Paying Your Respects… To-Go: When Convenience Goes Too Far

If you’re a comedy junkie like me, you’ve seen all of Rickey Smiley’s comedy specials atleast a million times. There’s one stand-up special, in particular, from BET’s Comic View 2004 (known for the “We Miss Robert” joke), where he makes a joke about a drive-thru funeral home.

At the time, it was hilarious and outrageous. In fact, it’s still hilarious and outrageous, but it’s also a very real thing. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that  a funeral home in Compton has set up a drive-thru to view the body of the deceased in Paying Their Respects Outside Funeral Home. Yeah, you read it right. Now, in L.A. and even Chicago and Louisiana (news reports date back to 1989), you can pull up to see your deceased friend/colleague and say your goodbyes  right from your car.  I didn’t know how to feel about it at all until I read the response from Scott Adams of Adams Mortuary.

The story reports, “You can come by after work, you don’t need to deal with parking, you can sign the book outside and the family knows that you paid your respects,” said Scott Adams. “It’s a convenience thing.”

Convenience? Like a Michelina’s pasta dinner or instant grits? Like fast food or a drive-thru daiquiri shop in New Orleans?  I think that’s the most tasteless thing I’ve ever heard of. No disrespect to families who have authorized the “drive-thru feature” for their deceased loved ones, but though slightly logical, it strikes me as a bit insensitive. Maybe I’m over thinking though.

Sure, the story makes decent selling points about the service, such as making it easier for seniors who can’t get in and out of cars, for families who don’t want to or have the means to have a formal service for their loved ones and it allows the deceased get more “exposure.” I don’t know if it’s specific to the African-American culture or not, but we love to “see ’em.”  You do remember Yolanda King, daughter Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don’t you?

All that said, I’m still at a loss here.

We live in a “microwave” society where we’ve become used to getting whatever we want at the drop of a dime (Ex: You mean I have to go inside of the bank?). No one wants to be inconvenienced, but there are some situations in which you should put forth some effort. I’m not sure a funeral-on-the-run is enough. If it’s too much to park at a funeral home, drop a card or sign a guestbook and take a quick glance at someone you deemed important enough to pay respects to, what’s the point of going? To add insult to injury, their bodies are put on view in a drive-thru? I don’t know how I’d feel rolling up on a dead body, then having to drive off. There are still times when I think about my grandmother while driving, and I get choked up. Is that safe, or do you have someone drive you, in case you get too emotional? If there’s a line, is there a time limit on the viewing time?

So many questions, so little time. I’m not saying it doesn’t work (it really has no choice but to work), but that would never be an option for any of my loved ones. Even if someone I knew had a drive-thru funeral, I’d still inquire about going in. They deserve atleast that much.

*Photo courtesy of


Dr. King’s Ebony Advice Column: A Measure of Change

After listening to an NPR interview for Daniel Rasmussen’s book, American Uprising, it finally hit me that I’m fascinated with African-American history. This thing I have definitely surpasses interest. Imagine how psyched I was when EbonyJet Online reposted an advice column from their October 1958 issue, penned by Dr. King, Jr. In honor of his holiday, I could regurgitate facts about him and his contributions (which have been monumental), but instead, I’ll link Ebony’s post here. It proves my theory on history, race relations, family life and relationships: Though many things change, many more of them stay the same.

Thank you, Dr. King for your committment and sacrifice for our struggle. Your Dream was not in vain.

Memories of Her

She was a pretty lady. Fair skin, black hair, a big smile and a switch no one could match. When she wasn’t press and curling my hair in her own beauty shop, she was doing work in the church. On any given Sunday (or night of the week), you could find her patrolling the Sunday School department upstairs in our church as superintendent, making sure classes were running smoothly–and checking to see if my friends and I were in sitting in our classes, instead of playing out in the hall. You could find her greeting visitors and members alike during “passing of the peace.” She loved people, and to her, no one was a stranger. They all loved her back.

She would make announcements about special things going on in the church. She was the only I knew that didn’t need, nor request a microphone to speak. Her posture, her voice, her confidence and her charisma made everyone listen to what she had to say. In a scrapbook made for her 80th birthday, I described it as the “It Factor.” She just had this thing about her, and I always hoped just a piece of “It” would trickle down to me.

She was very intentional. An authority figure to some. A mother to all. Though I  never heard her say it, she definitely lived by the motto, “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. And to be late is unacceptable.” If I had to speak at church, she would throw me a smile and slowly nod her head up and down until I finished. I wasn’t sure if it was a nod of encouragement or approval, but I wanted both. I was proud to be her granddaughter, and I wanted her proud in return. 

As a child, I didn’t stay with her for extended periods too often, but when I did, two things were for certain: (1) I would have to climb to get into her sky-high bed for my 8:30 bedtime and (2) She would be up at the crack of dawn. At 5 a.m., she already had breakfast ready. Uusally rice, egg and salmon or slightly burned bacon.

Once she retired from cosmetology,  she moved one shampoo bowl and one hair dryer to her living room. Still, a few faithful customers would patronize, but when they weren’t there, I always wondered what she would do alone in that house for days on end. She wrote a lot—all kinds of things. Plays, speeches, letters to her children and even her own obituary. I suppose that’s who I get this writing thing from. She kept a written record of everything–family history, her sisters and brothers’ birth dates,  telephone numbers, addresses, milestones, etc. She was the first one to tell me to keep an address book. When my cell phone shut down, I wished I’d listened to her.

When I moved back home, I would visit her often. As I lay on her sofa after work, she would tell me stories about sharecropping in “the country.” She, like so many others, was originally from Mississippi. It wasn’t until she met my grandfather, a quartet singer, while singing at a local concert, that she moved to Memphis. She would tell me about the Civil Rights Movement and even how her father, a biracial man, would pass for white when he went “up yonder to Chicago.” Then, when we thought she had Alzheimer’s Disease, I was always amazed at her longterm memory. My favorite story was about her first time using indoor plumbing toilet, instead of going into the outhouse. She’d seen times change so much.

A few years later, she went into a nursing home after a stroke. By the grace of God, she bounced back, maneuvering her wheelchair or walker. My mom would get her dolled up every Sunday for church and she would eat dinner with the family afterwards. She was always there for family gatherings just as she’d always been. That was a hard, but sweet time.

Visiting her almost daily wasn’t an obligation, but something I wanted to do. Eventually I learned that she only wanted two packages of the “pink stuff” (sweetner) in her iced tea, she wanted her dentures taken out, clothes laid out and a trip to the bathroom after dinner (in that order). She wanted her shoes directly in front of the night table and her television had to be on Channel 5 or TV One. We would even watch Martin, my favorite show, together. Above all, she needed a jacket with every outfit, because “this ol’ lady gets cold.” Though her independence had dwindled, she was still in control.

She began a love affair with Werther’s Original candies. So much so, that all of her children would keep bags of them on hand, just in case her stash was low. There were many other things she did and said that made her so very special. Her wit, her attitude, her strong will made her the woman she was.

On September 19, 2010, as I was holding her hand, Viva Adell Farr Wooten took her last breath. Only a week later, I’m wondering why I was there to feel her burning hot hands, see her eyes close for the final time. It’s something I’ll likely never forget, but I know I saw her spirit ascend into Heaven to be with God. That’s what gives me peace.

The funeral is over. Family and friends have gone, and I’m still crying. I would give anything to hear her refer to me as, “My chile,” call any of her sons, biological or not, “Boy” or any woman, child or adult, “Lil girl”. I would comb her hair one last time because she believed in looking her best or see her eyes to light up when I pulled a few pieces of candy out for her. I would sit with her in silence when it just wasn’t anything else to talk about.

I can’t do any of those things anymore, but I will hear that pretty lady in my heart for always. I loved her, and she loved me even more, just like she did all of her children, so there are no regrets. So as I try to figure out how to move on, yet keep her memory alive, I continue to be thankful to God for giving her to me–to us, the people she touched in so many different ways.

She is missed. She will be loved forever. She is “simply beautiful.”

Remembering Michael

June 25, 2009

I was just about to begin my third class in a workshop series at a construction company. About 2o young white guys in dirty khaki pants and construction boots ran around, joking, shouting expletives to each other in true “dude fun.” A guy who was clearly as obsessed with his Smartphone as I was, sat content and quiet as a mouse peering into the small screen. He shouted out, “Dude, Michael Jackson’s in the hospital! It looks bad.”

“No shit? Michael Jackson?” someone asked.

Wait. Michael who? The Michael Jackson?

I quickly dismissed it, but to be sure, I logged on to on my Blackberry. Under Breaking News, it read “Pop Star Hospitalized from Cardiac Arrest.” I started to get queasy, but I had a class to teach. Surely, within an hour, there would be good news. He was just sick a few months ago. He’ll recover.

The class ended. I immediately checked CNN again, ignoring the my missed calls. Michael Jackson was dead. I didn’t believe it. I packed up, and headed out to the car. My mama called because she knows me best.

“You know?”


“Are you crying?”

“No, not yet.”

I turned the key in the ignition and heard the DJ confirm his death. After a while, his voice faded behind “Billie Jean.” It was real. The tears started to fall before I could put my car in reverse..

He was a regular human like any of us, not some invincible superhero or supernatural god. But he was Michael–special. He wasn’t supposed to die now. To me, he would be someone who would be there as he’d always been, even if it wasn’t always in the illuminous spotlight. He wasn’t supposed to die until he like, near 80. It was too soon.

Here’s my letter to him. Perhaps whatever took him to his death was stronger than the love he was drowned in by his family and fans.


Today, there will be images of you flashing across television screens. People will flip through newspaper and magazine pages with your pictures plastered in them. Countless mouses will click to blog sites and social media sites filled with tributes to you, much like this one. Fans will press play to listen to your music. Some will opt for Jackson 5 songs, while others will listen to Thriller or Off the Wall. Today, your star will shine just as brightly as it always did.

I only hope that you see the overwhelming love that was sometimes invisible to you. The love that maybe you didn’t always have for yourself because you were so busy sharing your gift with us. We can be unappreciative sometimes.

If you didn’t know or weren’t always sure, I’ll tell you. You were beautiful. A beautiful black man. Out of the hundreds of pictures posted after your death, I gravitate towards your appearance in the 70s and 80s. Caramel skin with a awesomely shaped afro and a wide grin to match its width. You were a ladies man. Lest I not forget about the infamous Jheri Curl you rocked with such style. I still remember staring at the cover of the Thriller single for what seemed like hours as a little girl. You made that yellow sweater look so good.

When the beat hit, you seemed to transform from a subtle, wiry thing to an energetic and experienced machine. From a cocoon to a colorful butterfly. Your smile and movement lit up the stage, and you claimed it as your home. You were magical. How I longed to be like that…consumed by music so much so that I could never keep still.

Your voice was so light and smooth, any song could be considered  a lullaby. That’s what “Lady in My Life” is to me. That’s what “I Can’t Help It” is to me. You exuded feeling so innate and natural that even as a young boy, people believed what you were saying. That’s what “Who’s Loving You” and “Wanna Be Where You Are” were. A style so funky, one could not listen and move something on their bodies in response to you. That’s what “Baby Be Mine” and “Smooth Criminal” did for me.

Always wanting to perfect your craft though, you were a study, but you never stopped being a student. What you had was God-given and could never be taken away, even until your last hours.

You were a star.

A child of the 80s, you were a permanent fixture in my childhood. Everyone wanted a piece of you for their own. The Thriller jacket? I had the pink one. Moonwalker? I watched it until the tape broke. Captain Eon at the Disney Epcot Center? I went (though I was deathly afraid). Your world premiere videos on network television? It was a major event to see what you were going to do. Thank you for the “Remember the Time” video. Egyptians were people of color with skin bronzed in the sun. If there was any question as to whether you were “Black or White”, that video answered it.

So as I say goodbye to you again, know that you were loved by countless generations. The world’s love for you is as universal as your music. My mother grew up to your music, and my unborn children will dance and sing along with me to “Wanna Be Starting Something” as I do my Saturday morning cleaning. I’ll try my best to do that gravity-defying “Smooth Criminal” lean for them, and they will laugh because it’ll never come close to you.

Your message of love, peace and hope is not forgotten, and neither are you.

Rest in sweet peace, Michael Joseph Jackson. You are irreplaceable.



Lena Horne (1917-2010): A Life of Grace and Class

This used to be a pic on my Myspace page. (I know, I know. LOL)

“My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”As if you didn’t know by now, the great Lena Horne has passed away.”

-Soror Lena Horne 

There’s no doubt that she’s known for her beauty and class, but I’ll always remember her as Georgia Brown from Cabin in the Sky. When I was a little girl, my mama would always look at old black and white movies on TMC. This was one of the first movies we watched. Georgia Brown was sent by Lucifer to tempt Little Joe, a small time gambler, and revoke his pass to heaven. Here’s my small tribute to the late, great Ms. Horne.

Rest in peace.

A Celebration of Life and Legacy


Today is March 9. Two things that are historical and dear to me happened.

(1) My alma mater, Southern University A&M College was founded. Please, educate yourself or read my take on it here. (Don’t make me post the Youtube videos!)

(2) On this day (night), Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace was killed in Los Angeles. I’m lazy today, so read an old post here. When you talk about someone who has classic material like Biggie, there’s no need for an update. It is what it is. I’ve been on Twitter since 7 a.m., quoting lyrics. My favorite:

I bring pain, blood stains on what remains of his jacket. He had a gun he shoulda packed it, cocked it…#ripbig

My minds my 9. My pen’s my Mac-10. My target? All u emcees who started rappin #ripbig

Don’t be mad–UPS is hiring. #ripbig

Don’t forget to watch MTV Jams. Biggie’s on all day!

“Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.”