After living here for more than 20 years, writer Heidi Potter has found that Louisvillians love their local traditions and local businesses, and they want to tell you all about them. Each month we will visit something that Louisvillians love and explore the reasons why.
Pearson’s, Ratterman’s, Highlands, A.D. Porter, Arch L. Heady, Schoppenhorst, Stoess, Owen …
It probably only took you a couple seconds to realize that I am listing local funeral homes. And those are just the ones that I can list off the top of my head, without consulting my handy Yellow Pages.
Why am I starting off this monthly column about Louisville talking about funeral homes? It’s simple really: We spend SO much time there, more than most cities do, I’ve realized over time. I think Louisville’s funeral home scene, because so many are still locally owned, has a homecoming-ish quality to it. It’s a place to see people and show support for your people. A place to come together and remember your shared pasts and discuss your futures.
I can pretty much guarantee that if we are meeting my in-laws out for dinner or at an event that starts after 6 p.m., they will be coming directly from the funeral home to meet us. I believe that they are at a visitation somewhere in Louisville at least twice a week, often more. For them, both Louisville natives and lifelong residents, there is always someone they know who is at the funeral home, in need of a visit. It is definitely a part-time job, or at least something you could classify as a hobby, with the amount of hours they spend at various funeral homes around Louisville. And it’s not just them, though. It’s so many people I know from here. They funeral home hop all the time and always manage to work it into their busy schedules.
“It’s what you do,” is my husband’s constant mantra. And, you know what? He’s right.
I come from a different background on going to the funeral home. My parents never, and I mean never, went to the funeral home. I can think of three times that my dad went to the funeral home for visitations that I actually went to as well: two of his close friends and his own father. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that visitations were happening all the time — we just were not going. That was when I started going on my own, starting with a friend who died when we were in high school. I went with a group of friends, and it just seemed right. But I still cannot imagine my parents or their friends going to the funeral home with the frequency of the Louisvillians I know. It just wasn’t that kind of environment.
Visitations are different here. They are long events with an “old home week” mentality. When I first started dating my husband, his grandfather died. He had a two-day visitation with a bar set up in the back. Those two days were upwards of eight hours apiece, but longer because nobody wanted to leave. I thought it was such a huge party because they are Irish, but I quickly learned that this was normal. People came and camped out at the visitation. Like all day. Same for his grandmother’s funeral a couple of years later. There was singing, fighting, tears, joy, hugging and lots of kissing on the lips. These people here really know how to mourn.
My husband took all these tools from his Louisville visitation and funeral toolkit to help our family plan the funeral of my own father years ago. He suggested a two-day visitation, and I thought my mom would collapse. We agreed upon a one-day, four-hour visitation that was jam-packed for way over four hours. Coming from the land where a two-hour visitation is normal, this visitation was a little bit long, but definitely a pleasant diversion seeing friends the whole time.
When discussing death now, and unfortunately it is often, it’s funny how the funeral homes just roll off the Louisvillians’ tongues. The conversation usually rolls out like this: (just interchange any one of the funeral home names)
“___ died today. Isn’t that awful? Their poor family. Just breaks my heart.”
“Well, where are they going to be laid out?”
“I don’t know.”
“I bet it’s Pearson’s. No, maybe Ratterman’s, but not the Lexington Road one, the big one in Buechel.”
“Wait, I just heard it’s Highlands.”
“Really. Well that’s interesting. His cousin was laid out at Ratterman’s.”
Louisvillians can predict where someone is going to be laid out by who they are, what their religion is, where they went to high school and where they grew up. And they love trying to predict it, like a gambling game. They’ll even say at the funeral home, “Boy I would have guessed he would be laid out at (insert name here).” Like there’s still a chance that person might change their mind and go somewhere else.
I do believe that I have been to every funeral home in Louisville, Crestwood, LaGrange and even Southern Indiana. Recently we had a real windfall and finally set foot in a funeral home that is right down the street from our house but that neither my husband nor I had ever been to. We were so excited to finally go inside!
God, that’s sick.
My Louisville friend explained Louisville’s love of visitations this way: This is a city with a small-town mentality. You know everyone here. Someone is always experiencing a personal loss at some time, and you need to be there to pay your respects and bear witness to it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what you do.