Funeral Procession: Public Nuisance or Sacred Tradition?

Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, considers whether questioning the sacred cow of the funeral procession makes you the WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD.

© Los Angeles Times

© Los Angeles Times

There are a few components of American funeral rituals that reliably agitate funeral directors and the public alike. Funeral processions—those lines of cars following the hearse and rolling through red lights—are one of the biggest. If you question whether these automotive convoys are appropriate, necessary, or safe, you can be sure that your character, lineage, and civic virtue will be insulted.

Bill Mayeroff is a blogger at ChicagoNow.com who wrote a post questioning the practice of funeral processions. It was picked up by the funeral-industry news aggregator site, ConnectingDirectors.com. All comments [sic].

“Let me guess, Bill Mayeroff is: 1. A baby boomer 2. A narcissist 3. An idiot.”

“I think this blogger should have this discussion face to face with the thousands of people who mourned and processed with any number of our fallen soldiers.”

“Although the article is so sophmoric that it doesnt earn the time of a reply, I feel I have to. It is all about respect of the dead. Something that the author probably knows very little about. He is an NPR listening, liberal, candy ass moron.”

“In today’s society, death rituals, etc. are often viewed as “inconvenient” to those involved. But, death should NOT be convenient – if it is, that person’s life didn’t mean much.”

So, commenters have established that Bill Mayeroff is a narcissistic, soldier-hating, un-patriotic baby boomer with a candy ass he keeps glued to National Public Radio in between ruining everyone’s Grief Work(TM). Except no, they haven’t. I too question the place of funeral processions. Many undertakers would say that’s because I’m an anti-funeral director outside agitator who hates sentiment and religion and wants to force families to bake-and-shake their loved ones. Or something.

The question isn’t whether funeral processions have value. The question is whether the value families find in them ought to outweigh their practical effect on public roadways and safety. That is a reasonable question to ask, and reasonable people ought to be able to discuss it.

Funeral directors are sharply defensive when the necessity of their business practices is questioned. This often leads to projecting cynical and misanthropic motives onto their conversational partners. Everyday, non-funeral-industry folks get their noses out of joint too. Readers wax indignant over the Downfall of Civilized Society wrought by selfish baby boomers/gen Xers/millenials/kids/liberals/narcissists/heartless conservatives.

Too many people confuse what grieving families need with what the general public is obliged to do. When someone close to us dies, it’s often the worst day of our lives. Sometimes the very most important person in our world is gone. I’ve been there. If I could have made the whole world stop when my close friend died young from cancer, I probably would have. But we also know that as dear to us as that dead friend is, the wider world doesn’t feel the same way we do.

Funeral procession of George-Étienne Cartier.

Funeral procession of George-Étienne Cartier.

This isn’t cruelty or heartlessness. It’s the normal state of human affairs. Private loss does not compel public participation.

When someone says, “But, death should NOT be convenient – if it is, that person’s life didn’t mean much,” they’re making a leap. I know what the commenter means: That we too often neglect death and try to sanitize it away, perhaps losing some very meaningful family time.

But that has precisely nothing to do with what strangers think and do. Even if you believe death “shouldn’t be convenient” for mourners—which is rather presumptuous—you need to explain why you believe the general public is obliged to shoulder that burden too. We’re not talking about public funerals. We’re not talking about national grief after an assassination, or the public solemnities we confer on dead soldiers. No one is saying that public mourning of important figures should be outlawed or scoffed at.

That’s why the question of funeral processions rankles some people so much. Common courtesy and decency require us to pull over for a funeral procession. I pull over for them because my mom raised me right, just like yours did. They do not require us to refrain from questioning the overall practice of funeral processions and proposing change.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 5.56.05 PMSo, are funeral processions truly dangerous or inconvenient enough to justify outlawing them? I don’t know because I don’t have objective data on the traffic hazards. But I do know it’s within the bounds of civil discourse to ask.

On my way to work this week I got stuck behind a procession. It was almost ¾ of a mile long, traveling down a two-lane road already littered with blind curves, speed bumps, and frequent semi-truck traffic. It’s a frustrating and potentially dangerous road on the best of days.

As the procession approached a four-way traffic light it was obvious that neither the mourners nor the other motorists had any idea what to do. Cars crept hesitantly, unsure of whether the motorcade would run the red light. It did, and very nearly drummed up some more business for the cemetery. It should be plain why some of us raise the question of whether this is the best public policy.

The problem is not rude, hateful, selfish people who “don’t respect the dead the way they used to.” The problem is that we don’t travel by horse and buggy, yet any time someone questions funeral processions we act like we live in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, circa 1876. Do we really believe that any death, regardless of time or circumstance, should be able to commandeer public roadways? Do we really believe that the needs of all motorists to get their kids to school, to board the city bus, and to do so safely with predictable road behavior should just naturally be ignored because our most important person in the world died?

No one is trying to deny families rituals for grieving. Surprisingly few people actually hate America, soldiers, and funeral directors. We are asking a relevant and appropriate question: Is there a better way to balance private grief with public administration and safety?

 

Joshua Slocum joined the Funeral Consumers Alliance staff in 2002 and became executive director in 2003. He has appeared as an expert commentator on funeral issues in national media such as 60 Minutes, the New York Times, CNN, AARP Magazine, and CBS News. In 2009, he testified before a Congressional committee on the need to bring cemeteries, crematories, and all death industry vendors under the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, the only national protections funeral consumers enjoy.

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  • mapelba

    I rarely get stopped by funeral processions, and when I have, they haven’t lasted long. I’ve been in one a couple of times, and it felt strange and awkward. I think this is a fine discussion to have. It’s unfortunate some people can’t manage a discussion without name-calling.

  • I’ve witnessed funeral home employees interrupt the flow of funeral processions to take a turn or pass a funeral procession completely and go around it. Even some funeral home employees are bothered by having to wait. So, this is not only Joe Public that’s complaining about them. If funeral home employees don’t respect every single funeral procession, exactly why should the public that witnesses this behavior do the same?

  • MrsPhysicsGal

    I think it probably made sense in the time before GPS and after families had started to become a little far flung. You didn’t want Uncle Joe getting lost on the way to the cemetery to bury Grandma–it was a good, respectful way to keep everyone together between point A (church, funeral home, etc) and the graveside.

    But now that nearly everyone has a GPS (or a phone capable of acting as such), it seems to make a little less sense.

    • D.A.

      “You didn’t want Uncle Joe getting lost on the way to the cemetery to bury Grandma…”

      Good point!

    • Sandy Perry Dunn

      How about a couple of busses…wouldnt that lessen the traffic and give the mourners time to chat, and not be so concerned about the focus on driving while grieving. Would that not help the environment some as well, cutting back on the fuel usage? Maybe they could watch prepared videos from the family during the ride.

      • Smarten_Up

        And esp. for those who “self-medicate” their grief with some libations…please RENT A BUS!

        • KaayC

          You seem very sensible in your opinion. Good for you for having the character to defy this.

      • kp

        We did that for my dad. There were hundreds of people at his funeral and we were able to get a couple of school buses and drivers to take people to and from their cars to the site. In fact, that’s how two of my friends met and they’re now married with three kids.

        With my grandma, we had a procession because it was the most respectful thing we could all do as a family to honor our matriarch and because of the religious aspect of her beliefs (Catholic ritual). They had us fill up cars (no solo drivers) and shrunk it down to about 5 full carloads of only the immediate family with everyone else just meeting at the grave site. There were cops on the route, directing through intersections (everyone put on their hazards) and it was fairly safe until me and my siblings in the last car ended up getting bumped out of the procession by a rude a-hole who dangerously cut over in front of us and started following the procession himself so he could run red lights….leaving us stuck at the light he had cut us off at. It wasn’t a big deal because we knew where the graveyard was, but it still left a sour taste in our mouths that people could be so disrespectful and self-absorbed.

  • MorganSays

    Wow, nice to know that the internet has devolved to a point where we can’t discuss funeral processions without insults. 😛 We don’t see many processions in D.C., but on the rare occasions that we do, they generally have police escort. It’s probably because of the traffic issues involved in traveling through D.C. to a burial site, but I think it would make sense to at least have police assistance for processions that are very long, like the one discussed in the post above (probably not practical in a lot of areas, but it’s one possible solution).

  • In the more rural areas – particularly the Rural South – most processions traveling more than a few miles are police/trooper escorted. More than 30 years ago, the sheriff’s deputies blocked the U.S. highway we had to cross to get to the cemetary a few blocks away for my mother’s funeral Those deputies knew my mother and respectfully held their hats over their hearts and I saw more than one in tears. They knew Momma and knew she was a Nice Lady. But out in the country, travelers going in the OPPOSITE direction are known to pull over on the side of the road and wait for the procession to pass. Usually, it was a farmer or farm worker who knew the deceased but couldn’t put work on hold to go to the funeral. What they COULD do, which I think is the most humbling and respectful actions, is put their day on hold and allow that procession to pass without showing their respect. It still happens. It probably will for awhile.

    So… Exactly WHO are the “bumpkins” in this equasion?

    • Josh Slocum

      Did someone insult another person or call them a “bumpkin,” John?

      • No… But from that article, the implication is there.

        • Josh Slocum

          I’m surprised and disappointed to hear that, and I don’t believe it’s a fair characterization. Could you help me understand where you believe I made that unkind implication?

  • Chris Nicholson Miller

    It might be a good idea for the procession to take alternate, less populated routes when they can. I have also witnessed police directing traffic for some, and I believe that if the procession is over a certain number of cars, they should be mandatory at intersections. (Maybe they are in some cities? I do not know.) Processions help the grieved family and friends to not have to try to derp around with phones and GPS devices. Let’s face it, when a person is stressed, emotionally strung out, in shock and dismayed, s/he is a liability on the road while trying to find the cemetery, or the right entrance to the cemetery. It’s better to stick together and follow the car in front of you. I usually do not know the deceased nor the family and friends. I am not going to bring a casserole or donate to the children’s education. But, I can pull over and let you pass on the way to bury your loved one.

    • atropos_of_nothing

      In many cities, a funeral home can contract with an escort service (not the kind you’re thinking of!) which employs retired or off-duty traffic cops to lead the procession and direct traffic at intersections in the manner you’ve described.
      Last week I worked a funeral in a church that was only a few blocks from our cemetery, with only one significant intersection to navigate. The funeral was for a Malaysian immigrant, and all attendees were members of this immigrant/refugee community. They tend to be very self-sufficient regarding funerals, coming in to dress and casket the deceased themselves (a tradition I strongly encourage more people of all backgrounds to participate in).
      Anyway, we hadn’t been asked to procure a police escort for the procession, and were wondering what would happen with the aforementioned intersection. Which was unnecessary, as a carload of funeral attendees placed themselves at the head of our procession, and when we reached the intersection, they blocked oncoming traffic with their car and got out to stand solemnly in everybody’s way as we made our way through and into the cemetery.
      This might not fly in other cities, or even at other, busier intersections. But it certainly beat crossing our fingers and hoping like hell no oblivious drivers would blindside us.

  • iwasbornhuman

    As someone who had a green light and almost ended up in bad car crash because of a far spread funeral procession (the cars were not close together but had large gaps in the procession) running a red light, I absolutely question the safety and need for such things. IF there is a funeral procession then it needs to be accompanied by police officers or some other very visually obvious obstruction to warn and stop oncoming traffic at intersections.

  • JeanneS

    Is this more of a Southern or Midwestern custom? Because I’ve lived in Oregon for most of my 45 years, in or near the largest city (Portland) for the last 15 years, and I’ve only seen a non-military funeral procession on the roads once in my whole life. I think military funeral processions are absolutely needed and should be honored, but I don’t see the necessity otherwise. (But then, the “funerals” I’ve been to weren’t largely traditional; more than half were family gatherings or wakes held at the deceased’s home or gravesite with no overtly religious ceremony, and one was even held at a Moose lodge.)

    • atropos_of_nothing

      It very much depends on the community. Those which tend more towards traditional funeral rites also tend towards the traditional funeral procession. IIRC, Oregon has one of the highest cremation rates in the country, which suggests that your state (and region) has been far more adaptive regarding death and its surrounding rituals than the rest of the country; therefore it doesn’t surprise me to hear that the funeral procession has become a thing of the past there.
      I live and work in the Midwest, and even here there are pretty sharp divides between ethnic and economic demographics when it comes to how much importance is placed on traditional funerals and all that goes along with them.

  • Karen Smith,

    As usual, I can see both sides of this issue. I believe that funeral processions are fine if done safely. BUT….done safely requires that there are police officers hired to alert drivers and to motion those in the funeral procession through the intersections safely. This now often requires that the family (wanting a procession) has to actually PAY those often off duty officers for their services. This is where the rub often comes in, many people want the services but don’t want to pay for them! Funeral home staff (and I have participated in such activities) are highly variable in their ability, desires, and talents at attempting to regulate intersections to allow safe processional travels. If you want it fine, by all means do but please do so safely and hire trained police staff to ensure that you all (but one) arrive at the cemetery alive!

    • Punkandglamour

      Having police officers there in lieu of the traffic lights is VERY useful.

  • Strange_Quark09

    I personally see the funeral procession as unnecessary and a bit narcissistic. If we were not holding court over our deceased loved ones in one location and then transporting them to another location for burial, the procession would not be necessary. Instead we sit in a room at a funeral home for the proscribed amount of time and then parade to the cemetery. I’ve avoided the procession at all funerals except for those in which I was obliged to participate. And, yes, I’ve buried people that I love dearly and it did not change my feelings on the “ritual” of the American funeral.

    • KaayC

      And let us not forget the church in the middle making the parade of often out-of-town, lost drivers an even further safety hazard! Weddings and funerals both have become overly-mobile three-stop caravans. Having been in an accident while as a passenger in one, I will admit bias. With people scattered all over, the funeral procession is an antiquated paradigm. Pick a location and stick with it!

  • The apparent investment of the funeral directors puzzles me. It’s natural for them to get defensive – after all, they are well-known for the habit of financially taking advantage of people whose reasoning minds are compromised by grief. It makes sense that they don’t want to be accused of doing other troubling things. But beyond that, why would they care?

    • James

      That is a rather uneducated thing to say..,,that funeral directors take advantage of people. As a semi-retired funeral director, I provided many complete funerals for $4995.00….which included all professional and staff services, a metal casket, and outer container/vault for the casket. Many cemeteries require a vault or outer container for the casket. Misha…do not lump all funeral directors together!!

      • I do my best not to generalize! I know no industry is full of perfect people. But when a particular industry is well-known for taking advantage of others, there’s nothing I can really do about it even if I personally don’t lump them all together.

        • Sue

          One way not to be led by emotions is to plan and pay for your funeral early on. It is all said and done and prices are not increased.

          • I agree, thank you for the advice.

        • URNS BY ARTISTS

          perhaps it would be the same to say that most people in the field of medicine enter that industry in order to take advantage of sick people. poor business ethics are not reserved for a single profession and unfortunately, every profession has it’s incompetence and unethical.

  • Gothic Rose

    When my aunt passed away, My Uncle realized there would me many, many friends and family members to attend the services all the way to the cemetery. He spoke to the Funeral Director who hired at an additional expense to my Uncle, several off duty motorcycle traffic officers, to control the traffic conditions. It was a good thing because the funeral procession was almost a half mile long, and no one but no one dared to cut in front of a funeral procession, it’s considered bad luck. When my sister-in-laws sister died, there were limited funds, so that was not an option but what my sister in law did was print out directions on how to get to the cemetery, which worked for 99.9 percent of the people attending. the one exception was a relative who was transporting several pall bearers. He ran a stop sign and was pulled over, he explained the situation to the officer who was sympathetic who gave him a warning notice. He was late, the grave service was held up for 10 minutes but all arrived safely. Later we had a laugh over it, as it would have fitted in with the deceased’s sense of humor.

    • Ragnhild “Goldilocks”

      Being the kind of person whose sense of time is so poor that people occasionally joke “She’d be late for her own funeral,” I’m currently wondering if it would be in poor taste to deliberately allow that to happen (but not actively plan for for it to definitely happen).

      • Gothic Rose

        Well Elizabeth Taylor planned that for her funeral, and everyone had a good laugh about it. Everyone had arrived and they were waiting until Elizabeth’s hearse arrived. So I would say there is precedent.

        Our concern was to be sure that everyone arrived safely, even the funeral director had a contingency plan in case of such a delay. That is why those paper “funeral” labels that one puts on the front windshield helps, but also having directions is even a bigger help, it was at the suggestion of the funeral director, and it helped my sister-in-law feel even more connected in doing this last service for her sister.

        But the one thing that my sister-in law stressed in the directions is to please arrive safely.

  • michelle

    i totally got in to an accident in a funeral procession. Rear ended my uncle. Oooops!

  • Modern Man who is 49 yrs young

    While ritual in society can be a comforting experience, this anachronistic method for paying last respects on the way to the burial location is rapidly losing any meaning as the evolution of society continues.

  • I’ve participated in a few funeral processions of this type, and each time a motorcycle escort rode “Tail-end Charlie” and then zoomed up to the front of the line to direct traffic at intersections. Or maybe there were two escorts who traded off.

    In one aspect, a properly-organized procession (with escorts, and drivers who avoid big gaps in the line) can contribute to public safety, as it guides mourners from out of the area, saving them the distraction of fiddling with their GPS or map or written directions.

    As for being delayed by some stranger’s funeral, well, I try to look upon unexpected delays in my day as an opportunity for a little mental vacation and deep breathing. But I no longer have children of school age and I don’t work at a job that would fire me for being a few minutes late, so my approach may not be reasonable for others.

  • Tammy

    In our area, funeral processions always have a police escort. But here’s another thought that no one has mentioned in this debate. Having been in more processions than I’d like to have been in, I can say that I was thankful for the continual procession with no stops. Having been out of town for a few, I can see where mourners having to stop at red lights would quickly get separated from the procession and get lost. Unlike a wedding where you receive an invitation including driving instructions to the wedding service AND the reception, death leaves no time for such preparedness. So if traveling a route in a funeral that has several stop lights and turns, this could add stress to an already hard day.

    For the people who think it’s a nuisance to have to pull over, someday you’ll ride in that front limo and be grateful for the respect given to your loved one, just one last time.

    • Egwene Sedai

      Actually I’ve already ridden in that front limo and still dislike funeral processions. I think it’s good to keep all the cars in the procession together if at all possible, but otherwise I think it’s ridiculous to expect other cars to pull over, stop and wait. If you need “respect” or consolation for your loss, get it from your friends, family members, pastor, counselor, or other trusted confidant.

    • Kittymama

      It’s the 21st century. It’s outrageously easy to get or even print driving directions to the cemetery on a few hours’ notice at the most.

      If there’s anyone the procession might benefit, though, in my mind it is the grief-stricken out-of-town relative who frequently is not cognitively where they once were. I would prefer to get volunteers to drive these folks back and forth, but I realize that can’t always happen.

      I’ve sat in the lead limo and did not appreciate anything about the procession.

      I always stop and wait for a procession; it doesn’t bother me at all. They just seem wasteful, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. It’s not as though large groups of people don’t routinely drive to a common destination at the same time and figure it out themselves. I must say the police in my metro area seem to handle them very smoothly, though. (So part of my opinion comes from being a city girl.)

  • SkipB

    Elaborate traffic-stopping motorcycle cop enforced funeral processions are all about the self-importance and ego(s) of the deceased and/or the living, aided and abetted by a death industry that profits off it. If soldiers didn’t get them, perhaps we would be less inclined to romanticize and glorify war, and wake up tot he fact that the deceased soldier was actually a victim of military industrial complex profiteering.

  • Robert Moynihan

    I think you are either being unfair or missing something when you state that people such as myself who were critical of Bill Mayeroff’s blog post are somehow suggesting that funeral processions are not something people should be able to discuss. Hello? His entry wasn’t calling for a discussion. He was, without reflection or consideration, simply calling for the prohibition of funeral processions because they inconvenience him. His article was blunt as were many of the replies. He was personally good natured in his reply to my remarks so I don’t think anyone else should be off put by them.

    Funeral processions are generally optional. No one has to have one. There are a lot of benefits to them, ranging from cultural to symbolic to theological to, yes, practical. Funeral processions can be dangerous. They tend to only be dangerous if the funeral home isn’t properly leading the procession or when drivers are not paying attention. Accidents and fatalities happen every day because drivers are not paying attention (texting, cell phones, music). Perhaps there needs to be more of a focus on dealing with pre-occupied drivers than outlawing the things they aren’t paying attention to.

    The other challenge is expressed best by Mayeroff and, yourself, when you say, “The problem is not rude, hateful, selfish people…Do we really believe that any death, regardless of time or circumstance, should be able to commandeer public roadways? Do we really
    believe that the needs of all motorists to get their kids to school, to
    board the city bus, and to do so safely with predictable road behavior
    should just naturally be ignored because our most important person in
    the world died?”

    I wouldn’t use words like rude, hateful or selfish. I would say thoughtless and unaware. Motorists are stopped and delayed for all kinds of things. We get stopped for trains and construction and school busses. Those are important things and we get stopped for things far less important. That’s what it means to be a motorist and to live in society, community. I think it’s dramatic to suggest that the needs of everyone else get ignored for the sake of funeral processions. The average funeral procession in Chicago is usually about 15 cars. That passes pretty quickly.

    We live in a death denying society and I can’t help but wonder if some of the objections, not suggesting yours, aren’t just another way to remove death from our sight lines?

    Finally, yes, absolutely, because the person in the world who meant the most to you, whether royal or criminal, was a part of the community. Your loved one being taken to their place of rest is worth other people in town slowing down or stopping for just a few minutes.

    • Josh Slocum

      This illustrates the problem with this topic, Mr. Moynihan. It is not up to anyone to declare that their funeral is “worth” the “community” being compelled to “slow down.” The presumptuous attitude that posits that one party is automatically entitled to X, Y, or Z, and that it’s churlish at best to say, “but there are other needs to consider,” is what many people find so provocative. No one is so entitled.

      You are correct that Mayeroff’s original post was terse and without nuance, and that terse comments in return are to be expected. But some of them go quite a bit beyond that. Having seen this conversation occur in a number of contexts, I can tell you that it is not *merely* people reacting to a blunt opinion piece. The same character aspersions and purple prose get lobbed at others who question the practice even in mild, milquetoast terms.

      Some processions are indeed quick, as you say. Others are not, and still others are dangerous. You may not simply hand-wave these away by characterizing all processions as such minor inconveniences. That’s not fair, and reinforces the implication that those who disagree are insensitive and self-centered, prizing only their most picayune preferences at the cost of other people’s grieving.

      This is the implication you end your comment with. I’m sorry, but no. You do not get to make that pronouncement. It may be true of your values, but you cannot make it objectively true for everyone by fiat.

      Saying so is not cruel or out of bounds.

      • Robert Moynihan

        I do not make pronouncements or fiats. I am neither a judge nor a pope. Neither are you.I was merely expressing my opinion as well as my experience and stand by both. Thank you.

    • LM

      I agree, Mr. Moynihan. The anti-funeral procession issue seems to be more about the still-living not wanting to be temporarily inconvenienced. People don’t want to be bothered by anything which doesn’t directly concern them, so a funeral procession (for the rare times we happen upon one) is dismissed as ‘well, it wasn’t me or my family; get a grip and let me PASS.’ “Private loss doesn’t compel public participation” someone has said. “No man is an island” is an expression emphasizing a person’s connections to his or her surroundings. And our connection to the universality of death and at the very least, a temporary respect for someone who lies where we all will eventually lie, is a mark of our empathetic humanity.

  • sandar

    I am still a believer in the importance of the funeral procession. How families decide to house or scatter their loved ones upon death is a personal choice. If that means the body is housed at the cemetery, I do believe we can be respectful to that life – whether I know the person or not. I don’t know how many times I have pulled over for a funeral procession and people pass me. Is their life really going to be so drastically impeded upon to wait 2-3 minutes for a funeral procession to pass? I believe that all life is important. Since I have been on both sides – in a procession and pulled over on the side of the road – I feel that the minute amount of time that my personal life has been interrupted is so small compared to the massive grief the families are experiencing in the procession. To make things safer, I believe that the state transportation departments should include funeral procession rules of the road so everyone knows how to respond when they encounter a procession.

  • Gothic Rose

    I have seen many comments here from many view points, and
    each in their own way are very valid.
    But as a person who is getting close to my end of life, I do feel there
    is a very strong need for the symbolism of the funeral procession.

    And I feel it is still needed, we have been sanitizing Death
    so much that for the younger population they really don’t want to even think
    about it. And when it come so close to
    them, right in their laps, they do not know how to deal with it.

    Frankly I think in some ways the Victorian people did have
    the right idea about coming to terms with grief, the period of mourning and
    such. Although it could be taken to
    extremes but there were and are valid points.

    The funeral procession is a reminder to all, by symbolically
    saying “Where you stand so once was I, where I am so will you shall be,
    remember that.” It is, in its own way a
    powerful message and at least once in that person’s existence either alive or
    dead, everyone should give some respect and get out of one’s own selfish,
    self-centered mind-set mode and remember that all will be dust.

    For me the loss of a loved one was painful, the concept of a
    year of mourning is so true, you need that time to pull your life back into
    some semblance of order. When I was in
    that limo following the hearse my mind was screaming “Stop the world!! Stop
    your petty bickering!!! I lost someone dear to me! Can’t you understand I’m in Pain!!”

    The funeral procession does that as nothing else can and I
    feel is should continue.

    • Egwene Sedai

      Everyone is going to have death come into their lives, as everyone is going to die someday, and before that they will probably lose at least a few loved ones. IMO it’s kind of presumptuous to say that people who don’t want to stop for funeral processions are selfish, denying the reality of death, ignoring death, disrespectful, whatever. You don’t know what other people on the road have gone through or how many loved ones they’ve lost. And we’re all going to have to face death – why are you demanding “respect” for your loss when you’re not the only one who is experiencing, has experienced, or will experience it?

  • Sr. Julian Sky

    I also rarely get slowed down in my ALL important day (LOL…smiling while being sarcastic) by a funeral procession. Its a great topic to discuss, though. I like processions for a couple of reasons – it can help the family to have a visual of “society” honoring a stranger and their loss — it can remind people that death IS here, it is real no matter how much you want to hurry it out of your mind — and on a practical point…it gets everyone to the cemetery, safely….and on time. Imagine heading to the cemetery — lights are changing against you almost the entire way down a main roadway – while you are trying to reach for that last crumpled Kleenix?
    I used to work for Traffic Engineering in a mid-sized town. All funeral processions were accompanied by a police escort. They made certain that the roadway – including intersections – remained as safe as possible.
    I am a baby boomer liberal NPR listener (and tree-hugger) and I say — take a moment – pull over and be thankful you aren’t the one in the motorcade!

    • Egwene Sedai

      “Be thankful you aren’t the one in the motorcade”

      But most everyone will lose a close friend or family member and everyone will die themselves someday. So there’s really nothing to be thankful for there!

    • KaayC

      You make the unrealistic assumption that everyone yields to the procession. Not the case.

  • @phredphrog

    + it is part of the healing process. – it is an added cost. – it sometimes adds to the body count with the occasional policeman being killed while stopping traffic. If my wishes are held with, the kids sell my corpse, take the money to the nearest liquor store, spend it for their favorite, take it home and have a bloody fine wake.

    • Ralph Walker Sr

      Maybe they could get one beer

    • KaayC

      Throw me overboard, and point me towards Spain!

  • FreyaK

    Excellent article on an oddly divisive issue. I used to live right next to a fairly busy cemetery in Syracuse, so close that in the winter when the trees were bare, I could see the funerals from my bedroom window. Because there were usually multiple funerals every week, I encountered a fair amount of funeral processions on my way to school or the grocery store while I was living there. While I sympathized with the mourners and understand their wishes for a dignified escort for their loved one, there were definite problems with the way they were handled. Since this was in a busy area right near the University, I think it definitely would have been a good idea for some sort of police escort or at least a traffic cop to stop oncoming cars at the main intersection; they have every single cop in the city directing traffic for basketball games (no lie – I once went to the police station during a game day and was told there were no officers in to talk to me), I’m sure they could spare one or two for the occasional procession to ensure accidents are prevented. I’ve also seen processions go by where there are 20 cars and some only have one person in them – perhaps the funeral directors encouraging carpooling to the burial site can help lessen the annoyance and safety hazard to others? Apart from the public roads traffic concerns, I also used to walk to the University through the cemetery and there have been multiple times where I’ve almost been hit by (albeit rather slow-moving) cars from processions moving through because they’re not paying attention or for whatever reason. I think if the pagentry is what the family needs to cope with their loss, then they should be allowed to make it happen, but within reason and with due caution, because I like to think the decedent probably wouldn’t want either a family member, friend, or even random stranger to get injured or killed because of their funeral procession.

  • Realist in KY

    I agree with those saying we should be able to have these discussions without name-calling or insults.
    We were in a funeral procession recently (complete with police escorts) and we nearly got t-boned at an intersection by a driver who ignored the police sitting at the intersection. (Police did nothing as they had to stay with the procession) With the traffic of today, I feel that the funeral procession is a danger to the public. And don’t forget a good portion of the driving public now is distracted with phones, texting, as well as other distractions. It is not a matter of disrespect to the dead, it is a matter of safety. Traditions can change with the times and maybe a better way to pay your respects to the deceased is to respect the lives of the living.

  • Bryce

    I like the majesty of the funeral procession. Unfortunately in Illinois they don’t use escorts unless the procession is huge, but in Indiana where I’m from it was local law enforcement or in bigger cities motorcycle escorts weather permitting. To see them jet out in front and stop traffic with authority was great. Then came either the funeral coach or better yet the flower car(s) followed by the coach and several limos then the other mourners. All of the cars had the magnetic funeral flags blowing in the wind. Unfortunately Chicago pretty much sticks with stickers. But yes, the procession to the cemetery kind of signifies the final end, particularly when you enter the cemetery gates and approach the burial plot. Not to mention all those fine, brand new, nicely detailed funeral vehicles? That’s what it’s all about!

  • Tom Mitchell

    The dead have the time to wait at a traffic light. It is the living who make a big deal out of it.

  • NTX

    I recently witnessed a military funeral procession on an interstate highway that is undergoing a massive construction project. There were 2 patriot guard riders and a police motorcycle. The officer was driving dangerously in an active construction zone with no paved shoulders. He was riding way ahead of the procession, dodging in and out of traffic, tailgating tractor trailors, and positioning his vehicle in blindspots. I assume he was trying to force people out of the left lane (where the procession was driving), but because of his erratic behavior he was causing people to panic. I ended up stopped at the top of a hill and could watch the officer’s actions once the procession had passed. You could see that when he approached a group of vehicles and started driving again in that aggressive and erratic manner that the traffic would instantly bog down. Then the processions would catch up and get stuck in the traffic. Once they were cleared of the civilian cars, the cycle would start again. It was actually hindering their progress towards the Veterans’ Cemetery. I’m really not sure how no wrecks were caused. I guess everyone was really on point that day.

    There has to be some sort of compromise in situations like that. What that compromise is, I don’t know. Maybe set a waypoint closer to the cemetery where the group of cars will then become an official procession. Obviously the officer needed better training. I think the patriot guard riders could have taught him a thing or two.

  • Eva Johnston

    I’m in rural north MO. When my father died Christmas Day 1996 the service was in the town where we had lived for nearly 40 years, & interment was 60 miles/minutes away (going our “normal” family way across country on blacktop/state roads). It never occurred to us to discus the route with the funeral home. The director’s son (with whom I went to school & who now owns the facility–not a green kid…at the time he was a good twenty years into his career) took the longest possible route on a two-lane US & then interstate highway. While this was the easiest route to map (this was in the days before it was easy to google map something or common GPS), it was the longest possible route in the best of circumstances, which was exacerbated by the fact that he drove the lead car/hearse only 40 mph, even outside the city limits. A 60 minute trip took over two hours–one way. Our family was fuming because we had no way to pick up the pace (also before the ubiquity of cell phones out here in the boonies)–it seemingly took forever, it was one more piece of our lives that was out of our control, and we still had an hour’s drive back in the dark (we came back across country). When Mother died in 2011 she was cremated per her wishes & we took the back roads to sprinkle her on Dad/her parents/the family farm–no official procession–we were back home within about three hours of leaving the church. Much better–also, different funeral home.

    Local on-duty law enforcement do provide traffic control in our little 9000-person town from the funeral home (both are on the main drag thru town, an undivided 4-lne US highway) to the cemetery or city limits. When I first saw this I thought it an ostentatious waste of tax dollars (though it did keep the officers on the street/out of the donut shop for a few minutes), but I’ve come to understand the safety aspect of it now.

  • Guest

    The anti-funeral procession issue seems to be more about the still-living not wanting to be temporarily inconvenienced. People don’t want to be bothered by anything which doesn’t directly concern them, so a funeral procession (for the rare times we happen upon one) is dismissed as ‘well, it wasn’t me or my family; get a grip and let me PASS.’ “Private loss doesn’t compel public participation” someone has said. “No man is an island” is an expression emphasizing a person’s connections to his or her surroundings. And our connection to the universality of death and at the very least, a temporary respect for someone who lies where we all will eventually lie, is a mark of our empathetic humanity.

    • kylie

      But in many cases it’s more than just a temporary inconvenience. I missed a very necessary, long-scheduled doctor’s appointment last spring because I got stuck behind a procession. I had to pay a missed appointment fee, and the next available appointment was nearly two weeks later. I was off of needed medications for 8 days of that because I couldn’t get a refill without an in-person appointment. My roommate got written up for being late to work after waiting for a particularly lengthy procession to pass. If I’m going about a normal day then yea, I can (and do) suck it up– I’m not worse off for getting to Target five minutes later than planned, and I understand the importance the ritual has for a lot of people. But unfortunately, it’s not always a normal day, and though I would love to not feel resentment while I pull over to let a group of mourners pass me, sometimes I have things to do– actual important, necessary things with equally important timelines attached to them– that make that resentment hard to ignore. I guess what I’m getting at is that there is a real conversation to be had here, and it can’t be had if those on one side of the table are automatically written off as self-involved and uncaring for wanting to have it.

  • URNS BY ARTISTS

    seems to me to be another contemporary attempt to sweep away the inconvenience of death. are our lives so insane that we can’t take a moment to reflect and show respect?

    • kylie

      People try so hard to make this about people just being too self-involved to stop for someone else’s grief, but it’s not just about the inconvenience factor. I had a roommate who got written up for being late to work because she had to stop for a procession. I missed a necessary, long-scheduled doctor’s appointment after getting stuck behind a procession– had to pay a fee for missing the appointment, couldn’t reschedule anything sooner than 10 days after the original appointment, and ran out of needed medications in the intervening time. I realize that that situation isn’t typical, but that’s kind of the point. Everybody’s life/schedule/obligations are different, and it is illogical to assume that everybody who’s ever complained about processions did so only out of self-importance, or that everybody who’s ever had to wait/stop/slow down for a procession did so without consequence.

    • Egwene Sedai

      Just the other day I came across a funeral procession on a 5-line highway with a 65 MPH speed limit. Even though the procession was escorted, there was no way to know it was there until you came upon it. If all cars who came upon it just stopped suddenly, all the cars coming up behind at 65 MPH (or more) would run into them, not knowing what was going on until it was too late. When are you allowed to “go” again, since the procession was quite long and continuing down the highway for an unknown distance? Are we supposed to be mind readers so that we know when the procession exits the highway and then we can continue so we don’t pass them? Certainly there’s not enough room on that highway for all cars to pull over to the right, and actually the procession was in the right most lane.

      I don’t see any way to keep to this “pulling over” tradition except ion regular roadways, not highways.

  • goodmom

    Today I was walking in town pushing a stroller with two babies accompanied by my 2 friends and their babies one of which was only 6 weeks old. We were in the crosswalk of a busy intersection walking with the walk sign. We did not see or know that a funeral procession was about to run a red light and almost hit us. The drivers in the procession not only almost caused an accident involving 5 children under the age of 3 they then proceeded to roll down their windows and yell rude comments to us Mothers only trying to protect our little ones in a scary situation. This is very dangerous and also very disturbing. They had no police escort and no signs or anyone guiding traffic. We were all very shaken up.

    • Joseph Parsons

      Atheist like you should stay at home…anyone whom says that they are an inconvenience.. Are pagans, atheist are just disrespectful punks ( yeah name calling here)… Which are you…. When you die hope no one in your circle( if you have one) feels like you… Or cremation for you pagan butt.

      • kylie

        You’re joking, right? She didn’t complain about processions, or even question them. She said that this one was not properly escorted and almost caused a catastrophic accident. I don’t care how you feel about funeral processions or their necessity (or lack thereof), that’s a problem.

        Also, just for the record, I think processions need to go– and I’m neither a pagan, nor an atheist, nor a disrespectful punk. Try missing a very necessary doctor’s appointment (and having to pay a missed appointment fee) because you got stuck behind a procession. Happened to me. Or try getting a writeup for being late for work because you sat through three green lights while an unescorted procession rolled through the intersection 20mph below the speed limit. Happened to my roommate. I have respect for both the dead and the mourning, and I fully understand the importance of ritual in some people’s mourning processes. But what many people don’t get in their rush to criticize those of us who ‘view death as inconvenient’ is that processions are a lot more than an inconvenience. For many people, they create actual problems, and in some cases they can be downright dangerous.

      • KaayC

        Methinks you, Sir are going straight to the devil, so no need for the pagentry.

  • Rebecca

    When when my grandmother died, we did the funeral and processional. Likely, because she had preplanned and prepaid for her service and we followed the script.

    The procession was neither something I wanted or didn’t. It was what it was.

    That said, I remember very clearly the people that pulled over as we went by. I remember the make and model of most of the cars. I remember very clearly the face of the uniformed officer saluting us as we went by. I was in tears to see an older man- who could barely walk, struggle to stand and put his hand over his heart as we passed by.

    It mattered. It meant so much to me that on this day that we were burying a lady who was our world, people were not too busy to notice.

    I understand the trouble they can cause. I, too, have been behind lengthy processions when I was in a rush to get somewhere else. I get it. Yet, to me, if it can be even the slightest bit healing for the family… My day is not that busy.

  • Nathan

    Love this website

  • paul berry

    Funeral processions are Proclaiming Life, not death.. They are an expression of those effected by the Life of the individual in the casket… Not, we are following a car with a casket inside… Life is precious and those who live it are priceless. So anyone, so strange as to not pull to the side of the road for just a moment, as a priceless being passes by, and passes on, is clearly in the wrong galaxie, and or, in the wrong profession.. For evidence that ageing and death now soon end as we now know it.. Bringing us eons/centuries of Life.. Go view the sites at http://adamandevewordresearch.blogspot.com/ and for investing in life, and the end of ageing and death go to http://www.adamandevewordresearch.org … Respect to all those born of Adam/Atoms

  • Paul

    Three times, I had an escort, who didn’t appear to be a police officer, driving nearly twice the speed limit, on the wrong side of the road, with no shoulder for me to safely pull over on, come straight at my motorcycle. Apparently the funeral homes’ escorts left the building last, but insisted on getting to cemetery first. There was no safe way to pull over, but I was either going to do so, or they were going to kill me. In all three cases their was no way for me to anticipate the procession.

    Not everyone’s experience are the same. <– Not everyone has the capacity to fully understand this, so they get mad.

  • likalaruku

    Well, I don;t drive, so I’ve never seen a funeral procession take place. But no one in the state of Washington can drive to save their lives, so I don’t even want to think of the catastrophic state-wide traffic disaster would happen if someone had one here.

  • AmishRandy

    You have processions, and you pull over for the processions and give the processions the right of way. If you’re a man wearing a hat, you take it off. It’s respectful, it’s polite, and it’s what we do in America.
    Anyone that thinks otherwise should specify as much, and I’m sure your wishes will be honored when your turn comes.

  • We always try and balance the respect of the deceased & wishes of the family against causing disturbance to the general public trying to get on with their day. We have been asked quite frequently not to crawl along as the deceased liked a bit of speed. It is all about good funeral arranging and planning.

  • Kuildeous

    Ooh, this is a topic that has been bugging me. Ever since I was 11 and rode in a procession to lay my father to rest, the whole ritual creeped me out. Yeah, I lost the most important man in my life, but it seemed really weird that complete strangers would stop for my father. I felt guilty that my pain was causing an interruption in their lives.

    And if someone wants to do that, then good for him, but I think it’s rude as a society to put social pressure on people so that they feel they must do so. Calling out and shaming someone who didn’t pull over would be terrible. We don’t know that guy’s predicament. Maybe he’s driving himself to the hospital and can’t wait for an ambulance. Maybe someone works for a boss who doesn’t tolerate any excuse and can’t afford to lose a job over this.

  • TBoneLogan

    The thing is, people’s driving habits are unpredictable. Why add an unusual, rule changing uncertainty into the mix? I have no problem stopping when I can see the tiny red notices on the cars, but I’ve almost been hit when I didn’t see them, legally pulled forward at a green light, and the next guy in the procession didn’t stop. They are too dangerous to justify. I’m sure the dead wouldn’t want to force others to join them for an outdated ceremony.

  • Will

    I agree. Since moving to Northern suburbs of Chicago five months ago, I have see three funeral processions. The first one was obvious with police escorts. I understood. The second one, I was caught off guard as I was going through a green light, I heard a loud screeching stop on my left. Then I looked behind me as I was driving to see that regular cars were continuing to run the red light… I had no idea why these cars were running the red light. Maybe they are from another country? I thought. This happened again yesterday, and I realized that they were funeral attendees. The problem is that these passenger cars only had a “funeral” sticker on the side of their cars. There is almost no way to know they are coming on an intersection unless a car in fron of you is already stopped. Very dangerous indeed. Even a seeping ambulance crosses an intersection on a red light with care.

  • minime13

    I think perspective is needed when discussing this. Like, how often does on get stopped by a funeral procession in their lifetime? Chances are, the average person is stopped by a funeral procession far fewer than stopped by road construction, a stalled car, or a traffic accident. In my 22 years of driving, I’ve been stopped once, and I live in the 4th largest city in the country. And it literally added on 4 minutes to my driving time.

    So, I think the question that needs to be asked is am I going to be self-involved enough to say that 4 minutes of my life in 22 years is more precious than the sentiment of giving 4 minutes of respect to people who are having the worst day of their life? My answer to that is no.

    Especially when considering the benefit of getting the procession through traffic as quickly as possible, therefore having a minimal impact on traffic. Get a long line of 20+ cars, with many being out of town, fighting to stay in line without help or outside aid, getting cut off by other traffic or lights, and you’ll create a pretty big clusterfuck in a matter of minutes. The other side would likely have a bigger, and more negative, impact on traffic than 4 minutes of hitting pause.

  • Elliander Eldridge

    Statistically, in a given city, such as St Louis, looking at just a single zip code, there were a total of 145 deaths last year. When counting all zip codes of St Louis there were 14,089 deaths last year. If every death of a single zip code had a procession that would cripple traffic in that area for half the year. If every death in St. Louis had a procession they would need multiple streets dedicated to processions and they would never stop.

    Source: http://health.mo.gov/data/mica/mica/death_stl_zip.php

    In a city of hundreds of thousands of people, that may be a small percent of the population, but the street use required would be excessive so I have to wonder who gets priority and what would happen if a sudden spike in people deciding they want one appeared. Is it just money? If so, a very clever terrorist plot to shut down american infrastructure would be to fund funeral processions for everyone and wait as the chaos unfolds.

    Naturally, the question of safety comes to mind. Although they have to have a lead vehicle with lights, there is no other warning required by law or police escort or anything of the like. If you have a green light, see no vehicles when you approach, you could end up hitting someone in the procession when they cross it because they get to cross red lights without warning. If you get stuck in the middle of one you are not allowed to pass and just being between segments is punishable by fine so its a fine situation where innocent people get drawn in.

    Source: http://www.slpl.lib.mo.us/cco/ords/data/ord4872.htm

    I’d prefer it if the public had to be notified, if there were signs posted, and if the traffic lights had to be set to prevent accidents.

    • DB

      And to keep these processions off major highways

      • Elliander Eldridge

        Yeah, since I wrote this there was a procession that stretched along some 80ish miles between St Louis, MO and Illinois. It was along the only major highway and disrupted traffic for so long without any detour that everyone stuck behind it had a several hour commute to get home. I was actually prevented from getting to school at all that day, and as a research scientist it could have been worse since Federal law requires daily observations of test subjects. There were side roads along most of that highway, but they also closed most of that to hold the flags up over the highway.

        All they would have to have done would be to open one half of the highway to two way traffic and not hold flags over everything and the impact on drivers would have been greatly reduced. It would still have been too long, but at least it wouldn’t be impossible to get around.

        When I complained that 80 miles of major highway and several hours without proper warning or a detour even was excessive, I was quickly attacked on all sides by people who thought I was “disrespectful” to the officer who died. Supposedly the procession was that long before it stretched between where he worked and where his family was from. Well, it set a multi state procession precedent, meaning that my mother, who is also a police officer, could by that logic get a procession from Florida to Pennsylvania if and when she dies. I ask people at what point it’s excessive, and instead of directly answering that they think it’s wrong of me to voice an opinion over being directly impacted by what I believe to be a misuse of police authority.

        Not even the death of President Kennedy, which attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the procession (more than the entire population of some cities!) were as long as a lone police procession, nor impacted a bottleneck of the highway system.When Princess Diana died more than a million people lined the streets of London for her procession, but even that didn’t come close to the level of disruption of this procession. I can understand a procession along a street where people can gather to watch and mourn the loss of a very public figure, and it should definitely accommodate enough people to pay the proper respects, but it shouldn’t cover more space than necessary to achieve that goal.

        The fact that all the people supporting the officer lashed out vehemently at those who dare to express an opinion, imho, desecrated the officer’s memory more than anything. It became used as a tool to quiet dissent and not only reinforce a cultural status quo that is very outdated, but expand upon it in a way that no one can stop. Now every officer who dies in St Louis is going to expect the same treatment that not even royalty gets.

        So… yeah… keeping them off major highways is a big deal. The only way I can see that as a good thing is if it’s not only a very public figure, but done in a way that people can safely gather along, and if there is space for traffic to move around. An 8 lane highway on a less busy day at non rush hour would be ideal. They could take 2 lanes, set aside 2 more for onlookers, and still have 4 more lanes for traffic at a time when it wouldn’t impact someone, and that would even be less bad in such a context as closing a city street that might keep someone from leaving their home.

  • Tania Bourdeau Porta

    As a funeral director, I am torn on how I truly feel about this issue. I believe if the director leading the procession is able to command attention at intersections the risk of accident is limited. However, this is getting progressively more difficult due to the countless people who view red lights as the best time to send and read text messages. Th risk is becoming greater. I also recognize the hold up of a procession could have strong negative impact on other travelers who may be late for important events.
    From the philosophical perspective I believe the procession is an important part of our society’s need to recognize death. As the traditions change and become more celebratory, I believe this is exacerbating denial of death. Society is making it as neat and pretty as they can…… Pretty urns are replacing the gut wrenching visceral reaction one has to a casket….. For some that moment is when the reality of the death becomes truth. I am concerned that over time this “neat” approach to death will result in the bereaved suffering from prolonged or unhealthy grief.

    Death is an undeniable truth. The funeral procession is a symbol of the reality of this truth. Those who watch it pass are forced to accept this reality ….. If funeral processions are made illegal it will just perpetuate our society’s denial.

    • Egwene Sedai

      What does it matter whether there’s a casket or an urn or anything else? The reality of death is that the deceased isn’t there anymore, not the “symbol” of death like a casket or urn.

  • Cynthia Thompson

    I think it’s a sacred tradition. I do pull over to the side for a funeral procession and I use that time to pray for family and friends that are coping with loss. My life is not so busy, even with a two year old toddler, that I cannot pull over and pay my respects. I have lost loved ones and friends, it never gets easier, so I don’t mind taking time to respect and honor life or the loss thereof.

  • http://www.funeralnav.com available for iOS & android

  • David Powell

    I see both sides as well and very clearly. Side #1, why should there be a motorcade procession in the first place? Why is there such a huge difference in state laws (that would be religious pressure)? Side #2 Religious bible thumpers – “we deserve a procession because we are religious and damned to anyone who says we can’t and we don’t give a rats ass to the other motorists”.

  • DB

    Funeral processions should stay off major highways in major cities. In my city it is getting progressively worse. Today, I wasn’t stopped by a procession ‘passing by’. Today, the PD decided to make all traffic on a 4-5 lane (one direction) crawl at 40 mph while a 15 car procession drove down. So, we’re blocking 3-4 lanes of unused space for miles down the highway, causing backups, honking, people trying to get around, etc. For 15 freaking cars. We’re not talking po-dunk rural town either.

    You know what worked? Speeding really fast down the access roads, getting in front of the procession (miles later). Was it safer? Hell no. Were other people catching on and doing the same? Hell yes. Could it have been avoided? Absolutely.