I got the call that morning that she wasn’t doing well and it wouldn’t be much longer. A few hours after that, Rose called to say that Mama Florrie was gone.
The viewing was at Bostick Funeral Home on Friday, December 9, 2016. I met Sugar there after work. We were the only white folks there. I already knew a lot of the people, but it’s a big family, and there were more to meet.
It was an open casket, and she looked beautiful. You wouldn’t have known that she was almost 104. She was wearing a peachy-pink dress with pearl earrings and necklace. Her hair was arranged in a short gray Afro. She looked peaceful.
The next day was the funeral. Sugar was pretty sure he couldn’t go. He said that black funerals can be an all-day affair, and that would be a lot of social time for a recluse. I felt like I should go.
I made the mistake of not allowing enough driving time. I got there a few minutes after 11 and had to park way down the road at the end of all the other parked cars and walk.
When I reached the front door of the church, I could hear the music. It sounded like a band was inside, and I joined the line of folks filing in.
We were about to have a celebration.
White folks say that: celebration of life. We have no clue.
I found a seat on the back row. The service had started. There were surely 125 people there, and all the programs were given out. Prayers were offered in jubilation. Songs were lifted up in spirit and praise.
One gentleman, a vocalist, gave testimony that Mama Florrie had called him to come to the nursing home to sing for her. When he got there, he told her that he was planning to sing a song for her, and she told him he was going to sing what she wanted to hear, not what he wanted to sing. He asked her what she wanted to hear, and she told him, “God’s Been Good to Me”. He said that was exactly what he was planning on singing. He shared that song with the congregation, and bit by bit, everyone stood and joined him. The church was full of music and joy.
The music was provided by two musicians, one with a keyboard and one with a drum set. They used no sheet music, and when someone stood to sing, the keyboardist waited for the singer to start in their own natural key, and he found their key and joined them. It was nothing short of magical.
I recorded a bit of one of the songs. I hoped that I wouldn’t get ejected for being disrespectful, but I had seen other folks taking photos. No one said, “No, you can’t do that here.” No one asked me who I was and what business I had there.
The minister spoke of her long life. How she lived through segregation, Jim Crow, civil rights. How she and others like her had to use the back door, and separate water fountains and bathrooms. And how she was of a generation that helped each other, how they shared what they had from their gardens or their pantries if a neighbor or a friend needed a cup of rice or sugar or flour, and how we need to help each other again.
The rejoicing and singing and preaching lasted about 2 hours. The casket was closed the entire time, until the Final Glimpse.
Y’all, this is not how white people do it. We have our “Celebration of Life”, and we have some kind of speech by a family member or friend, and there are some songs or hymns offered, but we do not get lifted up in the joy that these mourners had for their Mother Miller.
It’s been my experience that there is a viewing, and it is generally before or after the service, but not always a part of the ceremony. The casket today was opened near the end of the service at the direction of the funeral directors, and everyone in the entire church filed past. Everyone. It was one of the most inclusive things I had ever seen. The line started with the folks in the pews at the back of the church and worked its way to the front, so that the family members at the front pews were the last to view her.
Then family members gathered around her casket. No, they huddled around her casket, like players on a team gathering around their fallen leader, arms around each other, swaying and singing to the music that filled the church to bursting.
Then the recessional, because we are not done. We are going to the graveyard at another church where she will be buried next to her husband George. The ceremony was at her home church, but she will be buried with George at his home church.
Y’all, when we got to the graveyard, once again I saw: this is not how white people do it.
(To be continued)