Thursday, September 8, 2011

Death in a small town....

     Yes, people die in small towns, just like they do in the big city.  But, we country folk often handle things in a different way.  Usually when you hear of a death in your town, the individual usually falls into one of  a few different categories.  Either they are: someone you know, someone you are related to, or someone who is related to someone you know.  In essence, when one dies in a small community, the whole town grieves.
      At the onset of death, or at least when it is realized, the coroner must be called.  Due to the lack of people willing to run for public office, the coroner is usually someone who also holds another position.  In our small town, he was also the prosecuting attorney.  So, in order to have the coroner pronounce someone dead, they had to die when he wasn't in court, or wait to be pronounced until later.  I'm sure the local sheriff often had the dilemma of whether or not to call the coroner/prosecuting attorney during hours that he would be in court.  I have wondered if there was a "sub" for the coroner when he was out of town.
     The funeral home is also called when someone dies.  In our town there are 2 such funeral homes, and the competition between the two is rather fierce.  People are very loyal to one or the other and are adamant to make their wishes known before they die to be sure that they are taken to the right one.  Funeral homes are rather simple places, usually a larger home in the town that has been fixed up to make it nice for funerals.  Often the family of the funeral director lives in the upstairs of the home.  If the funeral director is also an entrepreneur, he may rent the "chapel" in the  funeral home for weddings and other special occasions.
     The actual service is usually held at the funeral home, attended by all who would care to offer condolences to the grieving family.  In cowboy country, that meant getting to dress up for the occasion, putting on your "going to town" duds ( clean jeans, western shirt, sometimes a bolo tie, and nice boots with the pant legs tucked in).  You could walk into the church and see the rows of cowboy hats placed neatly on the shelf above the coat rack-- one of the few times a cowboy takes his hat off.  The parking lot would be full of pickup trucks, the dogs in the back absent because they had to stay at home for the occasion. 
     Music at a funeral has changed over the years.  Years ago, the local organist would be hired and a friend of the family that could carry a tune would be asked to sing the favorite hymns of the one who had passed on.  Lately, the addition of a sound system in the funeral home allows people to pick their favorite songs to be played over the intercom.  In cowboy country that means only one thing: songs that bespeak the hardships of life: Country music.  I have been in many a funeral and wondered about the choice of songs.  Many of the songs fittingly speak of heaven or hurting after one is gone.  I was very confused at one funeral where suddenly over the loudspeaker came "Heartbreak Hotel" and several people started sobbing.
     The local parson presides over the service, offering words of hope and comfort for the grieving family.  After the funeral, the individuals church family will put on a meal for the community.  It is usually "funeral ham" or fried chicken accompanied by homemade salads and desserts.  There are typically those families that show up to every funeral--just for the food.  However, no one confronts them.  Death is a quiet affair and the family is always thanked for attending.
     It is always the duty of those closest to the one that passed away to put a thank you note in the local paper.  There are unique ways of thanking people, but they always express appreciation to those in the community for their support and love.  You just have to hope that the editor of the paper catches the typo before printing.  I read this thank you once in our local paper.
"Perhaps you were there, or gave to the memorials or sent flowers or a card.
Maybe you gave words of encouragement, or a hog, or a prayer.  You were there for us"

I'm pretty sure the family meant to say "hug". Oh well.

      The local radio station also reads all the local obituaries on the air, three times a day.  ALL relatives are mentioned by name on the air which often makes for a very long announcement when step relatives and ex's are included.  Lately, pets names have been mentioned along with "special" friends, whatever that means.  The service times and locations are announced so all can be sure to attend.  Last week the announcer made a general invitation to all by announcing that "snacks will be provided"..........but you'll get that in a small town.

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