We have a saying in my family that is repeated every time there is a death in the family: “A Foote good-bye lasts longer than the visit.”
Technically, I am not a Foote; my grandmother was a Foote before marrying my grandfather. I’m a little shaky on all of the details about how many siblings she had, or where she fell as far as birth order. I wasn’t raised in a Foote-friendly environment, but I heard plenty of stories about them from my father and his four sisters.
With a few exceptions, we only saw the Footes at funerals and visitations. And since they all live in the same small town, the visitations tend to be the kind that take place in those old, homey funeral parlors that used to be someone’s house. None of those sleek, modern funeral homes with the coordinating décor and multiple viewing rooms for multi-funeral gatherings. No, my family prefers the places with mismatched Victorian-looking chairs and over-stuffed sofas, with candy dishes and discreet tissue boxes on the coffee tables.
“They do such a nice job here,” someone will inevitably say. “Remember Mom’s funeral? What about so-and-so’s?”
When we go to the visitation for a Foote funeral, we all behave as expected. We make polite chit-chat with relatives that we only vaguely recognize, move through the line to pay our respects to the deceased, shake hands or exchange hugs when it’s over, and then we head out to the parking lot, where the party begins.
Another saying among the Footes is that we should just plan on holding funeral visitations in the parking lot because that’s where we all end up anyway. By the time we finally leave, we will have spent twice as long in the parking lot saying good-bye than we spent inside the funeral home.
We cluster around the cars and talk, but not necessarily about the person we’ve gathered to mourn. We play catch-up on those of us who are left. “I’m Dean’s daughter,” I’ll say. “I’m Lee’s son,” someone else offers. Which segues into a discussion of the family tree and just how we are related to each other. There are stories to be told, phone numbers and email addresses to be exchanged, promises to be made about staying in touch.
Promises that we know will not be kept.
We aren’t a close family. My father’s generation was close; they all grew up with their cousins and aunts and uncles living near each other. But by the time my sisters and I came along, it had already begun to fall apart to the point where we only saw the relatives at funerals, visitations, and the occasional holiday or family picnic.
When the older generation began to pass away, there was a Domino effect. While we might have gone a year or two between funerals before that, it seemed to pick up pace as soon as we lost the first one. And always, after each one, there was the gathering in the parking lot to reacquaint ourselves with each other.
I don’t miss most of the Footes, because I really didn’t know them. But I miss that sense of belonging, of being a part of something. A member of a family. I miss the after-visitation conversations out in the funeral parlor parking lot, where I was more than just Amy; I was Dean’s daughter and Ethel’s granddaughter. Esther’s great-niece. Tony and Jenny’s cousin. I looked like the people around me, and felt like the “Bee Girl” in the old Blind Melon video.
As strange as it may sound, I’m looking forward to the next Foote passing, just so I can have a chance to catch up one more time, standing around the parking lot with relatives I no longer know.
And when I die, I want my visitation held at one of those big, old-fashioned funeral parlors that used to be someone’s house. I want Blind Melon’s “No Rain” playing in the background, and I want to make sure there is a great big parking lot, where my friends and relatives can stand around and swap stories and phone numbers to make sure that the good-byes always last longer than the visits.