Funeral Stories

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

January 21, 2008



            I passed a milestone this month. I celebrated my 300th funeral. Lately the pace has been picking up. In the last five weeks I had five funerals.

            The deaths are sad, of course. But the funerals aren’t.

            What I like are the stories. 

            For instance, I think of Mary, an African American lady who died at the age of 101. She gave birth to 15 children. She could cure anything. She made home remedies of herbs and plants from the forest. Once she cured a young boy with a terrible skin disease who had been discharged from the famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The fancy doctors at Hopkins had given up on his case. She soaked him in an oatmeal bath and rubbed juice from leaves on him.

            Mary was not afraid of animals, but she didn’t like cars. She would harness a team of oxen and take her children to town on a wagon. But she once saw a truck catch fire once when a man smoking a cigar looked in his gas tank. “Cars are dangerous,” she told me. “They have gasoline in them.”

            I think of Ray, a NASA scientist. He lost one eye to melanoma. He was a chaotic genius type.  Once he was working on a space capsule in a “clean room” at NASA. It was supposed to be sterile, but Ray took his chicken salad sandwich into the capsule. He got distracted and forgot it. The sandwich was shot into outer space. Ray had to come up with some explanation for NASA. He told them he was doing an experiment on the effects of weightlessness on mayo in chicken salad.

            I think of Denny, our town drunk. He had a tragic life. He froze to death one night when he returned to his trailer too drunk to remember to turn on the heater. A few years before he died he became Catholic. He was so proud of our parish that he put the church name on a license plate on the back of his bicycle. I was not pleased with the advertising since every time the police would stop Denny for riding his bike under the influence, they would bring him to my back porch. His license plate was a sort of “return to sender” tag.

            I think of Bill, a devout Catholic and courtly gentleman from Mobile, Alabama. He addressed all women as “dawh-lin”. Bill was always praying. When he got into the car, he started the rosary with the engine. This had the bonus of keeping his wife from arguing with him. Bill even prayed when he did the dishes. He gave each plate three wipes with the dish towel “for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

            I think of Hanne who was raised in war time Denmark. Hanne was a “sometimes” Lutheran who became a serious Catholic in her twenties when she became a governess for a wealthy family in Belgium after the war. The young children converted her to Catholicism because she had to teach them their catechism. Hanne went home to Denmark and told her Lutheran father she wanted to be a nun. He sent her off to America to distract her. There she promptly met a devout Catholic man and married him.

            Then there was Anthony. He was father of six, and life long sometimes Catholic. He was a “numbers runner”. He liked to gamble on everything; cards, horses, whatever. We buried him with a cue stick, the Daily Racing Forum, and a couple of lottery tickets. Just before we closed the coffin his daughter wrote down the lotto numbers, just in case he won. She said, “If he hit, up he comes.” The apple does not fall far from the tree.  

            Oh I love the stories.