The Procession of Goodbye
It’s a long drive. It doesn’t matter if it’s across states or just a few blocks away, the funeral procession is a long drive that no one really wants to be in. I’ve only been in four that I can remember. The first was when I was in middle school and my mother and I traveled to Indiana to pay our respects to an aunt I never remembered meeting. I’m sure there’s a picture of me with her somewhere because whenever we would go back for a visit to my parents’ family they were always shoving me in front of someone saying, “Smile for the camera.” I have boxes full of pictures of me with strangers I’m supposedly related to.
We rode with my mom’s sister and behind us was her cousin Johnnie. The hearse was in front followed by the funeral car with the immediate family and then a long line of cars full of family and friends. When you’re partaking in such a procession it’s customary to have your headlights on as well as your hazard lights blinking. This enables other motorists to know where the procession ends, so that, hopefully, they don’t cut into the line and separate the mourners from each other.
This last part is very important, especially if Cousin Johnnie is in the procession. As we were traveling, Johnnie allowed a few car links to get between his car and my aunt’s and another unrelated vehicle slid in between us, oblivious to what he was in the middle of. It wasn’t really a big deal until they reached a traffic light and stopped for the halting red signal. Johnnie got out of his car and we could see the anger boiling within. He was going to pulverize the driver of the ignorant car; we just knew it. And he would have if it hadn’t been a tiny eighty-year old man that appeared to be ready to blow away with any sudden breeze. Johnnie satisfied himself with growling at the man and telling him to “get your ass the hell out of the way before you end up in your own hearse.”
At least, processions were treated like that when I was younger. Of course, people were taught to show respect back then. When a funeral procession drove by, everyone else would come to a stop and allow them to pass. Nowadays, most drivers won’t pull over and clear a path for police officers, firemen, or ambulances. Asking motorists to respect the funeral procession is probably asking too much. Yet, when it happens it brings a smile of hope to my heart. It shows there are people who care for more than just themselves.
This past week we were in another procession and as we traveled the back roads of Gulfport, Mississippi, people actually stopped and waited for our long line of cars to go by, and it didn’t matter if they were in the way or not. It was a sign of respect that I had thought forgotten in today’s age. It is a sign that I desperately think needs to be brought back.
I’m not sure how many cars were in our procession. If I had to guess I would say twenty to twenty-five. What I do know is that Gulfport police will only escort the first five cars in the lineup. Two of those were the hearse and the funeral car. Each of the sisters came next and soon I had flags stuck to my car by magnets announcing we were the last car to be escorted. I wondered about the other twenty vehicles. What if we got separated? What if a traffic light brought the others to a sudden halt? There was a long line of family that had to stay together.
Teri’s brother, Guerry, stayed right on my bumper. He was not going to be separated from us and luckily his reflexes were good on the brakes as half the time I didn’t know if we were stopping or going. The officer was nice enough to keep traffic stopped for longer than he was supposed to and seven or eight cars made it through the intersections before he had to have his motorcycle back at the front of the line. That still left quite a few cars, however, and we had a long way to go.
As I passed under a traffic light I watched it turn red and I just knew this was going to be the cutoff point. However, Guerry kept his arm out the window, rotating it in a way that said, “Keep going. Don’t stop.” And no one did. Car after car continued forward, each refusing to be parted from the lady that had so greatly inspired them. When the Gulfport officer passed off his duties to the Biloxi police to take us the rest of the way to Biloxi National Cemetery, we were still one long line of committed family. As we passed through the gates the Biloxi officers were off their bikes and standing at attention beside them. Everything paused as we drove by and that is how it should be.
Life is fast paced, nowadays. I understand that. Yet, we need to teach the upcoming generation the importance of a polite show of respect. Life can stop for two minutes as that procession drives by. Your car can, as well. Stop walking. Take off your hat. Just wait and empathize with the mourners driving by as they say their goodbyes. One day you will be in that line of cars and you will want the world to stop and respect the one you love. I promise you, I will.
* * * * *