I have been reading obituaries
daily since I was 10 years old. While some may believe this is morbid, I love learning how people lived their lives well. I like the rituals of funerals, though so far I have gone to relatively few. The funerals I usually attend begin with a wake the evening before, the next day a brief viewing, church service, a rather lengthy trip to the cemetery, burial services and a reception afterwards, which is usually a luncheon
On the occasions where the deceased was a close family member, I will usually cook and bake food known to be loved by this branch of the family. When my Uncle died unexpectedly, no sooner was the phone conversation announcing his death concluded. I was filling a stock pot with water set to boil and cracking eggs into a mixing boil to make spaetzle and sauerkraut for my Aunt. When my maternal Grandparents died, I made Irish soda bread with lots of raisins, butter and homemade jams for the reception at the wake. For my paternal Grandfather’s funeral, I made my Grandmother’s recipes for apple cake and cheesecakes. Beyond these personal touches, the post burial receptions were held at a restaurant situated on the perimeter of the cemetery with rote meals at very reasonable prices.
My Maternal Grandparents are buried at All Saint's Cemetery on River Road. When my Grandmother died, the post funeral meal was at Kathryn's Restaurant. It was a poorly executed meal of fried chicken, overcooked roast beef and pasta. While it was well priced, near the cemetery and could be quickly arranged via the funeral director; who likely was on commission. There was no lift to our spirits from this communal meal. It was a depressing note at the end of a sad day.
My Grandfather had a massive heart attack while in a hospital. If he had been anywhere else, he would have died instantly. Instead he received a 3-day grace period before succumbing. It allowed him enough time to say good-bye, do a bit of rough justice and make final touches for his funeral with an emphasis on providing a very good meal to his friends and family.
The day he died I drove up River Road looking at restaurants before settling on Sassi's Italian Restaurant. In my pre-internet days, there was a Swede from mushroom club who loved good food and had recommended Sassi’s for a post foray meal. I ordered a family style meal beginning with minestrone soup, tossed salad, lemon chicken with pasta, fresh green beans and freshly filled cannollis. We opted for an open bar to allow people to get what they wanted. Most of the guests had expected the same-old Kathryn style luncheon, were delighted with our more carefully considered meal. Everyone left in a happier spirit than we had experienced at my Grandmother’s funeral.
My Uncle was cremated, which allowed the luncheon to immediately follow the church services. The meal was served in the fellowship hall of a monastery with soup followed by a plated lunch and dessert. The setting was austere and reverent with the meal underlying the sense of community coming together to support one another in their grief. Not surprisingly this is the branch of my family with this highest level of faith, which I don’t equal though I admire those who do.
My Paternal Grandfather was buried at St. Joseph’s at Belmont and Cumberland with a mariachi band present at the cemetery services. Other relatives planned the meal at Edelweiss Restaurant on Irving Park. Lunch was liver dumpling soup, wiener schnitzel, roast pork, braised red cabbage, spaetzle and a lot of other good food. It was a meal my Grandfather would have been proud to host, which in a sense he did.
I attended funerals in Kankakee and Waukegan, where the luncheons were in the meeting hall of the church. A battery of Church ladies brought homemade food from salads, to main courses and desserts. I don’t know if this was a benevolent arrangement or the family paid for this service. It just seemed touching to have a community come together to serve a homey meal for a bereaved group of friends and family.
A friend buried her Mother at Cedar Memorial
in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The cemetery was one-stop shopping for all the supplies and services for a funeral: florist, caskets, plot, clothing, chapels and family center with catering for the post committal meal. You had the option of using their caterer or bringing in your own food. My friend brought sandwiches, drinks and cookies for the viewing. For the post committal reception in mid-afternoon she used their caterer for serving desserts and coffee. For my friend and her children it was the first time they had attended a funeral where viewing, services, committal and closing reception were confined to the cemetery.
Why all these reflections on funerals and food? This has been burning in my mind for sometime now, especially the food aspect. I have this fear my funeral will be devoid of good food. Now mind you, I have no plans to check out any time soon. I just worry my family will do the food so out of step on how I conducted my life, that I will be profoundly embarrassed just spinning in my grave or swirling in a cloud of dust. Serviceable food like my Grandmother’s funeral is not the finale I want concluding the reflection of my life. I am also not interested in a grandiose meal with lots of puffery and pretense. I just want a well prepared meal with lots of love in the effort.
Last October, I went to Hungarian Epicurean in Hillside for a friend’s birthday meal. We had a long conversation with the owner, who founded Paprikash, about many things. I had noticed driving there his restaurant is situated in very close proximity to several cemeteries. I diplomatically inquired if he got any post funeral trade coming through. He had a wee twinkle in his eye and excused himself returning a few minutes later with several pages on funeral packages. I told him if I had reason to have a funeral in his area, then this would be my favored location.
Just down the street from Hungarian Epicurean is Great Neighborhood Restaurant Priscilla's Ultimate Soul Food Buffet
, which would also get my approval for post funeral food. Unfortunately I am not likely to be delivered anywhere near these fine establishments.
In my odd way, I really look at this thread as a template to my family on ideas on where to conduct a decent post funeral repast, because as we all know, once we have checked out we cannot come back to direct traffic!
Since I am not going anywhere yet, I hope. I thought we could all share locations where better funeral meals could be had with creative solutions a plus, rather than find yourself in the lemming-like position of taking direction on dining choices from the funeral director. Where appropriate, please do advise which cemeteries are in the region.
Yours in very good health (though losing weight would be a plus!),