So, a few days ago, I went to my first Amish funeral (and visitation). And it wasn’t just any funeral—it was the funeral of my beloved “Mrs. R.” I wrote about her death here… Today I’ll write about Amish funerals, using hers as an example. I’m going to have my friend Ruth proofread this before I post it, to be sure I’m giving a good representation of Amish funerals in general. (Thanks, Ruth!)
Mrs. R. died on a Sunday, and the visitation took place at the “shop building” at her residence. (Many Amish farms have a big open shop building for buggy storage, home businesses, big projects, and often for hosting church.) As I entered, there was some coffee and homemade cookies, a guest book, and a framed memorial about her late husband, as well as one for her infant daughter Mary who died many years ago. Mrs. R. was married for 29 years, lost her husband at about 52, and was a widow for 31 years. Wow…
I then viewed her body. She looked good—better than she did the last time I saw her. Ruth told me that mostly a black dress is worn for burial, but years ago, Mrs. R. had made a white dress which she wished to be buried in. Along with her white prayer cap, she looked ready to meet her maker. <3
After that, her large family sat on a couple rows of benches facing each other. Other benches were set up behind on one side, for anyone who wanted to stay for a while. Mrs. R. had six surviving daughters and six sons, along with 60 grandchildren, so there were a couple dozen relatives there when I walked along the line, shaking hands (and hugging) members of the family. I’ve made a number of dear friends in this clan!
The funeral was two days later, at the shop building of the farm next door, at 9:30 a.m. I sat with my friend Ruth, who kindly walked me through the whole morning’s events... Benches were set up in a U shape, about 10 benches deep on each side, with the ministers at the top of the U shape. It was said that there were 400-500 people present. I sat with the women of the home church district. Mrs. R. had quite a few “English” relatives, including four of her sons, so there was a liberal sprinkling of “Englishers” there. A busload of her husband’s relatives from Lancaster County were present. The coffin was closed during the service and sat up front.
The first sermon was by a minister of the home district and lasted about 20 minutes. I caught enough of it to know that the ten commandments were one of the themes. Then a visiting minister from Kansas (Mrs. R. was born in Kansas) gave a sermon of about 20 minutes. After that, the bishop of the home district gave a sermon of about an hour. Nearly all of this was in “Dutch,” so I didn’t catch much, but I felt like I needed to be there anyway.
At about 11:00, the pace changed. Firstly, there was a prayer, with nearly everyone kneeling. Then the obituary was read aloud (in English). Then the other minister of the home district read aloud a chapter of scripture (in the Old German language). After that, while some of the men sang from the Old German Ausbund (hymnbook), each row of mourners took a turn filing past the coffin, with the relatives coming up last by family groups. As son Sam and daughter-in-law Mary stood by the coffin, their faces looking so grief-stricken, the tears started to flow for me and many others present… All at once there was sniffling to be heard all over the congregation.
After that, the funeral ended. Because the family was so large, quite a number of those present lined up in buggies behind the coffin wagon, or in cars (including mine) for the trip to the cemetery for the graveside service. Arriving at the cemetery, I felt it was okay to take a couple photos, from a respectful distance, with the approval of my ever-present friend Ruth. (These were cropped from photos taken from a greater distance.)
At the graveside, the coffin was lowered into the ground, into an open wooden casket, by the pallbearers, and then the lid of the casket was put in place. After that, there were some words from the home district bishop, and then, as some of the men stood by and sang, the pallbearers picked up shovels and began to cover the casket with dirt. Others from the family, mostly young men, took turns with the shovels, until the soil was up to ground level. Then the pieces of sod, which had been laid to one side, were placed over the grave.
While we were at the graveside, the others ate lunch, back at the home farm. Then when we returned, we had our meal. This took place in the family shop building where the visitation had been.
I hope this description helps you visualize an Amish funeral. It was a new experience for me, but a good and necessary one. Farewell and Godspeed, Mrs. R… I hope to see you again on the other side.