The best way to be put ‘six feet under’ when you kick the bucket

It appears that in writing ‘The Declaration of Independence’, the founding fathers were far more ‘Socialist’ than most Americans can imagine. They defined the words ‘pursuit’ and ‘happiness’ quite differently than nowadays. ‘Pursuit’ is not the chasing, but ‘experiencing’ it, and the government has a role in that, according to Emory professor Brent Strawn[1]*. It is the Capitalistic interpretation of the American Dream that can make outsiders shake their heads………….

The role of the undertaker

The second most bizarre experience during my first stay in America was at the cemetery during the burial of ‘Contessa’s brother. It was the American way this female undertaker did her job that left me baffled. 

In Holland the profession of undertaker has become quite popular the last few decades. Specially to offer a ‘personalized’ and/or creative ceremony is one of the leading motives to become one. Most of them do not have their own funeral home, but make use of the facilities of what we call a mourning center. The role of the undertaker is doing all coordination and organization around a funeral and guide the family through all the choices to be made. At the actual ceremony he or she would step back and observe from a distance, ready to act on emerging situations if needed.

At the cemetery

After the sermon in that crowded North Carolina church, as I described in the introduction, we went in a long queue of cars to the cemetery. Since ‘my woman’ was next of kin, she was invited in one of the limousines. Since I did not have the status of ‘spouse’ yet, I was in one of the cars far behind that. At arrival I saw a graveyard that was clearly suffering from drought. It was a hilly large field. The grass was kind of yellowish brownish with here and there some wild cotton. The coffin was already placed next to the freshly dug grave. Although it was December, a construction was built to give shade to some 40 people for whom a chair was reserved. Between this tribune and the grave some fake grass was placed, which appeared extremely green. The majority of us was standing on the side of that. I considered it a rather formal setting, since a gathering around the grave would give more involvement in my opinion. Maybe it was because in this way the American army could specifically express its gratitude to the widow with the playing of ‘Taps’ and the ceremonial folding of the flag.

Bea’s American Dream

 It was however not a minister who took the word after that for the final ceremony, you know, the ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ stuff, but the undertaker. In her speech she told how well “Bea’s Funeral Parlor” was based into the society of that little town, of which mister Underwood was such an eminent member.  The history of “Bea’s Funeral Parlor” did go ‘way back’ lalala …, which was almost the same as that of mister Underwood. And as we are all here gathered, we mourn over a great person which cannot be ‘thank-you-ed’ enough for his service. That’s why “Bea’s Funeral Parlor” has decided to give the family a gift to express our gratitude to this great man. At that moment she revealed a huge blanket with the portrait of the deceased. Applause followed

America’s pursuit of happiness

I knew already that Americans can have appreciation and admiration for anyone who is able to find a creative way of making a living. It is an expression of the in the Declaration of Independence described right ‘to pursue happiness’, as I understood. I also remember that my sister who became an American was always inclined to support those ‘entrepreneurs’, even if they slightly crossed the line of good morals, and responded with ‘yeah, but he was trying to make a buck’.

I was however amazed about the fact, not only that this lady put herself in the focus of attention in such an occasion –  to me the focus of attention should be with the deceased as a last honor,  or with the family for support- but also with the fact that everyone was OK with it. “Oh, sure, she needs to make a buck too. It is only good entrepreneurship to use the opportunity to advertise since such a large crowd is gathered here. Whenever I am confronted with death again, I’ll remember ‘Bea’s Funeral Parlor’. She is doing a great job”.

Two women

But also, the feigned involvement that induced the “Gift” of ‘Bea’s Funeral Parlor’ to the family. As if that would not be charged at the end.  Moreover, what do people do with such a blanket? Do they put it on the wall in the living room? Does the widow sleep under it, to feel close to her dead husband? Or does the widow drape it around herself in times of extreme despair and mourning? Which in this instance is slightly imaginable, because this widow has fought for decades to be really his wife, since he left his real wife for her, but was never willing substantiate that legally. She was also the person that was close to getting into a trance of sorrow tapping frantically the coffin while we still were in the church, expressing “he was my man! He was my man!

Maybe that was the reason we were not gathered around that grave. She could be exclusively the center of attention when that folded flag was handed to her and in fact America said to her “Thank you for his service”. Because there was no other reason to be at that cemetery. We did not bury him. That coffin was just standing there. We did not say good bye. There was no religious ceremony. Nothing. Just those extremely young soldiers doing their mimicking act.

And “Bea’s Funeral Parlor”

 

 


[1]          https://news.emory.edu/stories/2014/06/er_pursuit_of_happiness/campus.html

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