If ever  you’ve  been to  a funeral in the Deep South on a hot  summer day, you will not forget it.  The pungent smell of  glads,  mums, and carnations in a small country church will  haunt you always.

I attended many of  these services when I  was a girl in Rossville, Georgia, but one stands out in my  mind. It was my great-aunt’s funeral in 1950, when I was  only eight years old.

In those days the deceased were kept at home until the  services at the church. Several little friends and I were playing outside when one of the girls said, “Let’s go in and see  Aunt Lila.”

All the little girls became excited and pushed and shoved  to be the  first inside. I began to walk over toward my parents, for I never had seen a dead body  and I was terribly   frightened. Suddenly my cousin Sarah Mae Brown grabbed me and  began pulling me toward the  bier.

I  resisted,  screaming and kicking, but she  was too strong for me.  Before I knew it I was standing before  Aunt Lila’s  open coffin.

She was dressed in a soft lavender gown  and looked  serene and peaceful but I was   petrified with fear. I couldn’t  move from the side of the coffin until finally the  children pulled me outside again. I was in a  state of shock for the  rest of the day.

That night I was  awakened by someone calling my name.  Assuming  it was  Mother calling me, I walked down the  hall to  her room. Instead of Mother, Aunt Lila was lying in  the bed.  she mentioned me to come closer.

When I did, she reached  for my hand and began to explain that death is nothing  to fear, that it  is a beautiful event in God’s plan for our lives  and I never should be afraid of death nor the dead.

The next morning I asked Mother if she was  out of  bed for any reason during the night. She told me  that my younger brother Elmo had had an asthma attack and  she had spent the night in his room.

Since those years long ago I have lost other dear loved  ones but  the words that came from Aunt Lila after her  death have helped me accept  death without fear.

Susan Gerstner

 San Jose, California

June 1976

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