The Heartbreaking Reason Dolly Parton Said She Avoids Funerals

Dolly Parton once said she doesn’t go to funerals. A traumatic childhood event changed the way she feels about death forever.  

Dolly Parton was close to her neighbor

Dolly Parton in 2014 | Valerie Macon/Getty Images
Dolly Parton in 2014 | Valerie Macon/Getty Images

In her book, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Parton talks about the close relationship she developed with her neighbor, whom she called Aunt Marth. As a child, Parton would often visit the woman’s farm. She says one of the first songs she remembers hearing is a song Aunt Marth used to sing to her. She says the song was special to her because the woman inserted Parton’s name into the lyrics. It was a song personalized just for her, and she never forgot it.

“My earliest memories are of Aunt Marth,” wrote Parton. “I was often left with her when I was little. She was a good friend to me, and she made me feel special. Even though I was just a toddler, I always felt she needed me there as much as I needed her. Maybe that’s part of what made me feel special.”

Dolly Parton’s tragic loss

Aunt Marth suffered from severe asthma. Parton says her neighbor often coughed and wheezed and would have trouble breathing. One day, Parton’s mother told her they were going to visit Aunt Marth. However, what Parton didn’t know was that they were actually going to the woman’s funeral. When she arrived, she was shocked to see the woman in a casket.

“Just as my foot crossed the threshold, something hit me like a shot,” wrote Parton. “There was a strange feeling in the house. I stopped in my tracks as I saw a coffin in the middle of the room with its lid propped open. I wish I had stopped a little sooner. From where I could see, that pale, cold corpse inside was Aunt Marth. I stood frozen. This couldn’t be. She was my Aunt Marth. She was my special friend. I needed her. She needed me.”

Why Dolly Parton said she avoids funerals

Dolly Parton | Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for SiriusXM
Dolly Parton | Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Parton said some of the boys in the family taunted her and told her scary things about what happened to Aunt Marth. She wanted to leave, but she was cornered and forced to listen to a horrible description of the process of preparing a dead body.

“My knees finally thawed, and I turned to run,” wrote Parton. “Just as I did, I was met at the door by some of the boys in the family. When the adults were looking, they acted respectful, but when they had gone, they pushed me up close to the coffin. I didn’t want to look, but they held my face up to the edge. They told me they had cut Aunt Marth open and drained out all her blood and replaced it with embalming fluid and stuffed her full of cotton and alcohol.”

Parton says the boys continued to tell her frightening things about Aunt Marth. They wouldn’t let her leave and described in graphic detail what was going to happen to the body after the burial.

“They explained that they were going to put her in the ground and that worms would crawl in and out of her body and eye sockets,” wrote Parton.

“They kept on until I got sick to my stomach,” she continued. But that was not the worst of it. Two of them held my hand and made me touch the body. It had a spirit-shattering effect on me that I have never quite outgrown. To this day, I will not go to funerals, and I cannot look at a dead body.”

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