And then there was dancing

image of a woman dancing in a blue dressIn my early years as a funeral director apprentice I was wowed so many times with beautiful rituals and customs. I will never forget the first African funeral I assisted on. I had never met the family before the funeral and was only to be involved in playing the music at the right times and making sure the “behind the scenes” details went perfectly. As the family and guests started arriving it was amazing to see the beautiful robes with bright colors, heavy fabrics wrapped and adorned with so much care. Almost every person was wearing a head dress of some sort, oranges and yellows in stained glass type patterns. Every person walked with purpose and confidence and grace. I was so enamored with the live people that I do not remember the one in the casket. I was given my marching orders, the written out details of the program firmly in my hand and the timing of when to be at the back of the chapel to professionally greet and seat the guests before the family was ushered in. Every person came in with a smile and peace that was warming and friendly. As the funeral started I took my place in the sound booth with glass front so I could see what was happening. I already had all my music queued up and ready to go. I watched the service and hit my buttons as the program instructed. The second song started and from the back of the chapel came twirling colors of blue and orange and yellow. This was a total surprise to me, these whirling colors were actually inspirational dancers. Three women gracefully moved up the isles to the front of the chapel moving to the melody, in perfect unison, waving these fabrics with fluid movements of arms and legs. I sat in wonderment in my little room. There was a guitar player in the music room with me and I heard her chuckle just a bit, when I looked at her she explained the dance to me and how it honored the deceased and their family. After that day I always got excited when I knew we would have dancers and would volunteer to be a part of the funeral so I could watch them. When the funeral was over, my position was to instruct the pall bearers to carry the casket to the waiting hearse. I stood in my normal posture for this job and waited for them all to line up. One man in bright yellows, gold and browns looked at me and said, “Why are you so sad?, this is a happy day, you get to honor someone who has died.” What a great lesson! And I have taken that with me throughout my career. It is a happy day that I get to honor those who have died. I won’t be the one dancing but will always enjoy watching the ones who do.

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About Chelsea Tolman