I remember the sadness of all that attended, their tears, their sorrow and the way that they comforted each other as they said goodbye to a much loved and treasured woman.
I remember people talking about her afterward as they ate the trays of sandwiches and slices and how they laughed and smiled reminiscing about her life.
After my grandma’s funeral I played with my cousins at the wake. There were probably about six or so of us who were under twelve that were there that day.
We all knew, to varying degrees why we were there and what had happened, but the innocence of childhood wasn’t squished out of us this day. Instead we took a knowledge and understanding of life that prepared us for what life is really like, the reality of loss and grief and the importance of processing this.
The importance of coming together as a community of friends and family to support one another and to keep the memory of those lost in body, alive in spirit.
Earlier this year, I attended another family member’s funeral. But this time as I looked around me I realised that I was the only one who had brought children. It wasn’t that there weren’t other children who knew and loved this person but for whatever reason they were not in attendance.
I didn’t ask why they weren’t there, but it stood out to me as a vastly different experience to the one I had had 26 years ago at my grandma’s funeral. And I wondered why it was so different this time?
Studying Ancient Greece at school I still remember readying Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and how the story emphasised the importance of mourning the dead. I remember that when a person would die the family, mainly women would prepare them for burial. This involved washing them, dressing them, preparing their funeral and then the burial after it. The process allowed them to mourn their loved ones in a caring, nurturing way. It was a physical and emotional process that was done for centuries.
Times are different now though, death is often something considered too much or too complex for a young person to have to deal with. I know mothers who don’t think taking a child to a funeral is the right thing to do, in fact I know mothers who have not taken their children to even close family members funerals.
Everyone has their reasons and opinions about their decisions but for me, I wonder how this can possibly be something positive? How is hiding a child from the reality of life going to assist them in the long run? How is not processing emotions, grieving, not talking about what has happened going to benefit the child? Surely it would do the opposite?
My girls have now been to three funerals in the space of four years. My children are six and four. Sometimes they cried, sometimes they were completely oblivious to what was happening, sometimes they spoke at the wrong time and wiggled in their seats. But at the end of the service they would ask questions about the person who had passed and ask why people were upset. From that we spoke about death, we spoke about it being sad and often unfair but we also discussed that funerals allow us to say good bye, to share our memories and to come together as a family and how important this is when this happens.
They saw that people are complex, that people have many emotions and that even strong, Uncle Joe cries sometimes and this is perfectly normal and OK. They witnessed people upset but also saw their bravery as they dealt with their emotions. They also were a source of comfort. They hugged me and asked me if I was OK, they tried to make me smile when I was upset. They learnt and demonstrated empathy.
The other positive thing that my children brought to the funerals was distraction for others. Sometimes when those who are overwhelmed with grief were struggling this was exactly what they needed to get them through the day. A child does this perfectly and can often bring a smile or just a moment of relief to someone that needs it the most.
The reality is kids need to learn about death and funerals because at some point in their life they will experience it. Is As parents we aren’t there to protect them from life, to ‘sanitise them’ from the hard bits. We are there to support them and to help them navigate their way through it by providing them with the tools and skillset in order to deal with both the good and the bad. Because that is the reality of life, just as death is.
Do you take your kids to funerals? Tell us in the comments section below.