Things (I Heard) Said at Funerals

Nonfiction by Amelia Dellos


At my Dad's funeral, looking down at him in the casket, "They put too much blush on his cheeks," my Aunt (my Dad's younger sister) Kulla said. 

Things I know about my Dad: he lettered in three sports, he got kicked out of Augustana College for bad grades but somehow managed to graduate from the University of Iowa, and he liked to tell stories. 

He sends me gold coins. It was June 22, 2015, and I asked him to send me one. I wanted to know if he knew I was writing and making films. I picked a gold coin because you can find a penny anywhere, but a gold coin in itself is a supernatural occurrence. Ten minutes later, I requested my first coin. I took my daughter to the library, and there was a gold coin lying on the floor of my 2004 Maroon Honda CRV, was a gold coin. The coin reads Bally's LE MANS Family Fun Center on one side with seven stars in the upper right-hand corner, and on the other side, it reads Playground for the Mind and has twelve stars in the upper right-hand corner. It was from an arcade in Oklahoma City that closed in 2008. I have never been to LE MANS Family Fun Center or Oklahoma City. 

Died at age 66.


At my Aunt Millie's funeral, during the eulogy, "She'll be baptized in the dirt," the preacher told us straight-faced. 

Things I know about my Aunt (really not my Aunt, but my Aunt nonetheless) Millie; she didn't believe in God, she played pinochle, and she smoked long thin cigarettes accompanied with strong, clear cocktails – no ice.

She dared me to take a bite of pickled pig's feet, and I did. During the height of my surly teen years, she pulled me aside, walked me up to the single bathroom in our home, and opened the toilet seat. On purpose, being an ass, I had left a blob of dark brown period blood on the seat, and somehow, Aunt Millie had sussed me out. She watched me grow up from a baby who liked throwing my milk bottles out the window to a burnout teen who liked to get high in the park. Without a word, she pointed at the blood and watched as I cleaned it up.

Died at age 76.


Looking at Kevin in this coffin at my husband's best friend's funeral, "Even dead, he's still the best-dressed person in the room," Eric said while crying and laughing. 

Things I know about Kevin: he was good company, a really bad driver, he liked to moon people (drunk or sober), and he loved my husband.

He dared me to love my husband more.

Died at age 33.


At my YiaYia's funeral, my boss Charlene, after staring at my Mother, me, and my dead grandmother lying in her coffin, "God, you all have good skin," she said. 

Things I know about my YiaYia: when she came to Cicero, IL, she didn't speak English, she read the newspaper every day to check her stocks, and she made homemade bread – prosphora – for communion at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church on Central Avenue in Chicago. 

During the pandemic, stuffed behind the popcorn maker in my kitchen cabinet, I found her Greek cookbook, Hellenic Cuisine: A Collection of Greek Recipes. It was printed in 1957 by Saint Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Detroit. It's a mishmash of American and Greek culture—a time capsule of immigrant assimilation through cuisine.She had folded over the right-hand corner of page 79, featuring canned tuna recipes. 

The first recipe at the top of the page is TUNA BALLS.


● two cans tuna fish
● two eggs, beaten slightly
● two teaspoons lemon juice
● four slices very dry bread
● two onions, chopped
● ¼ teaspoon salt
● two tablespoons minced parsley
● one tablespoon minced mint
● ½ teaspoon oregano


The directions are as follows: moisten bread in water, drain, and squeeze out excess water. Mix with other ingredients. Form into small balls, roll in flour, and fry in a shallow fat until brown.

How did she make her bread? Did she make the TUNA BALLS, or TUNA LOAF, or TUNA CASSEROLE, or all three? I'll never know. Because we never cooked together.

One thing I also know about her is -- she lied about her age, saying she was older. Her theory was that if you say you're fifty but are really forty, people will marvel at how young you look for your age. 

Died at age 99?


At my Mother's funeral, during the eulogy, "She liked to watch old western cowboy movies," the hospice minister Rev Curly said.

Things I know about my Mother: she loved Chicago-style hot dogs, she was always reading a book, she drank more coffee than water, and she thought Republicans were evil.

The day the nurse removed the cannula from my Mother's nose. The cannula was her lifeline. It was the tube connected to her oxygen tank. "Wait," I say, grabbing my phone. And I found it. I found my mom's song. I placed the phone next to her ear. I don't know what I am thinking. Her eyes are bad. Her hearing is gone. Her bladder is bad. Her bowels are unpredictable at best. She is in the final moments of the last inning. But I turn up the volume, anyway, hoping she will hear the music.

"See you? Now he is coming,” sings Prima Donna Maria Callas, “One Fine Day” from my mother’s favorite opera, Madame Butterfly. 

My Mother begins to sing along with Callas. 

I look at the nurse. "Is this normal?"

"I've never seen anything like this before."         
We look into each other's eyes, and we're both crying. Moments before, Mom looked dead, her long white hair limp at her shoulders, fingers gnarled like a tree trunk, mouth open and slack. Her body was pre rigor mortis under her death shroud – a forest green fleece blanket. And now she's singing an aria from Madame Butterfly with Maria Callas.

Died five days later at age 88. 

Amelia Estelle Dellos (she/her) is a lifelong Chicagoan, an award-winning writer, and a filmmaker. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and teaches writing and rhetoric at Columbia College and Roosevelt University. Recently, she became the managing editor of Unwoven Literary Magazine. Her work has appeared in Big Shoulders Press, Allium: A Journal of Poetry & Prose, GrandDame Literary Journal, PBS, Amazon Prime, and Highly Sensitive Refuge.

Published 19th November, 2023.

. H O L D E R . R E W A R D S .