never saw this man without a smile.  He was a happy guy who was eager to talk about his family and tell me stories of my dad during his early post office years.  He was a wonderful person.

In January, 2013, he passed away.  My dad called me early Saturday morning.  Told me the disturbing news.  We learned the date of the funeral (which I’ve recently found out is referred to as “homegoing”) and made plans to go.

Day of the homegoing:  We drive to a church we’ve never been to down a country road.  There are no parking spaces available in the church parking lot, so we drive past the church.  Cars lined the road, just parked on the shoulder.  There are people walking half a mile to the church.  I see people smiling, laughing.  There are women in colorful dresses with high heels.  The men are wearing nice suits and hats.

Are we at the right church?

I’m wearing my black “funeral” dress and black flats – very depressing outfit.  We walk up the country road, into the gymnasium of the church; chairs fill the room.  There aren’t enough chairs for people, so the men are standing along the walls so their wives could sit.

The service starts:  the preacher talks about Dale.  Showing pictures and telling everyone about his accomplishments.  Dale was set to retire in 2014.  What a shame.

Every “white” funeral I’ve been to is very different:  the preacher gets to the podium, reads from a notebook all the achievements of our loved one.

But, it seems this preacher knows Dale.  His speech doesn’t seem scripted.  It seems genuine.

He asks Dale’s next door neighbor to speak.  He talks about Dale working in the yard and their quick conversations walking back from the mailbox.  Dale’s high school buddies get up and talk about him: what he did in high school, how he made people laugh and how they all kept up with each other over the years.

Then, his daughter comes out and performs an interpretive dance.  I’m thinking, “That’s his daughter!  If my dad had just died, I don’t know that I’d be able to stand, much less dance.”  Happy songs were sung; jokes were told.  Ultimately, they celebrated Dale’s life.

At this point, I was amazed.  For “white” funerals, the preacher recites some facts about the decedent.  He quotes some lines from the Bible that are meant to comfort us.  Then he scolds us, “Don’t be sad that he/she died.  Be glad he/she is in Heaven.  Straighten up your act or you won’t go to Heaven.”  We cry more.

At white funerals, I’ve never seen more than 50 people show up.  And, they don’t dress up.  They’re either wearing black dresses/skirts or khakis and a shirt tucked in.

White funerals don’t celebrate life.  They grieve.  And they do it out loud.

Now, at one point during Dale’s homegoing, a woman (I believe it was Dale’s mom) fainted.  Her emotions got to her after hearing so many people talk about Dale and what a great person he was.

White funerals are quick and depressing.  Only the preacher speaks.  It’s not very personal.

For Dale’s homegoing, we sat in that gymnasium for over two hours.  Over 10 people got up and spoke about him.  We stood up and sang songs and rejoiced in the fact that God let Dale be with us for so long.

I left that place uplifted, not sad.  I left with happy memories of Dale, not feeling sorry for myself that he’s not here anymore.  Walking back to our car that afternoon, I said to Danny, “When I die, I want my funeral to be done like Dale’s.”

How can we be so alike in that we get up and work, love our families and exist in general, but are so different in the way we celebrate/mourn the life/death of our loved one?

Lauren

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5 thoughts on “My Experience at a “Black” Funeral

  1. Charles Chollie McCoy November 19, 2013 at 11:36 am Reply

    I will give you permission to dance at my funeral. Great story. Dale was a good man.

  2. Bridget November 20, 2013 at 9:24 am Reply

    I love this. 🙂 I didn’t know Dale, but I think he would have liked it too.

    • laurenmississippi November 20, 2013 at 9:52 am Reply

      Thanks, Bridget! 🙂 It was definitely an eye-opening experience!

  3. Helen November 21, 2013 at 11:56 am Reply

    Sounds like a beautiful tribute to Dale. More and more people are calling funerals Celebrations of Life. That is what we had for my parents. We laughed and we cried. And we also called it a homegoing.

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