Around Town: Community support like I’ve never seen at an Amish funeral

DONNA FIALA

As many of you know, I am very close to the Old Order Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio. In fact, they feel like family to me, so when I got a call last week that my dear friend Fannie’s husband was rushed to the hospital and was very serious, I was already thinking of how I could get to my friend’s side.

The next day I was told it didn’t look like he would make it, so I hurriedly made flight arrangements and cancelled my appointments and obligations, while my aide, Sue, cancelled my office appointments. I was on the plane the next morning, but his kidney had already begun to shut down, and by the time I arrived at the Akron/Canton airport he had passed. The hospital had already made arrangements to write the obituary and get it to the local paper in time for the next day’s edition, and the funeral parlor was called to make arrangements. The Amish make their own wooden caskets, which they line with fabric. The dearly departed is laid to rest in the casket, and brought to the home. A two-day viewing is held, with the funeral on the third day.

By the time Fannie got home from the hospital (he died at 4 p.m. and she got home by 6:30 p.m.) her church members had descended upon the home and shop and completely transformed the shop into an Amish funeral parlor, cleaned her home (which is always spotless, I might add), washed the floors and windows, and cleaned her daughter’s home which is the main home, and where the family would be served meals.

Dennis and Fannie lived in the Dawdy (grandfather or grandparent) house after their daughter married and started having children. The church members had ordered port-a-potty’s for all the guests, set up a partition for the viewing, with the receiving area on the other side. The seats for the immediate family are set up across from each other so people can walk down the line and shake everyone’s hand on each side.

First the spouse is seated, with an extra seat to her left so people might sit down if they have something special to say, and then all the sons and daughters and their spouses, followed by the sisters and brothers of the loved one and his widow. The row behind them and against the wall is lined with benches for all the grandchildren (and me, as I am considered one of their family). The rest of the room has benches placed in rows so people can talk with one another.

A large walk-in refrigerator is brought in and operated with a large generator (don’t forget, these are Old Order Amish who have no electricity) to keep all the food the church members bring in to feed the family (about 50 of us) for three days. Everything for the grieving family is taken care of so they can receive guests.

Without exaggeration, I will guess that over the three day period at least 1,500 people attended the viewing. Horse and buggies rolled in and out all day long, each day, from morning till 8 p.m. in the evening. Hired vans loaded with Amish families came and went, including one van that was hired to bring 14 people from Indiana to Ohio for the viewing. They stayed two hours and returned to Indiana. People came from far and wide. The yard was a sea of buggies and another area held all the horses. This was community support like I’ve never seen.

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