This past Saturday I had the pleasure of doing a funeral for the matriarch of a family. The funeral was here in Covington, and then we had to drive, in procession, to Fairview Cemetery in Stockbridge. This was unique for me because usually the funerals I do are held in Covington, and more often than not, buried in Covington. During this procession, which took an hour, I saw a great deal of things that both surprised and shocked me.
First, let me give a shout out to the deputies from Rockdale County that escorted us from the funeral home to the cemetery: they did a fantastic job and were very professional. Their respect for the family and the loved one they were escorting to their final resting place was outstanding. We started off with a mile long procession and when we finished, every car was still with us. That is a major feat considering we passed through multiple intersections and made numerous turns along the way.
Now back to the observations I was able to make along this ride.
It is clearly obvious that younger drivers today are not being taught how to handle the oncoming funeral procession. We saw cars continue driving alongside the procession; in some cases almost hitting cars that HAD shown the proper respect and stopped. We saw cars trying to use the roadside ditch to pass cars that had shown the proper respect and pulled over. We even saw cars that seriously considered pulling into the procession from side streets.
Why is understanding, or even displaying the proper respect for a funeral procession such a problem for people today?
Let me remind everyone that it is a state law to yield to Funeral Processions. Official Code of Georgia Title 40, Chapter 6, Article 76 (O.C.G.A. 40-6-76).: Funeral Processions; located within Article 4, right of way.
“(a) As used in this Code section, a "funeral procession" means an array of motor vehicles in which the lead vehicle displays a sign, pennant, flag, or other insignia furnished by a funeral home indicating a funeral procession unless led by a state or local law enforcement vehicle and each vehicle participating in the funeral procession is operating its headlights.
(b) Funeral processions shall have the right of way at intersections subject to the following conditions and exceptions:
(1) Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right of way upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle giving an audible and visual signal; and
(2) Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right of way when directed to do so by a traffic officer.
(c) Funeral processions escorted by the police, a sheriff, or a sheriff's deputy shall have the right of way in any street or highway through which they may pass. Local governments may, by ordinance, provide for such escort service and provide for the imposition of reasonable fees to defray the cost of such service.
(d) The operator of a vehicle not in a funeral procession shall not interrupt a funeral procession except when authorized to do so by a traffic officer or when such vehicle is an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle giving an audible and visual signal.
(e) Operators of vehicles not a part of a funeral procession shall not join a funeral procession by operating their headlights for the purpose of securing the right of way granted by this Code section to funeral processions.
(f) The operator of a vehicle not in a funeral procession shall not attempt to pass vehicles in a funeral procession on a two-lane highway.
(g) Any person violating subsection (d), (e), or (f) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100.00.
(h) Any law enforcement officer who is directing or escorting a funeral procession in this state, whether such service is provided while on duty or not, shall enjoy the same immunities from liability as the officer possesses while in the performance of other official duties.”
If respecting the right of way of funeral processions is a state law then why are new drivers not being taught this? And, if they are being taught it, why doesn’t it stick?
I would say that the number one reason people are not being taught to respect funeral processions is because their parents don’t care either. I have watched for years as the world gets busier and busier, more and more people could care less about respecting a funeral procession because they feel they are too busy. If parents are too busy to respect a funeral procession then their children will learn from that and continue the behavior.
Since the onset of Joshua’s Law the responsibilities of the driver are being taught by someone else in many instances. Through some online course. Yes, there is a period of time when the prospective driver is driving with the parent, but what are the realistic odds that they will pass a funeral procession during those hours of learning. Honestly, most processions occur while these prospective drivers are in school so exposure to that reality is lacking.
Our society has devolved into me, me, me behavior. “If this doesn't affect me directly, I could care less about it,” is the mentality we are dealing with in so many instances. It is all too often that many in our culture do not learn the proper respect for funerals and funeral processions until they are the ones being disrespected as they process to bury one of their own loved ones.
In the funeral and cemetery business one of the things we hear as a complaint is “that procession was too long” and “it made me late for something”. And when we hear those complaints we realize that we have just been handed the best teaching moment ever.
So why do we have a procession? What is its purpose?
The funeral procession serves a couple of different functions, and the first of which is respect. The death of a loved one, of a community member, is often revered, and as such the body and family of the deceased deserve a respect that goes beyond the normal respect you would give to a neighbor or community member. By stopping for a procession you are paying your respects to that family member that has died while also paying your respects to the family of that loved one as they process by you.
Respect is seen best when the deceased is someone who is considered esteemed: president, soldier, police or firefighter, or diplomat. We see the processions for the returning bodies of servicemen go on for miles as people stand on the roadside waving flags in solemn respect for this serviceman’s sacrifice.
Respect is also seen in the processions for public servants who have died. Similar to a soldier, you see people gathered on the roadside to pay their respect to the fallen officer or firefighter. You see long lines of police cars or fire apparatus with lights flashing. You see raised ladders bearing large flags. You see a community providing comfort to the family.
But even if the deceased is simply grandma Jones from down the street, respect is deserved. The people in that procession have lost someone close to them, someone who often meant the world to them; and, the traditional function of that procession is to SLOW things down, and let the community through which that procession passes know that this particular family could use the community’s support. It is meant to SLOW things down and allow everyone to have a moment of reflection on life; and, in some instances to allow for those being passed to reflect on their own lives. The procession is a stark reminder that we are only here for a season and that seasons do come to an end. It is a reminder of our own mortality.
But you know what else I saw during that long procession last weekend? I saw a few people paying their respects to the deceased they did not know, and showing support to a family they probably will never meet. I saw people stop their cars, get out of their seats, and stand quietly with their hands over their hearts to show respect to the deceased and their family in the only way they could at that moment. Moments like that do not go unnoticed by those families either; even though for every one person who showed proper respect there were a dozen who did not.
As our culture gets busier and busier we are losing touch with what makes us a civilized society: respect. Respect for others, respect for ourselves, and respect for our dead. We need to return to the times when neighbors actually knew each other and could count on each other. Where conversations at the end of the driveway were commonplace and not foreign. Where children were safe playing in their own neighborhoods because everyone there was watching out for them. Where the elderly lady a few doors down is watched after and safe in her own home, and her family can rely on her neighbors to help when needed.
I know I sound like some sort of sap longing for simpler times; but, that is not the case because there are communities that still bear some of these attributes. Covington used to be one of those communities, and there are still pockets of that still remaining. I pray that we never lose the mentality of respect that our grandparents had; but I fear that we already have.