I want a funeral just like the one I described to a journalist who queried me about food at funerals in the deep south. Below is my response:
Unfortunately I just experienced a couple of Southern Funerals. One being the death of a good old friend with a couple of kids and an "Old Uptown New Orleans" background and all of the baggage that comes with that upbringing. He was someone who would be described as an old line "wasp". He had long been suffering with The Big C and if there is such a thing as a blessing in death, this was probably it.
The other funeral was for a working class guy who lives in my small town in South Louisiana. Nice guy, good kids, the whole bit. Had a big fat heart attack and keeled over in his attic while working on his A.C. He was a South Louisiana Cajun Catholic.
I had occasion to write obits for both of them and people held both of them in high regard. I hope people speak as well of me when I go "ten toes up".
My point in talking about these guys is that regardless of social standing and religious or economic status, the food at both homes before and after the funeral was pretty much the same. By any measure if one was reviewing the meals and snacks prepared and served by friends of the deceased, they would get high marks. Part of it is that no one wants to put something substandard out on a table and have it sit like the ugly kid at the dance and the other part is that the food represents an offering of love to the family. Breads of all kinds, every kind of sweet and cake you could want and CASSEROLES.
I don't know what the deal is with casseroles and the South and funerals, but man will people bring 'em out for a funeral meal. Seafood, meat, vegetable, etc. All kinds and all sizes and shapes. At one of these events I had a shrimp and crabmeat deal that was as good as anything I have ever eaten (both the shrimp and the crabmeat were fresh within 24 hours and it was prepared by the wife of the guy who caught them)
My mother (who I called just to ask her about this) says that casseroles make sense because there is always too much food and they can easily be frozen by the bereaved family to enjoy later. I guess that makes sense because there is too much food generally. People here in my part of the South tend to go to to the homes of the family if they know them fairly well before the funeral and almost everyone has a visitation after the funeral at their home (what else are you going to do with out of town guests? After all, good manners dictate entertaining guests, even if someone has died).
Also, this being South Louisiana, there is an inordinate amount of drinking and conviviality going on as relatives end up using funerals as impromptu family reunions. As wierd as it sounds, I love funerals in my family. I will see people that I love and care about and generally don't get the opportunity to see and one othe rbonus is that people seem to have their guard down after a death and the quality of the gossip goes WAAAYYY up........" Did you hear about Aunt Lena? No? Well let me tell you, she took up with the new assistant minister from First Methodist and is acting like she is twenty years old. Her husband Hank is probably rolling over in his grave right now. I tell you what, if her Mama was alive she wouldn't be carrying on like that!"
I would like to point out that my funeral expeience among my Jewish friends in the South has been much the same. I think that there is a level of "old world" tradition that has kind of hung on. While the body is no longer laid out in the living room (which I believe is the basis for the visitations at the deceased homes), there is still a very general attitude of "what can we do to help you out?" that pervades my little part of the world. There is a very tangible feeling that someone's life should be celebrated after he has passed, instead of an overwhelming feeling of sadness at the loss. And, because good food is such an integral part of celebrations here, it just goes along that the food at funerals tends to be elaborate and made with care and love.