Cumberland Times-News

Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum

May 22, 2008

Funerals have changed a lot over the years

Last week I had occasion to visit a local funeral home to offer condolences on the death of a man who had been one of a gaggle of teenage basketball players when our family moved into the house on Park Avenue.

My son, who went with me, and the deceased's brothers had a fine time reminiscing and I came away thinking about how much funeral practices - and my attitudes toward them! - have changed in the last half century.

Coming from Philadelphia, I was not prepared for Frostburg's funeral conventions. In my experience, Catholics held wakes when someone died, but Protestant funerals often took place in homes where there was no room for receiving non-family members.

Viewing, except for a brief period before the service, was frowned upon, and the ladies of the church were not called on to provide a post-service luncheon for all who cared to remain.

For me, the worst part of all was the idea of holding a conversation with the widow as she stood next to the open casket of her husband; that seemed positively ghoulish!

But I don't feel that way any more. I've come to see the visitation as a blessing to the bereaved family, bridging that awkward period when they can do no more for the beloved one, but are not quite free to begin another routine.

Funerals, like weddings, are occasions that bring families together. They come long distances, not so much to say good-bye to a relative as to reconnect with brothers and sisters, cousins and in-laws who have little chance to get to know each other. In an era in which families are more fractionated than ever before, funerals are important.

Funerals are no longer the beginning of an extended period of mourning as they were a century or so ago. For a few days, men and boys wore black armbands; little girls had black ribbons on their braids instead of their usual pink bows; a big black wreath was hung on the front door.

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Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum
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