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Drive-thru mourning: Convenience or crassness?

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There is no disputing the fact that we live in an age of drive-thru convenience.

Nowadays one may make a bank transaction, secure a short-term loan, pick up the dry cleaning, stock the larder with everything from booze to doughnuts, grab the prescriptions, buy dinner (or breakfast or lunch or any number and variety of snacks and treats), complain to one’s congressman, post one’s mail, and get married ... all within the space of a few hours, without ever leaving the comfort of one’s automobile -- the car which is kept spick-and-span by regular visits to a drive-thru car wash.

Add to that list one not-so-new drive-thru service that, while perhaps less prevalent, is no less popular where available: Viewing a dead body.

To pay one’s respects, of course. Or maybe just to gawk.

Drive-thru viewings were pioneered by one Lafayette Gatling, Sr., founder of Gatling’s Chapel in Chicago, Illinois. According to their website, Gatling’s remains “the largest single Black owned and operated funeral home within the United States of America."

A former construction contractor, Mr. Gatling recalled being made uncomfortable when, under workaday time constraints, he had no choice but to visit funeral homes while wearing soiled work clothes.

He wanted to pay his respects to departed friends and loved ones, but lacked the time to go home, shower, change, and come back.

So when he opened his own funeral chapel, Mr. Gatling, in a move as practical as it was innovative, installed the drive-thru viewing feature.

Although it consisted of simply pressing a button and viewing the carefully-prepared remains on a screen, the idea turned out to be immensely successful. From “Do you want fries with that?” to “Whose remains are you here to view?” if you think about it, is not such a stretch. We are all busy.

An added positive is discretion. Often a departed gentleman’s wife will be inside the establishment, greeting mourners, while the deceased’s girlfriend -- under an assumed name, usually -- views him from the outside screen.

“It happens all the time,” says Lafayette Gatling.

So there’s that.

Another early contender in the drive-thru viewing stakes was the now-defunct Junior Funeral Home of Pensacola, Florida. Initiating the concept for Florida’s panhandle was death-care entrepreneur Willie Junior, the demise of whose cutting-edge funeral concern followed his 2002 arrest for bribery, extortion, racketeering, and money laundering.

If you happen to live in or travel to Farmville, Virginia, and have the occasion of attending a funeral, here’s hoping the deceased is laid out at the Oliver and Eggleston Funeral Establishment. That’s because, if the weather is inclement or you find yourself pressed for time, you may avail yourself of their drive-thru feature.

Carl Eggleston says the service is a boon to the elderly and/or disabled, who may struggle to make it from their car into the funeral home.

At the Robert L. Adams Mortuary in Compton, California, an elaborate drive-thru viewing facility features bulletproof glass behind which one may view the deceased laid out in splendor.

It is not uncommon for passers-by -- either on foot or riding a bicycle -- to wander through the covered area and stand gazing at the casket and its contents. “It’s a unique feature that sets us apart from other funeral parlors,” says Peggy Scott Adams, owner of the concern.

If you’re wondering whether this service is offered in South Carolina, be assured that it is, in at least one venue. The Carolina Funeral Home in Scranton, Florence County, offers “covered drive-thru ports” for the convenience of busy mourners.

Internet funerals? Maybe even online viewing, so that one may pay virtual respects, from hundreds of miles away? We’re sure it’s happening somewhere. Details forthcoming, on another day with your Columbia Cemetery Examiner.

Remember: Even when it’s long, life is short. Enjoy its glories while you may! The gasoline may already be in the hearse that will bear your remains to the cemetery.

Jennifer Weber is the owner of Angel Funeral Photography and Jennifer Weber Photography. When she's not preoccupied with casual portraiture, funeral photography, or taking pictures in cemeteries just for fun, she blogs at I'm Having A Thought Here. She is active on Find A Grave, where she is known as AngelSeeker. She is also a contributor to American Cemetery, an independent trade magazine for cemeterians. American Cemetery is a product of Kates-Boylston Publications.

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