Stopping Traffic

THE PROCESSION PASSES BY, hearse followed by limo, followed by a chain of cars bound together by their flashing lights. You watch, feeling trapped at the traffic light as the vehicles stream by, a stark reminder of your own mortality. The twinge of guilt you feel, knowing that you are relieved not to be part of this funeral procession.

Funeral processions today seem to have lost the significance they once held. They can be viewed as a bother by the community at large, and there have been numerous reports of horrendous crashes as the result of inattention or blatant disregard for grieving drivers. State laws differ for these processions. Drivers unfamiliar with the area may not even realize that they are interfering with a procession. In general, the cars will all have their headlights and hazard lights on. Many states require either a flag or sticker to be affixed to each vehicle, and most major cities require a police escort to help clear traffic and protect the mourners. Veterans may have additional support with organizations such as the Patriot Guard Riders, who use motorcycle escorts to signify to other drivers that a funeral procession is passing by.

Of course, these processions pre-date automobiles. Ancient Civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans had their own traditions of carrying the dead to their final resting places. In most of Europe, it was a short walk from the church to the cemetery once the funeral service had concluded. Americans were once familiar with the sight of a horse and carriage leading mourners to the cemetery. But we know that time moves faster now. The sense of urgency to get to lunch, or to the next business meeting, means that we are more aggressive and perhaps less sensitive to the bereaved members of our community.

As the cars stream by, consider the support that each vehicle represents to the grieving family. The invisible bond that connects these people is temporarily on display to the whole world, letting bystanders know that they have all experienced a terrible loss. They are linked, traveling together for the final time to say the most permanent of farewells. This chain is only ever temporary, it will be severed at the cemetery as each vehicle passes back out into traffic on it’s own, resuming the normal patterns of daily living. The drivers will feel a disorientation, wondering how the world keeps spinning while their lives have been disrupted so permanently.

As you sit at that light, consider how grateful you will one day feel, as your community silently and respectfully witnesses your grief as you pass by with those flashing lights. Consider how thankful you will be to the people in the procession behind you, their strength and support carrying you through the loss you have just suffered. Consider, simply placing your hand over your heart as the hearse passes by, acknowledging the loss your community has just experienced.