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.
San Jose, California