Section 27

Berwick
Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.

D. O. PARKER.

Wednesday, September 22nd, 1897


AN OLD-TIME FUNERAL

O, let my pencil now portray,
The simple picture of a day,
With scenes of sadness, grief and woe,
Here witnessed in the Long Ago. –

A house of mourning is the scene,
Where death is on a brow serene,
And mourners weep the bitter tear,
With friendly neighbors gathered near.

The pastor sitting by the stand,
Slow rises with his book in hands;
"E’er mindful of our passing years
We’ll sing, " he says, "mid grief and tears."

"When blooming youth is snatched away,
By death’s resistless hand,
Our hearts the mournful tribute pay,
Which pity must demand.’"

The holy Bible then he reads,
Glad telling of the sinner’s needs,
And telling of the Saviour’s love,
In sweetest tidings from above;

And telling of the Christian’s sleep.
Now, never more to wake and weep;
Close sitting by the golden throne,
And knowing now as he is known.

The pastor now, their grief to share,
Sends up to God a tender prayer;
And then is sung another song,
While softly move its notes along. –

"There is a calm for those who weep,
A rest for weary pilgrims found;
They softly lie, and sweetly sleep,
Low in the ground.

Now passing on in order next,
The pastor reads this precious text; -
"To live is Christ, to die is gain;"
He then repeats, "to die is gain."

He speaks of sorrow in this life,
Where all is labor, pain and strife;
Exhorts the living to prepare,
To meet the Saviour in the air,
Beyond the reach of sin and wrong,
To sing the everlasting song,
And strike the golden harps above,
In anthems of eternal love;
Regard the text, and be resigned,
And always keep this truth in mind;
"To live is Christ, to die is gain,"
For Christ the sting of death has slain.

The pastor sighs and wipes his eyes;
Says, "mourning friends will now arise;"
And they responding to his call,
Here stand before him great and small.

In tender words discretely said,
He tells the virtues of the dead;
In earnest words devoutly given,
He points the way to God and Heaven;
In kindly words of Jesus’ love,
He brings them comfort from above.

Now for the mourners and their friends
Here at the home the service ends;
While with another song of faith and love,
They’re pointed to the rest above.

"There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Eternal day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.

Then to the grave is slowly borne.
By faithful friends of those who mourn,
A coffin on a rustic bier,
Peculiar to that early year.

Close by the grave and weeping there,
Is sung a hymn and said a prayer;
The helpful neighbors standing round,
Then fill the grave and grass the mound.

Now thankful for the friendly aid,
By thoughtful neighbors kindly paid,
The mourners seek their lone retreat,
No undertaker’s charge to meet.

NOTES: - There is a little to censure and much to admire in the genuine simplicity of the burial of the dead here fifty or sixty years ago. With our modern ideas, it is quite revolting to our feelings of propriety to be summoned to stand up as a grief stricken family and be personally addressed, no matter how tender the words of love and sympathy. Sorrow for the dead rather seeks quietude and retirement. The funerals of our childhood days were not the prodigal and wasteful ceremonies of the present. Then there was no two hundred or five hundred dollar hearse, and official undertaker wearing his tinsiled badge of office. The casket, even of "the grave and reverenced head," as well as for the infant was only a plain pine coffin painted black. It had no lining within and no gaudy trappings without. It was never placed inside a "shell," or box, as something too beautiful to be marred with "dust to dust." If the dead was some distance from the grave the coffin was borne on the wheels of a wagon, its body being removed; if in the near neighborhood it was borne on a bier, and that was as simple and unpretending as the coffin. The grave was always dug by the neighbors and while the mourners and their friends stood by, it was filled in and neatly covered with sods, the head and foot being marked with small stones or fragments of wood. The neighbors were the voluntary undertakers and the expenses were little more than the cost of the pine coffin. If it was not for the regard of near friends, when my turn comes, I would like to be laid away in this same simple way.


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