30 Things You Might Hear at a Cajun Funeral
South Louisiana is home to some of the most unique traditions in the world, and funerals are no exception.
If we're being honest here, the south, in general, has a way of sending off the dead in a way that would have folks from other parts of the world mistaken that they were at a cookout or some type of celebration.
But isn't what it's all about? A funeral is supposed to be a celebration of life, and from jazz funerals to homegoing ceremonies, our traditions feel more like a family cookout than a time of mourning.
Cajun Country is no exception; and in addition to the things you might expect to see while laying a loved one to rest, we've come up with a list of 30 things you might hear while attending a Cajun funeral.
“How did they die?”
Often times we’ll hear the news of someone’s passing without actually knowing their cause of death. Social media has taken this to a whole new level as we sometimes log on to see condolences or obituaries posted to our timelines. I think it’s just human nature to want to know why someone is no longer with us, but we’re still polite about it here in the south (well, at least we try to be)—which is why it’s not uncommon to hear whispers of “what happened?” or “how did they die?” at a funeral.
“He/She looks so good”
Whether they’re commenting on their makeup or how “natural” the deceased looks, you’re almost guaranteed to hear folks complimenting the dead on their final appearance. Of course, there is a flip side to this, which we’ll cover next.
“That’s not the way she wears her hair”
I don’t know if we have enough room to really elaborate on ALL the things we overhear at funerals when it comes to folks being critical about the final presentation of the deceased. From hairstyling to makeup, to skin tone and sometimes even glasses, those who remember the deceased often remember them one way and anything outside of that will often draw sharp (but often whispered) criticism.
“He/She went to be with…”
Coping with a loss is hard, so sometimes we tend to find the best explanation to make peace with losing a loved one. A very common thing to hear is that the person who has died has simply decided to “go and be with” another loved one who has since passed that they were very close to. Sometimes, we hear people say that a loved one who has previously passed “came back to get” the deceased.
“It happened so fast”
This is especially common to hear when losing someone to cancer or another illness that can quickly take a turn for the worse. Sometimes people will battle sickness or a medical issue for years, but when things really start to worsen, it can tear them down at an alarming rate. This is why it’s not uncommon to hear things like “I just saw them last week” or “they just messaged me on Facebook” from those in attendance.
“I had no idea they were sick!”
Much like the entry before this one, some people are genuinely shocked when they hear someone passed because it is not uncommon for them to have battled their illness privately or maybe they weren’t made aware of their diagnosis until it was too late. Either way, to hear this type of shock at a funeral is not uncommon.
“I can't believe she’s wearing THAT to a funeral”
I feel like we’ve gotten a bit off track as to how some of these overheard phrases relate to south Louisiana, so allow me to re-center with a classic. Whether it’s a risqué halter top or short skirt, or something too festive or casual, folks in south Louisiana are quick to judge when someone’s funeral fashion isn’t in line with their standards. We just “thank God big mama ain’t here to see it.”
“Who made the rice dressing?”
And while we’re asking, who brought those flowers? While funerals are for sending off those who we’ve lost, sometimes we have to know who made that delicious dish in the funeral home kitchen. Food is big when it comes to how we comfort our people in south Louisiana, and that includes when we lose our loved ones.
“You just never know when it's your time”
This is one that you may hear at funerals that come as a result of an unexpected death—especially when it’s someone who was in otherwise good health. Many south Louisianians were raised Catholic or believe in some higher power, so it only makes sense that God has a plan for all of us. We just don’t always know when our time is up.
“They woke up dead”
This is another one that you’ll hear mumbled or whispered at the funeral home (much like the previous entry). Sadly, sometimes folks go to sleep and simply never wake up. While we understand the meaning of what is being said, the actual phrasing doesn’t make much grammatical sense. But is a funeral really the place to correct the grieving?
“It shouldn’t take death to bring us together”
While funerals are a time for mourning, they also have a way of bringing folks together who don’t see each other too often. You can almost guarantee that someone, at some point, will bring up that “it shouldn’t take a funeral for everyone to get together.” They’ll set up a lunch or a dinner in theory, but the next time the group will see one another will likely be at the next funeral.
“We didn’t always agree on everything”
If we are anything in south Louisiana, we are pretty honest. But just because we disagree with someone, or maybe never saw eye to eye, it's not uncommon for us to still show up to pay our respects. Especially if we know their family members.
“God needed them more than we did”
As I mentioned earlier, it’s human nature to try to make sense of things when dealing with death and sometimes people of faith find solace in the idea that God may have needed an angel in heaven more than we needed them on earth.
“What time does the rosary start?”
While some people are the type to pay respects, it doesn’t mean they don’t have places to be or things to do. Unless you were very close with the deceased, or part of the immediate family, it’s not uncommon to simply show face and go. This is why you often hear people ask “when does the rosary start” so they can plan their exit before those doors close.
“Who’s staying with the body tonight?”
Apparently, there is a tradition throughout parts of the south including Cajun country where someone “stays with the body” (also known as the origin of what we refer to as wakes). I was also told that back in the day, people would stay with the body in the event that the person presumed to be deceased would wake up. Apparently, it happened enough for this tradition to be a thing. Could you imagine?
“Y’all pass by the house afterward”
Sometimes togetherness is the one thing that can help friends and family power through the loss of a loved one. More often than not, it’s the family of the deceased inviting others over to enjoy a more casual visit in a less somber setting before everyone goes on their way or loved ones from out-of-town head home.
“What's going to happen with the house?”
Ain’t nothing like people wondering about legal affairs before the casket is in the ground—but hey, it’s a common question and we’ve all heard it before. The “house” could actually be any of the deceased’s major properties, vehicles, businesses, or any other keepsake of value or interest that may spark curiosity in the middle of their funeral service.
“They’re not suffering anymore”
Look, sometimes we need to find some type of silver lining in the middle of the pain we feel when we lose someone who is close to us. Sometimes people really do suffer so much that when they pass away it does feel like this double-edged sense of “relief” compared to the pain they endured while they were still with us.
“Did y’all sign the book?”
I’ll never forget about one time when I was signing the guest book at a funeral and I heard a voice over my shoulder say “you know dead people can’t read; they’re never gonna see that.” Of course, he was right (and the joke definitely gave “too soon” vibes for everyone within an earshot) but clearly, this is for the family—and there will ALWAYS be someone to remind you to sign in.
“Did y’all get something to eat? There’s plenty! We can't take it all”
Oh, you’ve never left a funeral with a to-go plate? You’ve never seen folks wiping away tears with one hand while holding an overfilled styrofoam container with the other? When you’re offered an abundance of food along with condolences for the loss of a loved one you end up with a LOT of food that is far too much for one family to handle. Plus, there is less to clean up, amirite?
“This is a nice turnout”
Again, one of those things that don’t really matter; and who’s really measuring the value of someone’s life by the number of people who show up to pay their respects? Still—it’s often heartwarming for family members of the deceased to see how many people show up to mourn their loved one.
“I can’t believe 'they' had the nerve to show up”
Is it an ex? Was it a mistress? Are they an adversary who had any type of well-known beef with the deceased? If you’ve ever been at a funeral when “that” person walks in, you can literally feel the energy shift in the room. “After all they’ve done to cause them pain/heartache/drama,” right?
Sometimes, the “who’s that” could be reserved for the aforementioned mistress/adversary; but there are also times when we hear that question as people—including, but not limited to immediate family—may wonder what affiliation this stranger had with the deceased. Is it a former co-worker or boss? A child none of us knew about? It’s really anyone’s guess.
“Just hold onto my dish”
Hop back a few entries and refer to the “we can’t take it all” section where we talked about what families are willing to do to not have to deal with taking a gargantuan amount of food home. Sometimes, you gotta risk that Pyrex.
“Did you see the flowers we brought?”
While some people will do a deed and need zero recognition or acknowledgment for the said gesture, there are definitely others who want to make sure people know that their condolences do exist in material form.
“Call the Police”
Sadly, there are things that could go down at a funeral that warrant the presence of law enforcement. Whether it be a family disagreement that spills over during the funeral service, or even shots fired (we’ve seen it happen far too many times) the need for law enforcement is not nearly the stretch that one might think it is.
“I never knew that was their name”
I’ve known people for an entire lifetime and never learned their “real” names until their funerals. Whether they’ve always gone by a nickname, an abbreviated name, or a middle name, sometimes we don’t learn the full government name of a loved one until we see it on the materials printed for their funeral services.
“It was time. They were ready”
This is one that I’ve particularly seen when it comes to someone suffering or someone who has recently lost a spouse. “She was ready to go be with…” is a common phrasing for this one. Much like the “they aren’t suffering anymore”—here, the silver lining is that the deceased went on their own terms.
“They lived a good life”
Speaking of silver lining phrases like “they’re not suffering anymore” and “they were ready,” the final distant cousin of those two lines is the statement that the deceased had “lived a good life” up until the time of their passing. Almost as if they did everything that could be done and they’ve seen all there is to see. A good life indeed.
“Call if y’all need”
Last, but definitely not least, this bonafide classic is a great way to wrap up this post because it’s usually our de facto parting phrase from funerals. If we’re being honest, this also works in any other situation in life where people go their separate ways. Need food? Someone to watch the kids until things get back to normal? It’s simply part of our culture and it lets folks know that we’re here for them for anything they may need. Just one call away.
While this list was compiled from the things that we've personally heard while attending Cajun funerals, one of our colleagues posed the question on his Facebook page and got dozens of responses that didn't make this list, but are just as accurate and spot on.
Share this with anyone who can relate and be on the lookout for these signature phrases the next time you're celebrating the life of a loved one who has passed.
Trust us when we say the small laugh you may have to yourself will be a welcome break in the sadness.