A few months ago I was driving on a residential street near my parents’ home, and noticed something in the road ahead of me. As my car drew nearer, I realized it was a squirrel: a dead one. Two emotions immediately overtook me – first, I felt sadness for the squirrel, for obvious reasons, but then I felt relief that I hadn’t been the one to run him down because I’ve done that once before, and trust me – it ruined my whole day. Lost in thought about running over squirrels, a sudden movement near my left front tire grabbed my attention. I slowed down to observe another squirrel circling around the lifeless body of the dead one, and pause – with inclined head toward its deceased companion. My eyes, now filled with tears, were glued to these two squirrels, and only an approaching car behind me caused me to leave the scene, but not without watching to the last in my rearview mirror.
Whenever we encountered a funeral procession, Dad always pulled off the road, turned on his own headlights, turned off the radio, and waited. We waited until the very last car in the procession passed, allowing even then a little bit of distance, watching their taillights to the last. If we were on the opposite side of the road, we returned to our normal rate of speed, but if we were traveling in the same direction, we hovered behind the last car – never urging ourselves beyond their company.
As far as I can tell, there are no hard-fast rules about what to do when you see a funeral procession. There certainly isn’t a law that requires you to do anything, but you’re not required to bathe, either. Call me old-fashioned, although I prefer southern, especially since my father’s example is deeply-rooted in the southern tradition, but I believe we should always follow those simple rules of good breeding.
Monday afternoon I was on the other side of the procession – meaning I was part of it. As pensive as I felt while contemplating the proceedings of the funeral service, a quiet inaction on the opposite side of the road brought my attention back to the present. The driver of a white mini-van had pulled off the road, and sat waiting for our procession to pass. Hers was the first of many vehicles pulled over to the side of the road while we slowly made our way, with hazards blinking and bright beams shining, to the cemetery. My eyes, for the first time since the funeral began, filled with tears of gratitude.
It never occurred to me how much my father’s quiet and simple act of respect toward others would impact me the rest of my life. Monday afternoon I finally understood what it means to “mourn with those that mourn.” On behalf of Matthew’s family, thank you to each of you who selflessly gave of your time, allowing his family to mourn their loss and to pass you by in quiet dignity.