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Death in a Small Town

There is a context for the following vignettes of small town living. My grandmother died on August 27, 2009. As we walked through this process, there were discussions we had and things that were said that I think mostly happen in small town environments. Here are a few and maybe you can understand what I am talking about.

My grandmother had taken her last breath in her own bed, and the Hospice nurse confirmed that she was indeed gone. We had spent much time with her over the last four weeks and did not feel the need to sit with her body for a lengthy period of time. She was no longer there and what was left was the shell that housed her heart, mind, soul and spirit.

So the conversation went something like this…”Should we go ahead and call Jeff at Overton’s (funeral home)? “Yes, he will come no matter the time.” It was 11:03 PM. The Hospice nurse called him and he knew my grandmother and where she lived. She lived 6 blocks from the funeral home and would walk to visitations of her friends that had died before her.

He had also asked for the address of the contact person and the Hospice nurse had given him my information. He said something like, “I know Lynn and will be right there.” Somehow he and the Hospice nurse had gotten their wires crossed and he thought we all were at my house. He drove the eight miles only to find a dark house.

He then called my mom and woke her from sleep, asking her where we all were, because he had been to my house, then my mom’s house and had found no lights or cars. She told him we were at grandmas and he raced back into town.

When he got there he said he made the rounds to all our homes (he already knew where we lived) and finally got the correct information that we were at Evelyn’s. He looked stressed and was so apologetic that he had kept us waiting for so long, which was probably only a half hour.

He walked into grandma’s room and softly said, “Evelyn.” He had such a caring and affectionate look on his face and it was comforting that he knew her and our family. We grew up with the original owners of the funeral home and they had taken care of us through each family death we experienced, including my dad and gramps in the last 6 years.

My older brother was allowed to help wrap my grandma in a clean, white sheet and he and Jeff carried my grandmother to the gurney and then out to the funeral home van. These were intimate moments for us in my grandma’s house that night.

We all stood outside and laughed that grandma had made all the decisions already about what she wanted to wear. She had chosen the casket with Jeff at the funeral home several years before and when he said he would need us to write an obituary by tomorrow, I said, “Grandma already wrote it.”

We laughed again and I affectionately said, “That was grandma. Doing everything herself, even to the point of making her bed the morning before she died because she knew people would be coming and going and she didn’t want them to see she had not made her bed.” It was wonderful to laugh in sadness, and with someone who would be caring for and preparing her body for burial.

We discussed the time we would come in the following day to make funeral arrangements, all which were decided by grandma years ago. It would really just be a formality of confirming those wishes and implementing them the best we could in her honor.

The next day we were having those very conversations and the question was asked, “Who could do her hair?” You see, grandma had a way of combing and using bobby pins that made little waves on the right side of her head and she was very particular about this. Different names were mentioned of family members who could try to do this, but we felt hesitant in this regard.

I remembered that my mom used to go to the same hairdresser grandma did and knew mom would remember the ladies name. Grandma had stopped going to this woman when she moved her salon too far so grandma could no longer walk. I called mom and she couldn’t remember, but knew a friend that would. Calls were made and within five minutes we had the name and phone number and the hairdresser had agreed to come and do grandma’s hair. Carol was there within a half hour, carrying the tools of her trade and a smile.

After we left the funeral home we all met again at grandma’s house because we needed pictures for the visitation. We had a lot of fun going through old photos and walking down our family’s memory lane. As mom continued looking through those, my brother, uncle and I began the process of going through her hutch, and some drawers to gather important financial records we would need in the next week.

As the reality set in that there were ninety-six years of belongings to go through, we began talking about how we would dispense of things. There would be things family members would like to keep and those we didn’t. My uncle asked my brother, “Should we call Kevin about putting some things in one of his auctions?” It was decided we would have him come take a look and see if there was anything that would be worth the effort of trying to sell.

There were conversations about grandma’s church and the likelihood they would want to provide a luncheon for family following the graveside service. Several names were thrown out of who to call since none of us knew the new pastor there. This congregation knows our family well, since my gramps and grandma attended there all 67 years of their marriage. The calls were made and yes, they wanted to do that for grandma and for us.

The final vignette I will share is the one about who would create the flower arrangements for the visitation. We discussed a woman who went to my uncle’s and my church and decided to give the business to her. My mom was an amazing flower arranger back in the day and we asked her to help us choose the flowers.

As she and I were discussing this, she said she really wanted to use Kerry, because he was building a new business and went to her church. I decided that since mom was helping with the flowers and this man went to mom’s church (which is also the church I grew up in), it would be nice to have him do the arrangements for us. We went and mom made some beautiful choices I am looking forward to seeing tomorrow.

On the way home this morning from all these Saturday funeral arranging duties, it dawned on me how every person involved in my grandma’s passing knows my family. Every connection is deeply rooted in small town living where we all grew up, knowing one another in multiple settings; whether it be church, a neighbor, or business dealings. And every person will attend to my grandma’s and my family’s needs with love, great dignity and commitment.

I was struck and deeply touched that this is small town living at its best, and I am privileged to have this. Many people in our world today do not even know their neighbors, let alone everyone it takes to plan and implement a funeral from the picking up of the body to the luncheon following.

This is a special place where I live with many loving and amazing people. I am blessed; to know such people and to have a personal, intimate goodbye with my grandmother, that many in our community will share.

She and my gramps started this family here and we are experiencing the fruits of their years of hard work, relationship building in this community and the respect they earned for our family. Again, I am overwhelmed by how fortunate and blessed I am to live in such a place. It is a place people write books about. Small town USA, at its best.

By Lynn Moore

Death in a Small Town

Lynn Moore

Indianola, United States

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Artist's Description

This piece speaks for itself. Thanks for reading my heart for my grandmother, family and community.

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