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While browsing the Internet for some gardening tips for our front porch geraniums, I stumbled onto an irresistible article from Southern Living Magazine. How can you not click on a link entitled: “What We Can Learn from My Grandmother Who Brought a Casserole to Her Own Funeral”?!?!?

As a short preface:

Of course we revere and learn from the examples and doctrines from the scriptures regarding life, death and our interview with the Savior as we pass. However, I readily welcome contemporary role models, modern day Marthas and Marys, Almas and Helamans who’ve lived, loved and laughed a lot. Those who have found the key to happiness here and a beautiful hereafter in modern, stressful times.

To me it’s the grand hokey-pokey: Everyone’s memories about you… that IS what it’s all about once you’re gone! In my mind, those happy deeds, experiences and warm fuzzies from those left behind are key indicators not of just this life well-lived, but a warm welcome by the Savior at the beginning of the next life, including lots of hugs from equally delighted but departed dear ones, and a lovely celestial mansion on high. (Hopefully with gorgeous front porch geraniums!)

I don’t know about you, but I want all the stories I can find of those who have have passed on, those who are frequently and fondly remembered in their circle of love and influence with a grin, a funny story, a sweet life lesson and peace. How did they do it? What can I copy?

Here’s a little lady that I’m taking to heart today for my own book of life and personal instruction! It’s too good not to share with the immediate world!

Southern hospitality is worth more than just a reputation.  If hospitality were a sport, Omega Long was the Virginia state champion. Gran, as her grandchildren and anyone under the age of 30 called her, never showed up empty-handed. It wasn’t a surprise to see her at church on Sunday with a gift bag sticking out of her large purse, just in case some visitors sat in the pew next to her and she decided to treat them to lunch and a welcome gift.

Gran didn’t love to cook, but everyone left her house full and happy. In her pineapple-themed kitchen (wallpaper, dish cloths, plastic fruit, and all –and please remember that the pineapple is the symbol of hospitality –), she mastered the art of almost homemade. Cookies—a.k.a. peanut butter sandwich crackers dipped in white chocolate, and topped with seasonal sprinkles—were her specialty. She turned staples like rotisserie chicken, cornflakes, and Duke’s mayo into her famous hot chicken salad casserole. If you were lucky she’d send you home with a one-dish breakfast for the weekend and a few samples from her Clinique lady too.

After 19 years of learning from her hospitable nature, it was time to plan Gran’s funeral. As the ladies of the Methodist Church gathered amongst the plastic pineapples to discuss the funeral food, I began to worry if every detail was up to Gran’s standards. When I inspected the freezer to see if the icemaker was still working, my eyes fell upon a gift that had to be heaven sent.

I found a hot chicken salad casserole carefully protected in plastic wrap and sheets of tin foil with the date written on top. Gran clearly would have been horrified if we hosted the reception at her house without her contributing a single funeral casserole. She did what any forward-thinking hostess would do: Made her signature dish ahead of time and left it in the freezer.

As the day continued, we found other signs from Gran letting us know that she definitely wanted to be part of the planning. Not only did she leave a pristine obituary in the back of the family bible, but she also mapped out her ideal funeral bulletin—down to each and every hymn.

As Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays titled their funeral etiquette book, “Being Dead is No Excuse,” a Southern hostess always brings her A-game. If you could see the outpouring of flowers and people that flooded my grandmother’s home that day, you’d understand that hospitality doesn’t just earn you a reputation. Gran valued every person she met, providing her with a colorful, fun-filled life, down to the day we all said goodbye.”

(Southern Living Magazine online. Author Becky Luigart Stayner)

Isn’t that adorable and inspiring? The conclusion is worth repeating: Gran valued every person she met, providing her with a colorful, fun-filled life, down to the day we all said goodbye.”

A similar story to be included in my book is found in April’s Ensign about the man who danced at his own funeral.

“My Great Grandfather confessed to his wife that he had been curious to see what his funeral would be like, and he wanted to have a dress-rehearsal funeral. He set the date, bought the coffin, hired the priest and professional mourners, and acquired all other items required by the Greek Orthodox tradition. The day of the dress-rehearsal funeral came. The tables were set in the middle of the village for the remembrance feast, the family was all dressed in black, the priest came, my great-grandfather lay down in the coffin, rearranging the pillow so he could have a comfortable view, and the funeral procession began. When the ceremony ended, the whole village was invited to the feast, where my great-grandfather fulfilled his dream of dancing at his own funeral. He lived another 20 years, often checking to see if his coffin still fit him.”

Both are priceless examples of purposeful, joyful daily living with one eye on a happy life now on earth and the other eye on a happy life next in heaven. Both stories are going into my growing collection in a folder labeled “When It’s Time To Say Goodbye: What I Want People to Feel and Remember When I’m Passing and Gone.” It includes stories like these that delight and inspire my own desires to leave a legacy of joy and goodness. It also includes a photo of a dear friend’s four daughters gathered around the hospital bed of her father, (their grandpa) the day before his passing. They adored him! How I yearn for my family and grandchildren to look upon me like that at my passing. I am adding this story as I have much to learn from the little Southern hospitality queen in the article above!

As I continue to ponder this life and my arrival into the next, (see my article “For Life is Quick in Passing”), I’m realizing that what everyone remembers about us, i.e., the daily actions, interactions, and reactions that make up a life are in very deed what will be written on the pages of our own Books of Life. These are the words, pages and chapters that will be opened and read at the Day of Judgment. All our little choices and decisions will tell the big story.

While that may be a heavy thought, how often the Savior told us to be of good cheer?! What a wonderful way to say, “Lighten up and get to work!” So I’ll take Him at his word today and get started on a party casserole to celebrate the temple sealing of a very special couple in our Ward.

Come to think it, I’ll make two and leave one in the freezer!


Southern Living Magazine:
Ensign Magazine:

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online since 1999, having presented for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups while living in the Washington, DC area. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents to a growing number of darling grandchildren. They are now happy empty-nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox and reflexology power socks.