Sean Dietrich-The Last Procession

The first car drove by with headlights on. Then several more vehicles. Low beams blaring. It was sundown. My cousin and I were parked at a stoplight when the funeral procession passed.

The cops came first. Light bars flashing blue. Then, the Cadillac hearse, moving at an easy speed. All white. Ornamental S-shaped metallic bar on the rear quarter panel of the car. Windows tinted with roofing tar.

The procession behind the lead vehicle moved along lazily across the nondescript Birmingham intersection.

It was a cold day. Gray sky. Tinted with the colors of sunset. Central Alabama had just succumbed to one of its rare snows. There was black ice on the ground. Flurries in the air.

The cars passed us one by one. It was a long train. Longer than usual.

There were makes and models of all kinds. Nissan Altimas and Land Rover Autographs. Lexuses and old Chevy Impalas. Each one, with headlights on.

My cousin and I stepped out of the car and stood at attention. Because this is just what we do.

And I was remembering what it felt like to sit in that lead car.

A lifetime ago, when I was a boy, I sat in the head car of one such procession. My mother, my sister, and I were in the foremost Lincoln. Our vehicle moved across town at a dirge-like pace, and nobody inside our vehicle was speaking.

My mother’s face was puffy and swollen. My kid sister was staring out the window, face pressed against the glass. I was in shellshock. My father was gone.

There were 50 cars behind ours, maybe more, with headlights on. This moved me. We approached a hill. At our stern, I could see the acre of vehicles following us. A chain of headlamps, backing up to the horizon.

But what touched me most were the random motorists who had pulled over to let us pass.

A man in a Dodge Ram pulled aside, got out of his vehicle, and stood outside his car. Head bowed. He was dressed in a work uniform. One of those blue work shirts with a name patch embroidered on the chest.

A young woman, standing outside her car. She was tall and lean. Business casual She stood idly by as our train of vehicles crept along.

An old guy in a work truck pulled over. A young family in a Tarus. And there were more.

And it was the first time I cried, really cried, since my old man took his own life. Sometimes it takes days for the tears to hit. They don’t come all at once. The tears come by degrees. I can’t explain why this is.

But the saltwater flowed freely that afternoon. Not because my loved one was dead. Not because this was the ceremony. But because these people, these perfect strangers, acknowledged that a man lived.

I never forgot it. I never will. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t replay that traffic tableau in my head. I can’t unsee it. And I don’t want to.

Because this is just what we do.

Originally published on Sean’s website. Republished here with permission.

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3 thoughts on “Sean Dietrich-The Last Procession”

  1. Thank you for sharing this personal life story… I just went to a close family friend’s funeral, which had some parallels. I will share this with them 🙏🇺🇸

  2. A beautiful story; I live in rural Louisiana & this is a common procedure for drivers on the road when a funeral procession passes by. It’s just automatic to us, but my Cajun son in law was a bit mystified the first he witnessed it. I hope to never see the end of this tradition.

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