Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bringing children to funerals

Today we made a day trip to Marietta to attend Rob’s grandfather’s funeral. We brought the boys, enjoyed a lunch at the church with family and close friends, and then I chased Owen around during the visitation – occasionally managing to speak more than a sentence to someone before I had to dart off to catch the kid, who was too squirrely to stay in my arms. We made it through 10 minutes of the funeral service, as I stuffed Cheerios one by one into Owen’s mouth to keep him quiet. He clapped after hymns and eventually was making enough happy exclamations that I made a swift exit and let him run around on the sidewalks outside the funeral home.

Toddlers and funerals don’t exactly mix, but still I was glad to have both Will and Owen there. We had wondered briefly about whether we should leave Will with a friend, wondered whether he wasn’t old enough to grasp a funeral and might be bothered by it. And of course, a 4-year-old can’t grasp death. Most of the reading we did suggests that kids see death as reversible until about age 6. (Here’s one article if you’re interested.) But that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from being included in an important family ritual – and surely the rest of us benefit from the joyfulness of the youngest generations at a time when we adults are grieving.

Back at home tonight I asked Will if he’d enjoyed the funeral and having a special time to remember Grandpa. He said he did. I asked him if he’d liked the music and the things that the speakers had said about Grandpa.

“Yes,” Will said. “And now he lives with God and Jesus.”

“I remember one part of the prayer,” Will added. “It says we’re all going to heaven.”

So we had a little conversation about heaven that quickly led Will to say, “But we want to live forever.”

“People don’t live forever though,” I said. “After a long, long life our bodies stop working and then it’s time for us to go.”

“Yeah,” he said and went back to his supper. And we left it at that.


shannon said...

That made me cry- and it's not because I know we're all going to die. It's you, helping your son understand death, now, while you're here to help him.

When my husband's father died recently I let my children say goodbye at the visitation, with a prayer at the open casket. Then I took them out to play, along with the many other children there.

There was a fern garden where they all ran around. . . I could not bring myself to go back inside after being there with the ferns and the children. My 3 year old wanted to see Grandad again, though, so we went in and he laid a fern frond beside him (I did not know that was his plan-- he wanted to put it in his hand but I wasn't sure that would be okay with my mother-in-law and so left it beside him).

My children both talk about death freely and do seem to understand with such an easiness and joy it is inspiring.

For the record, I want LOTS of children at my funeral and wake! And please, if I'm not cremated, somebody hand me a couple of fern fronds. . . .

Annie Addington said...

Thanks for sharing that story, Shannon. What a beautiful offering from Cavan.