Friday, January 15, 2021

The Role of the Pallbearer


Pallbearers have carried the coffin at funerals for centuries. The term “pallbearer” is derived from the heavy white cloth (the pall) that at one time covered all caskets. The pall may be ornate or very plain. It is part of the religious ceremony in Roman Catholic and Lutheran funeral services representing death and rebirth of the spirit.


For a military funeral, the American flag is used as the pall. It is placed on the casket as soon as it enters the church and removed just before being lowered into the ground.

As the funeral ceremony became more simplified, the term “pallbearer” came to describe someone who carries the casket to its burial location.


Today, pallbearers are selected by the family to oversee the casket at the funeral. It is an honor to be asked and indicates that you were regarded highly by the deceased, and their family for they are trusting you to carry their loved one to the final resting place.

Pallbearers may be close relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, business associates and church members. And yes, women can act as pallbearers. Where it was once frowned upon to select a woman due to concerns about her emotions “getting the better of her,” today women are asked and accept these duties.

There are usually six to eight people who act as pallbearers depending on the size and weight of the casket, which is dictated by the number of handles on each side. (For a child’s casket, there may only be four handles.) A typical casket can weight from 200 to 400 pounds.


Each pallbearer should have ability to assist in lifting and carrying the casket over uneven ground in the cemetery. Some funeral homes provide a bier with wheels that pallbearers assist in rolling.


An honorary pallbearer is someone who cannot physically lift the casket; a distinguished colleague in the deceased’s professional field, or a special family member or close friend. The honorary pallbearer may lead or follow the casket.

A pallbearer should dress in conservative and respectful attire, and will be given white gloves to wear during the procession. However, the family may request pallbearers wear their loved one’s favorite color or something that has been designated as a tribute to the deceased.  Pallbearers should be able to keep emotions in check during this time.


Pallbearers should expect to arrive a few minutes early and stay a few minutes after the

Funeral so the director can explain what you will need to know and how to fulfill your

duties before the ceremony begins. Remember, it is an honor to be selected. If you are not sure you can keep your emotions under control, let the family know. They will appreciate your candidness.


~ Joy

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Christmas Carol: An Enduring Holiday Ghost Story

 by Joy Neighbors

Charles Dickens

It is one of the most enduring holiday classics in the world. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was written unintentionally, in 1843. In it, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser with his time, money, and emotions, is visited by his former business partner, Jacob Marley, a kindred spirit who paves the way for visitations from three ghosts: Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. After hearing each ghost’s proclamations, Scrooge is transformed into a man with a heart who makes “mankind” his business.



Originally titled An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child, Dickens set out to write about the brutal conditions of child labor. Children as young as five worked 16 hours a day, six days a week in some of the most horrific and appalling jobs available. Since children worked for next to nothing – sometimes only room and board – this was what was available to them.


Of course, Dickens understood what their lives were like. He had to go to work at the age of twelve when his father was sent to London’s Debtors Prison. To help make ends meet, Dickens worked at a boot-blacking factory. This gave him "deep personal and social outrage,” which influenced his life, and his writing.



Children, and the poor in general, were not treated as human beings but more as a necessary resource utilized to do the work no one else would. Humane treatment was not considered mandatory in order to elicit the work demanded. The poor lived in squalid conditions, half-starved, with no chance to change their circumstances. They were happy to get what they could to keep their  family alive and together.



After several attempts to write the treatise, Dickens realized that instead of lecturing, what he needed was a good story to catch people’s interest. In less than six weeks, he had written a tale that he intended to act as “a Sledge hammer (that) has come down with twenty times the force—twenty thousand times the force” causing readers to consider more modern ideas about industry, and the worker. Dickens wanted employers to acknowledge workers as fellow human beings with the same rights as their employer; food, shelter, an education, and a chance to lift themselves up out of poverty.


But Dickens also wanted to highlight societal changes that were taking place with the holiday and show that even the poor had a right to enjoy the season with family and friends.


The new way to celebrate the old festival was with Christmas carols sung by carolers going from house to house in exchange for a warm drink and food.


The Christmas tree was becoming a new tradition; something for the family to cut, decorate and gather around. The Christmas holiday began to  focus on family companionship, dancing and games along with seasonal food and drink. By the mid-1800's, this was the accepted way to celebrate Christmastide.


Even ghost stories were becoming part of the tradition. Dickens included ghosts in several of his writings due to his interest in the unknown and spiritualism. Since his teenage years, Dickens had read penny magazines about murders and ghosts. He said that he delighted in scaring himself and hoped the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol would succeed in doing the same to the reader, bringing about a transformation that would haunt his readers “pleasantly.”


 Ghost of Christmas Past

From the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past when Scrooge is transported back to his teenage years and first love, the reader begins to identify with the miser in ways not expected.



Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces feelings of generosity, happiness and well-being, showing Scrooge how he has morally failed mankind, and shaming him into grief at what he has said and done.






Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be
But it is The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come with connotations of Death and the Grim Reaper that makes Scrooge willing to change his greedy and malevolent ways. He realizes that he does not wish to end up like his former business partner; alone and forgotten in death.

By suggesting that Scrooge has the power to change the unknown, he is given hope, and the possibility of forgiveness if he is willing to change.


According to British philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton, in writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens managed to transform Christmas from a sacred holiday into a family feast. Dickens hoped to influence changes in the lives of the rich and poor by encouraging “practical benevolence” throughout Victorian society.


A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was first published on December 19, 1843, and all copies had been sold by Christmas Eve. By the end of 1844, thirteen editions of the novella had been printed and sold. Dickens had hit on a topic that Victorians were ready to confront.

It was reported that after Dickens did a reading of his novella (one of 127 performances) on Christmas Eve 1867, a factory owner decided to close his business for Christmas Day so his workers could be at home with their families. And just like Scrooge, each worker’s family received a turkey for their dinner.


Scrooge and Bob Cratchit

A Christmas Carol has never been out of print for the past 177 years. It is the second most read book, next to the Bible. Although, the tale tells of life during the Victorian era, the story continues to touch our hearts with the hope of peace, prosperity and goodwill toward our fellow men and women. And continuing, generation after generation.


~ Joy


Friday, November 13, 2020

Cemetery Stones Missing for Decades Have Been Found


It all started with a walk. Four years ago, Virginia senator Richard Stuart and his wife Lisa were out for a stroll along the Potomac River when he noticed something concerning: a headstone lying along the bank.


The Stuarts found another, and then another until the senator realized the piece of land he had just purchased had gravestones strewn across it. It didn’t take long for historians to track down where the stones had come from – Columbian Harmony Cemetery, an African American burial ground upriver in Washington, D.C.


The cemetery was opened in 1859 after the smaller Harmoneon Cemetery, founded in 1828 as the region’s first burial society for free Blacks, had reached capacity. Columbian Harmony Cemetery encompassed 17 acres and soon purchased 18 more. From 1892 - 1919, this was the most utilized black cemetery in Washington. In fact, in 1885, one-third of D.C’s African American residents were buried here, and by the turnoff the century more than 10,000 graves were located in the cemetery.


The Columbian Harmony Society, which owned the cemetery, decided to purchase 45 acres near Landover, Maryland in 1929. There were no grave relocations, only new burials at the new cemetery. 

Then in 1957, real estate investor/developer, Louis N. Bell made an offer to purchase Columbian Harmony Cemetery and meld it into his 107-acre Forest Lawn Cemetery. 


After much negotiations and a name change to the National Harmony Memorial Park, the relocation of around 37,000 African American graves began in May 1960. The relatives of those buried at Columbian Harmony were contacted for permission to exhume and move their loved one. It took more than 100 workers six months to exhume, place remains in new coffins and move them to Forest Lawn for reburial.


But the relocation agreement did not include moving headstones, monuments
or memorials. Those relocated were buried without identification. The existing grave memorials were removed and sold as scrap. For the next half-century, no one would know what became of the original markers.

In 1967, Bell sold the old cemetery grounds to the city for development. It wasn’t until 1976, when a metro station was being built on the former cemetery site that workers unearthed five coffins and numerous remains. 


More remains were discovered in 1979 when a parking lot was being constructed; not all of the bodies had been exhumed in the cemetery’s move in 1960. Thanks to Virginia historians, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Senator Stuart, a nonprofit group is working to place these rediscovered markers on the appropriate graves at Harmony Memorial Park. Markers that cannot be retrieved will become part of a memorial located along the Potomac River.


Those buried here include:

• Elizabeth Keckly (1818-1907), former slave, and seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln 


• James Wormley (1819–1884), hotel owner and the only African American present when President Lincoln died


Lucy Addison (1861–1937), educator and principal


• John F. Cook Jr. (1833-1910), a well-known businessman from one of DC's most wealthy black families. 


Mary Ann Shadd (1823–1893), anti-slavery activist, and the first black woman publisher in North America 

• And more than 400 of Black Civil War veterans who served in the Union Army including two Medal of Honor recipients


It should be remembered that Columbine Harmony Cemetery was not the only African American cemetery to be relocated during the 20th century. At least five more large Black graveyards were eliminated - all in the name of development.

~ Joy