The Messy Glory of Life: Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
"I come from a long line of dead people," begins Comfort Snowberger, whose ten years as the middle child in an undertaking family have seen a lot of burials in Snapfinger, Mississippi. But when her Great-uncle Edisto dies in March with a cheerful "Time to go home," and in September Great-great-aunt Florentine is found dead in her garden, head on a clump of marigolds, it's too much death for even Comfort to sort out. To add to her problems, her whiny, coddled eight-year-old cousin Peach, there for the funeral, breaks into such overwrought keening that Florentine's viewing has to be suspended then and there. Then, there's her best friend Declaration Johnson, who suddenly seems to prefer the company of girls in matching shorts sets with names like Kristen and Tiffany.
All Comfort has to fall back on is her family motto, "I Live to Serve," and her dog Dismay, Funeral Dog Extraordinaire, who loyally guards the newly deceased until the funeral is done. Dismay sets out with the disgruntled Declaration, made to attend by her father, and the unwilling Comfort, whose funeral day assignment is to stay with her overdressed and nearly out-of-control cousin Peach as the mourners walk to Aunt Florentine's burial. Declaration's cruel description of the cemetary scene sets Peach off into fresh wails just as the gloomy weather turns dark and a gully-washer of a thunderstorm unloads on Comfort, Peach, and the loyal Dismay. In the flash flood that follows, Comfort has to let go of her dog to pull her cousin Peach from the rising water, and Dismay is swept away.
It is not until the family holds a memorial service for her dog that Comfort finds a way to deal with so much loss. As her family rallies around her, Comfort realizes that despite their faults only her friend Declaration and her cousin Peach share her guilt and grief over the loss of her dog. Comfort remembers Uncle Edisto's remarks that life is just one "messy glory" as she says,
"I stared into my cousin's shining eyes. Then I looked at Declaration's eyes. And I saw in their faces what had been in Dismay's eyes in that last moment I'd seen him--grief and fear and hope and love somehow woven together, somehow connected. All the messy glory."
Each Little Bird That Sings, a National Book Award finalist, is, despite its theme of death, a humor-filled, heartfelt, optimistic affirmation of life with all its messy mix of joy and pain. Comfort's funny "Life Notices," which she submits to the Aurora County News' obituary page, her ongoing recipes for Fantastic (and Fun) Funeral Food for Family and Friends by Comfort and Florentine Snowberger, and her dramatic monologues and musings from her thinking closet make her a memorable character who deals with the central question of life head on.