Monday, June 4, 2012

Home going

This morning, I attended the funeral of a lady that we know from the island.  I don't miss an opportunity to go to a "home going", if someone I know dies.  In this case, she was well known and the mother of a friend.  She had 15 children, had little education, worked as a house keeper and farmer all her life, and had a huge extended family of 86 grandchildren, one of whom received a full scholarship to college.  I know how proud she was of that.

The service is like nothing I have experienced in other churches.  The home-going service takes its name from the idea that the deceased is going home to the spirit world.  The service is one that most in the community attend.  The ushers wear white gloves, and the higher up ladies or "angels" in the church wear white dresses and hats. I was seated on the second row which gave me the full effect of the choir who was clapping, shaking tambourines and passing the microphone around to some amazingly talented voices.

The belief in the afterlife is a very common and fundamental aspect of death and dying in the black experience. There was much talk and shouting about heaven and how the departed would be greeted at the gates and be so happy to see those that had gone on before. There was also talk that the deceased was still spiritually present.  This is a belief that I share.  There is some comfort in the belief that loved ones who may not be physically present are spiritually present, at least for a while.

There were several solos that built up to a lot of clapping, waving of arms, and true singing from the heart.  It never ceases to amaze me how much joy this music brings.  It's not like the dirges that I am familiar with, but a lively and happy sound of many voices raised in praise.  I got the feeling that only those who were moved to jump up and wave their arms were supposed to do that, as many people remained seated.

This is so unlike the quiet and solemn funerals of my youth where the "frozen chosen" sat glued to their seats, except during prayers or hymns.  At the home going, the women dressed in white would fan those who were mourning and hold them up when they would fall over from so much emotion.  Even those in their seat were tapping their feet and moving their arms or clapping.

There were at least eleven pastors present.  Each one had a part of the service.  When the pastor of the church spoke, he also built up his sermon to a crescendo.  His words were accompanied by lots of "uh-huh"s, "yes sir"s, and "oh yes"s.  During part of the solos and the sermon, there was keening by the family in which they openly expressed their sorrow through weeping and wailing.

I really was moved by what the pastor had to say in his sermon.  He talked about a transition from this life to the next.  Transitioning was happening the week before she died.  She was also beginning to travel to her new home, leaving the earthly body behind and "passing" into the afterlife.

He talked about those who are dying being like a ship that is loosely tied to the dock. As the ship moves against the lines over time, she eventually slips them and leaves for the open sea.  So when our loved one dies, it is as if they are on a ship, leaving port and disappearing over the horizon. And those of us left on the dock watch sadly and say, "There she goes." And when the ship goes over the horizon we mourn because our loved one seems to be gone completely, because we can't see her any more.  But, when the ship disappears over the horizon to us, it is just appearing to those at another port. And there are loved ones and many others standing on the dock who have already made the same journey. They are watching expectantly, and when the ship comes over the horizon and approaches, they cheer and say joyously, "Here she comes!"

I believe the ship analogy came from a Parable of Immortality written by Henry Van Dyke:

I am standing by the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch
until at last she hangs like a peck of white cloud
just where the sun and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, 'There she goes!
Gone where? Gone from my sight - that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the places of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
'There she goes! ' ,
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout :
'Here she comes!'

As we filed past the open casket,  I couldn't help think that Miss Rena was given a good home going.  She was dressed in pink with lace gloves on her hands.  She had been bound by disease and living in a nursing home, not recognizing her family and friends.  I hope that her spirit is sailing forth.


  1. A very moving post. I love that parable. Brought tears to my eyes.

  2. The poem you shared was the poem we shared at my mil's memorial. I love it. I love the analogy of preparing for the transition as a "ship tied loosely." Thanks for this telling, Syd. :)

  3. sounds like a pretty cool funeral...weird to say that but...i def dont want a frozen chosen service...smiles...

  4. Oh beautiful. I was just with a client as he passed last night. I love the poem...thanks for sharing that.

  5. That's just freaking beautiful.

  6. How refreshing to partake in all different kinds of spiritual celebrations. Every religion can learn from the others.

    This was a unique experience, I would love to have been in that church.

    And that poem is lovely!

  7. One of the most moving funeral services I've attended was
    for a family member who loved folk
    songs and singing. Selected people
    gave tribute to her by singing her
    favorite songs and also, by sharing
    their memories of her. I believe
    that her spirit was present and


  8. If more people in this nation would take the time to experience different ways other cultures here do things like funerals and weddings them perhaps we'd all get along better. I am glad you went and were touched by the way Black folk do a funeral on the outer banks Syd. You are wiser for it.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to the joy of life and the power of emotions.

  10. Ms. Moon's comment sums it up for me too.
    I love the ship analogy.
    Very touching.

  11. I just finished reading this blog twice - - -it was so beautifully descriptive as well as very touching. I have attended two of these type funerals, and was moved to joy as were most in the congregation; it's very contagious. Afterwards, the food and libations in the church hall nearby seem to be never ending as well. The celebration of life can last up to 3 days, I understand.

    No matter what others may choose to criticize, I choose to admire the way in which grief is shared, and even dispelled, enabling the mourners to face life without the deceased.

    Yours is the best description yet of this process. Maybe you should consider publishing this one - along with some of the beautiful photos I've seen of the area in which these funerals take place.

    Kudos to you!
    Hugs, too
    Anonymous #1

  12. I like the idea of a "home going." I feel it's very appropriate. I believe one can "go home" in more ways than just the afterlife. Overcoming addiction through God, for example, is a way of "going home." I've written a book about this subject: "Breaking the Curse From a Twisted Life."

  13. I felt I was there at this service, and I am one of those people who have a hard time staying still with so much good energy from music. Having lost my father this winter, knowing he too was so spiritual and believed, this gave me so much comfort as in the days and months before he passed, he talked so lovingly all his family members that are gone, as if he had just recently visited them. I knew he was going home and wanted to. Thank you for sharing this experience and this lady must have led a very good life to have this affect on her community. It is great to know people like this - truly inspiring words. Joy

  14. Hi, your blog really touches me, have been reading it for awhile... Just wanted you to know about a website i started It's a place for Bible study guides.. I also put a forum in that can be viewed from a mobile device.. I couldn't find where to contact you privately so I'm commenting, hope that is okay. :) God Bless!

  15. what a beautiful post. I wish all funerals could be like the one you attended. It sounds amazing. "homegoing" THAT brings peace. Wow, Syd.. this so touched me.

  16. Sober not SomberJune 6, 2012 at 8:11 AM

    This was a very comforting post for me to read. My my died on 5-23 and I just wrote about it on my blog yesterday. Thanks for sharing this and puting my feelings into words.

  17. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.


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