Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Visitation...or high social season in the South!

Miss Lyndy over at wrote a post about how Costco is selling caskets and since I have been less than motivated to write a post this week she got me to thinking about how I spent this past Monday night. Yes, dear friends…I had to go to a Viewing, or Visitation, depending on how you might want to label this particularly interesting experience.

Now for those not versed in Southern Vernacular 101, a Viewing/Visitation is when you make what pretty much amounts to a social call to the grieving family after the passing of their dear beloved. In general it is held in a Funeral Home parlor (yes…parlor). You get spiffed up --at least in theory, thus the need for a standard Funeral Home worthy outfit at the ready-- and go in and sign the guest book and then you make your way through the room telling the grieving family how sorry you are for their loss. Then, most folks make a visit to the open casket and tell the family what a good job the funeral home did in preparing their loved one. [This is the part of the whole funeral thing that gets me…good job????] A few months ago I accompanied my DH to a Visitation for the mother of one of his employees and, I swear to you, the husband of the dearly departed stood there and with a straight face told us that his recently departed wife looked better than she had in 20 years - 20 years! Now, if my DH (dear husband) says that about me when I am lying in a casket I hope lightning strikes him dead on the spot (or at least singes him a little bit – might not want to stand to close, just in case).

The practice of having the Visitation at the home of the dearly departed, with dearly departed set right there where the Christmas Tree usually goes, has become less “fashionable” in recent years, as has the all night “settin’ up with the body” (do I hear an “AAAAy Men”?) though not completely gone in certain circles. Thankfully, I don’t believe any of the members of my family are fond enough of each other to bother hauling anyone’s body “home” for a Visitation much less looking at it all night. I mean, we are proudly a Funeral Family and we get our infrequent “visitin’” done at the Funeral Home when some poor soul decides to go on to the pearly gates (or other location as the case may be).

You may be wondering why on earth I would go to a Viewing when I didn’t really know the dearly departed from Adam. Well, In the Southland, if you are vaguely related to, know, or are somehow connected to the deceased or any member of their family you go to Visitation or to the Funeral. It’s just what you do if you were raised right! Oh, and considering I could either pop into the Visitation for a bit or attend a funeral which might very well include 5 preachers in a possibly UN air-conditioned church on a Tuesday afternoon during July in Georgia…I was visitin’!!!
If you had been in my car when I pulled into that Funeral Home parking lot you would have understood. It was like a small, southern town’s version of the high season in Saratoga! It was the southern social season in full swing. The porch was full of folks enjoying and renewing their friendships and catching up on what could be years of gossip and, of course, paying their respects.

When I was in the Funeral Home...
(BTW, and they have a real nice selection of caskets on their site with options listed…yes, options...should you be in need and online shopping is so very popular these days not to mention I can attest to the fact that they do a real good job!)...
I began to really look at the lighting. Have you ever noticed all the specialty lighting they use? I decided right then and there that maybe I need some Funeral Home lighting installed in my house. If they could design lighting in a way in which makes dead folks look…well, live…what could they do for me? Wouldn’t my dear husband get all excited if I could get some lighting that made me look….um…well “really good”…. considering it makes the dead look live (well, at least less DEAD)? I am thinking I need to only go to places with Funeral Home lighting just to be safe. I could call ahead and inquire as to the available lighting quality just to make sure whenever I plan to go somewhere. Maybe, I could design a special parasol (yes, as a Belle, I think I might be able to get away with a parasol) with that lighting installed which would reflect that special Funeral Home magic on me no matter where I might go???

Anyway…funerals are big stuff in the South. There is even a really cute book to help out anyone who might not have been "raised" quite right so they will be able to meet the particular social challenges that a “passing” in the South presents, it even includes recipes for some of the best funeral foods you have every tasted (yes…funeral food): Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Charlotte Hays.


  1. Better than she had looked in 20 years. Bless that woman’s heart.

    You were raised right and a good southern woman you are. Oh and you are right. Roper’s does a mighty fine job. (lol)

    I guarantee you that my cousin Shirley Aaron was at that funeral home on Monday night. Growing up, I never understood why they always refer to her as the “undertaker”. Well, as an adult I know. She was born and raised in Jasper and she goes to every funeral home visitation there is at every funeral home within a 50 mile radius. I love her to death and she is good as gold, as we say but I kid you not, when South Canton funeral home opened here several years ago, she and her husband Ken went to visit the funeral home before it opened to the public, so she would know her way around. Have you ever?

    That book looks like a hoot and now I am thinking, I might just have to read it. You never know when you just might need a good “funeral food.”

    Great post! Loved it.

  2. This is a great book.

    I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack when I bought. (My Dad died in March). But honestly, it made me laugh, even when I remember the fight I had (and won) concerning the food at the reception for his service. Mind you, this was with my Mom's sisters. not his.

    Everyone should read this book if they are from the South.

    Thanks for posting on my new site.

  3. Love this post! My dil's are avid visitation attenders. It is a social event for them.

    My brother is a mortician/funeral director and he can tell some real good funeral stories.

  4. Well I'lll tell ya, in Northern Indiana it isn't to different. People you haven't seen in 20 years show up! Although having lost my immediate family the one funeral comment I really hate is that they'll "keep in touch", ya right! And also "we must stop seeing each other only at funeral and weddings!" Then when you try to keep in touch there always busy! I am really tired of funeral home conversation, I stop in and get out quick!! Lori

  5. Oh my what a book!

    Ok you know Belle that my dad was born and raised in Kennesaw and that all of my family on his side still live in that area. Well when my beloved Uncle Raymond died in 1981, the funeral home in Kennesaw was open 24/7 (I am serious!) for three days for the visitation. He was that loved. Of course at the time I was not quite 12 and it was difficult to see him lay in the coffin but as i got older I understood it was tradition.

    My great grandfather (dad's side) died in 1985 at the age of 85 and granddaddy as we called him was laid out all nice and darn it if my grandmother (his daughter) didn't get a polaroid photo of him lying in the casket!

    My cousins Kathy and Billy from Woodstock were in a terrible car accident in June 2000 in which they were hit by an illegal alien from behind. Their son was killed in the accident and we had to plan his viewing and funeral without his parents because they were both in comas. Well again the funeral home in Canton was open nearly 24 hours for three days. People were coming from all over to see this 16 year old boy and say goodbye and pay respects to our family, it was really touching.

    And finally when my grandfather "Papaw" died in Kennesaw last year at the age of 93, it was one of the largest funeral processions in the modern history of the city. And his viewing and burial were in fine southern tradition.

    I guess my point is from those experiences one learns about the rituals of a southern funeral. A viewing is absolutely a must, although my dad says when he goes someday he wants to be in the ground the next day, no viewing!

    On my mom's side, now they're from NYC, they don't get that whole Southern funeral etiquette thing LOL!

  6. Jessica,
    On my Dad's side we tend to be "lets look at 'em and then stick them in the ground" kind of group. Both grandparents on that side had a short "Veiwing" (guess, we wanted to make sure we got the right one) and then the funeral. It was determined this was more convenient and wouldn't require folks to get out twice! LOL I guess the motto there is don't let any grass grow under ya"!

  7. LOL but have any of your relatives ever taken photos of the deceased?

    My mom, being from up north thought that was kind of strange. Hmm I think actually my dad thought it was kind of strange too and it was his mother who did it!

    I have an awful lot of respect for the traditions of the south, being that I am southern, if you can consider a native Floridian a true southerner, which even after 37 years of life I am still debating....I love southern traditions even the God-awful five day viewings...

    Hugs, Jess

  8. Too funny and too true! I need to get that book from the library.

    I've told this story before, but a few years ago I went to my best friend's grandmother's funeral. The poor lady had cancer for a few years and was tiny to begin with. So I walked into the chapel and they had an open casket. For some unknown reason, they had gotten her a push-up bra! All you could see was boobs over the edge of the casket! It was awful, but hilarious at the same time!


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