What We Can Learn from My Grandmother Who Brought a Casserole to Her Own Funeral

Southern hospitality is worth more than just a reputation.

Chicken-and-Wild Rice Casserole
Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner

If hospitality were a sport, Omega Long was the Virginia state champion. Gran, as her grandchildren and anyone under the age of 30 called her, never showed up empty-handed. It wasn't a surprise to see her at church on Sunday with a gift bag sticking out of her large purse, just in case some visitors sat in the pew next to her and she decided to treat them to lunch and a welcome gift.

Gran didn't love to cook, but everyone left her house full and happy. In her pineapple-themed kitchen (wallpaper, dish cloths, plastic fruit, and all), she mastered the art of almost homemade. Cookies—a.k.a. peanut butter sandwich crackers dipped in white chocolate, and topped with seasonal sprinkles—were her specialty. She turned staples like rotisserie chicken, cornflakes, and Duke's mayo into her famous hot chicken salad casserole. If you were lucky she'd send you home with a one-dish breakfast for the weekend and a few samples from her Clinique lady too.

After 19 years of learning from her hospitable nature, it was time to plan Gran's funeral. As the ladies of the Methodist Church gathered amongst the plastic pineapples to discuss the funeral food, I began to worry if every detail was up to Gran's standards. When I inspected the freezer to see if the icemaker was still working, my eyes fell upon a gift that had to be heaven sent.

I found a hot chicken salad casserole carefully protected in plastic wrap and sheets of tin foil with the date written on top. Gran clearly would have been horrified if we hosted the reception at her house without her contributing a single funeral casserole. She did what any forward-thinking hostess would do: Made her signature dish ahead of time and left it in the freezer.

As the day continued, we found other signs from Gran letting us know that she definitely wanted to be part of the planning. Not only did she leave a pristine obituary in the back of the family bible, but she also mapped out her ideal funeral bulletin—down to each and every hymn.

As Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays titled their funeral etiquette book, "Being Dead is No Excuse," a Southern hostess always brings her A-game. If you could see the amount of flowers and people that flooded my grandmother's home that day, you'd understand that hospitality doesn't just earn you a reputation. Gran valued every person she met, providing her with a colorful, fun-filled life, down to the day we all said goodbye.

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