Loss of a family member would touch community

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By Bonnie Strassell

A few weeks ago, family and friends gathered around a historical society member, Joyce Hill Smith Hardin, to mourn the loss of her husband, Scott Hardin. Pictures of Scott were on display, and those images conveyed a celebration of a life filled with unforgettable memories.
 The communities of Owen County have always rallied to support those who have lost loved ones. Years ago, when the shadow of death invaded a home, neighbors and friends would help prepare the deceased for burial, offering the family spiritual support and making sure food was in ample supply. Before the advent of the telephone, news of a death in the family would travel throughout the community by word of mouth, and friends would call to see what assistance they could offer. Neighbors would clean the house, prepare food, and if need be, help prepare the deceased for burial — dressing them in the finest clothing available. The lack of suitable attire would prompt a neighbor to offer some of their own apparel. Most believed that death was simply the passing on to a greater place and to be properly cleaned and clothed would mean a fitting ascent into Heaven.
 It was thought that placing silver coins on the eyes to keep them closed was a divine way to enter Heaven as it was a means of saying one was not worthy, and asking God’s forgiveness from sins. The local carpenter would fashion a casket, usually made of pine, poplar, oak or chestnut, but many times people were fitted for their caskets long before their death to eliminate the worry by the family members. Stories are told of people, including Daniel Boone, who occasionally climbed into their casket to see if they could still fit within its confines.
 The night before the burial, family members and friends would gather at the home of the deceased for a wake, which would include singing hymns, praying, and comforting the grieving family throughout the night. The closest family members would not leave the body until the next day when it was time for the procession to the cemetery. Everyone present would walk past the casket, some touching or kissing the deceased for the last time. Sometimes children would be lifted up by an adult so they could say their goodbyes, while the closest relative would be the last one to say farewell. The casket would be loaded onto a wagon pulled by horses or oxen. Family and friends would walk behind the wagon to the place of burial, usually a family plot or the cemetery in a community church yard. The graveside service would include a eulogy by the local pastor; and personal stories of the deceased would be told by the family and friends. This helped people deal with their grief and created lasting memories for all.
 The history of funerals is a history of mankind. Funeral customs are as old as civilization itself. Today Owen County funeral homes provide many services that were formerly performed by family members; yet it is the support of family and friends that remains as the tie that binds Owen countians to each other. In their grief, people draw comfort as they reminisce, continuing a rich legacy of family stories to be passed from one generation to another.
The Owen County Historical Society offers its condolences to Joyce and her family, and would also like to thank all those who, in lieu of flowers and at Joyce’s request, graciously made a donation to the historical society. We are deeply grateful for your generosity.
     Two notable events will be offered by the historical society in April. Our monthly meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the I.O.O.F. hall. The evening’s program will be presented by an Owen County artist and talented dulcimer musician, Ron Devore. April 17, a society fund-raiser dinner, featuring delicious pulled-pork barbecue, can be enjoyed for $7. Dinner will be served from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Don’t miss this opportunity for fun, food, and fellowship.