We were driving to the Georgia coast through little towns in which few people live and about which even fewer people know. It was near Appling County, I believe, when Tink remarked on something he saw.
“A funeral,” he said. “They’re all just leaving.”
I looked up from the passenger seat where I had been engrossed in work during much of the six-hour drive and turned toward the shady, hilltop cemetery that he was indicating. In the twinkling of an eye, my mind left the work that had me so absorbed. I shifted in my seat and looked at the shiny black limousine parked behind the hearse. The preachers lead the casket, the pallbearers tote the casket, the casket leads the family, the family leads the friends. I know the routine well.
The burial was over and the attendees, all clothed respectfully in black, were stepping gingerly back to their cars. There was little talk and no laughter. Some held hands while others held white tissues and dabbed at their eyes and noses.
“They’re returning from a new made mound,” I said ever so softly. “That’s what Daddy always said.”
A while back, a long-time family friend, Barbara, had joined us for a big, family holiday dinner celebration. The blessing was said then she turned to me, “I always remember your Daddy saying, every time he prayed, ‘Lord, comfort the heavy hearts of those who are returning from a new made mound.’” Her eyes teared and so did mine. It was such a tender prayer to whisper and language hearkening back to a by-gone era.
As a child growing up, I often heard Daddy use that term but I was probably 11 when I realized what it meant. I and my weekend shadow and cousin, Lynn, were sitting on the front row of church, our usual spot when Daddy used the illustration of a “new made mound” in his sermon one Sunday. The sermon, I think, had something to do with that it was too late to make a decision on eternity once death had come. He moved from the pulpit, his Bible tucked firmly in his right hand as it always was when he preached, and stepped closer to a side window. He motioned with his left hand toward the cemetery and grave that had been covered over the previous day.
“Once you’re layin’ under six feet of dirt and it’s a new made mound, it’ll be too late.” As usual, he made the declaration with conviction and compassion.
I looked out the window. I got it! The new made mound was the grave, the mountain of dirt created when the casket was laid in and the dirt piled up.
When I was a kid and saw folks returning from a grave service, it was a matter of course. Just one of those things that happened in life and places where people went like to the grocery store, school or church. I wasn’t uncaring, I was simply unknowing. But life is a great and mighty teacher.
If you’re willing to learn.
And if you do learn then you take your own sorrows, triumphs and tribulations and translate them into empathy and sympathy for others. Your heart feels what the heart of a stranger feels.
A wide-brimmed, black hat hid the face of fragile-sized woman as someone helped her walk along. I could not see her face but I could feel her sadness. A few feet behind, the gravediggers were hand shoveling the last bit of red-colored dirt over the casket of someone she loved. I whispered Daddy’s words for that trail of tears being dropped by that human train of sorrow.
This I’ve come to know too well: Daddy was so right. There is nothing sadder in this world than those who return from a grave where they have left a loved one buried beneath a new-made mound.
They need our prayers.
Ronda Rich, author of ‘What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)’ writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.