My husband passed away suddenly. I was in utter shock to say the
least. I was numb and my brain decided it was a good time to take a vacation. The following day, my three children (Cindy, Ed & John) and I went to Stuhr’s Funeral Parlor (as my Momma would say) in Charleston, South Carolina to make the neccessary arrangements. All my relatives had been interred by Stuhr’s Funeral Parlor. It was the place that all native Charlestonians would want to be laid out, as they say in the South. We turned off Calhoun Street into the parking lot. As I recall the day, it spins around in my brain like an unwanted dream. They escorted us into a small room with a confrerence table. There sat all the relatives from my side of the family. Although I appreciated them being there, I could hear my husband’s voice ringing my ear. “Annie, I don’t want anyone viewing my body after I die. I don’t want them saying how good I look cause nobody looks good when they’re dead, they just look plain dead. You don’t need to take a survey.” So I planted my feet on the ground like the gestapo and did not invite any of them to say good bye to my loving husband. I was already pretty angry that he had just up and died like that with no fore thought so I guess it wasn’t hard to take it out on anyone within ear shot. My sister’s minister offered a prayer then we all hugged (but maybe I ‘m just making that up) and they left. Years later, I regretted that I had not let them see him and say their good-byes.
The Funeral Director sat down and immediately started asking questions about what kind of arrangements we wanted. (You must be kidding me, I had barely accepted the fact that he had died and certainly didn’t recall what we had discussed about funeral arrangements. They were in the business. How did they not know that?) Somehow, I pulled it out of my non-functioning brain that he wanted to be cremated. The F.D. did not miss a beat but led us into the what I call The Coffin & Urn Room. I had never seen so many urns and coffins in my life. Now we had to choose one. I was blown away by the prices, but didn’t want to be a cheapskate. They were gold & silver, brass & pewter of all shapes and sizes. They even had one with his Citadel Alma Mater on it. Actually, I was a little amused because I knew my husband would’ve have some clever remark and would try to make light of the situation. I kept waiting on one of my sons to say something unique to the situation but they were unusually quiet. We finally decided on a wooden cherry box that seemed to be worthy of his ashes, but not of the price tag. Again, I could hear my husband’s voice in my ear, “ Just go home and get one of your cardboard craft boxes, that’s all I need. Get the blue one.”
We went back to the conference table and made all the arrangements for his memorial service to be held at The Citadel Chapel. They told me how much all of it would cost and asked me how did I plan to pay for it. My mind went numb. At that moment, I had no idea how I was going to pay for it. I couldn’t even remember how much money we had in our bank account. Now, I knew he was insured, but I hadn’t applied for that yet. After all, he had just died. Who are these people anyway? What happened to Southern hospitality and charm? I was expecting, “Miss Annie, you just pick out what you want and we’ll just worry about paying for it later. Sugar, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it one tiny little bit.” After all, I had gone to school with the Stuhr boys, I wasn’t a stranger that just wandered in from up North.
I sputtered around for a minute or two. I almost said, “It beats me how I’m going to pay for it. Do you have any suggestions?” I checked myself, then pulled out my credit card and handed it over. I hoped my credit card could handle a purchase that large. I breathed a sigh of relief when it went through. Now I knew why all of those old men that I took care of in the Emergency Room had carried around their burying money in their sock. Never again would I make fun of them.
Then the F.D. asked the question which I had not even given one iota of a thought to. “Would you like us to ship his ashes back to Pennsylvania for you?”
With great quickness I answered, “I don’t think my husband would like to be fed-exed.” All of my children burst into laughter. I’m sure the F.D. thought we were a bunch of nuts.
After all the arrangements had been made and paid for, they led us to a room where my husband laid on a stretcher. My oldest son remarked that he looked as if he were asleep. I thought, “ You can get up now, enough fooling around, it’s time to go home,” but he had already gone home. Our younger son who was in the US Coast Guard saluted him (he would’ve been so pleased) as he said farewell to his Dad. We said a prayer and our last good byes to this once vital, passionate, bigger than life man who now lay lifeless on a funeral parlour stretcher.
His Memorial Service at The Citadel was beautiful. All of our children spoke about their Dad and what he meant to them. We had a Citadel bag piper (which he always loved) and after the service, two Citadel cadets from Band Company who were buglers played echoed Taps. One was outside the Citadel Chapel and the other was on the other side of the parade ground where he had marched in many Friday afternoon Reviews. My mind went back to those days when he complained about the gnats and the humidity and yet he would always be sure to tell me that he knew right where I was standing. A gentle mist came into my eyes and I wondered if he knew where I was standing now.
As I greeted friends after the service, one of his Citadel classmates asked me who one of the gentlemen standing outside the Chapel was. I didn’t know and couldn’t recall ever seeing him before. He walked over to the man, stuck out his hand and said, “Nick Wackym, Class of 53.” The man shook his hand and answered, “John Anderson, Stuhr’s Funeral Home.” It was the kind of thing that my husband would have gotten a lot of mileage out of by telling at every class reunion over and over. I laughed as I could see him laugh as he was telling it. Even in death, my loving husband provided us with humor and joy, just as he always had in life. I guess he put the f.u.n. in funeral