Friday, 28 October 2011

Funerals and other fun childhood activities.

Last night, about 20 minutes before pj time, the Girl comes running up to me, practically glowing. She thrusts an ello creation in front of my face and gleefully asks: "Do you like my sculpture, Mama?"

I give the appropriate response of "ooooh... I love it. How, um, colourful!"

"Do you know what it is?!" she asks expectantly.

"Ummm..... it's a... well, obviously it's......"

"It's a funeral home, Mama! See, all the flowers everybody sent are around the coffin and the poor little dead baby has a beautiful little round coffin. Isn't it so cute?"

I tried to mask my horror in the face of her excitement. "Very interesting."

A little back story: In the past 14 months, I've gone to 5 funerals. The kids came to 2 of them, because they were close family members. Yes, I take my kids to funerals of close family members. Yes, I know they are only 6 & 8. They are allowed to approach the coffin, but we've never forced them. We've taken them since they were babies. I was taken to funerals as a child and learned two very valuable lesson which I've tried to pass on to my children:

  1. Death is an unavoidable part of life. To live is to die.
  2. There is no reason to fear a corpse. The dead can never hurt you - only the living can. 
They've seen us solemnly dress and prepare for funerals. They've seen my husband cry in public. They've seen me sob uncontrollably into my husband's arms. They've seen my husband don the white gloves as a pall bearer. They've seen the sealing of a tomb in a mausoleum. They've helped clean and light candles at the graves of predecessors they've never met. 

In my eyes, all of these are positive experiences. While they should never become routine, they've become familiar and less scary. 

Now though, I have to deal with "funeral home sculptures" and "Mama, do you want us to bury you in the ground or in a wall?" and "let's play funeral" and "look, Mama, I designed the perfect cemetery!". [That last from the Boy, who discovered the delightful combination of graph paper and bird's-eye-view drawing.] I've also had to deal with the Boy suddenly starting to cry at odd moments because he remembers that life is "too short". I've been able to deal with those episodes with open discussion, books like What's Heaven, and emphasizing the beliefs of our faith, but they still happen. 

What are your thoughts? Is there a place for children at a funeral? How do you explain death to children? In what death rituals should children be allowed to participate? Have your children seen you cry?


  1. When my mother in law passed away, our son was 18 months old. Though we would have gladly taken him to the funeral, friends of my mother in law volunteered to watch the young children in the nursery at church so that we could have that time to mourn and be present for the funeral without chasing our little ones. It was a blessing for me and I'm so grateful to those women.

    That being said, I fully support children going to funerals...death is part of life and it gives them closure if the deceased was a loved one. It may be hard for them, but my parents didn't take my brother to a funeral of a family friend when we were younger and he was crushed that he was robbed of that chance to say goodbye.

  2. It's always so great when there is someone available to watch the little ones during a ceremony. I often volunteer to do this at church when it's not very close family or friends. Even at wakes, there is always someone around to herd the kids into a lounge or outside to keep the peace and quiet.

    So many people have come up to me, thanking me for bringing the kids because they were able to bring perspective and lightness to a ritual that is often filled with sadness and depression.

  3. This may sound bizarre to you... but I find this post to be very exciting/interesting. I am a student at a university studying funeral service and mortuary science. I believe that children should be in a funeral environment. Even though they may not be able to understand death/see death as a figure, its a way for them to become desensitized to the matter. I find it refreshing that your husband and you have shown the pain and not hide it from your children.

    Now the reason why I say that I'm some what excited is that you may have another little funeral director on your hands. (: I was the same way when I was little, so nothing too out of the ordinary. haha.

    Stopping by from a blog hop and new follower. I hope you come visit and possibly join my shhh sunday link up!

    x's and o's

  4. This is a tough one for me. I think ultimately I would let my children be there if they were not a disturbance, I wouldn't want my two year old to be a distraction for someone grieving. With that said, maybe a certain age where you can easily explain death to a child is a more appropriate age to have at a funeral. I'm just not sure. While I dread the day I have to explain death to my children, I know it is necessary and not talking about it or shielding them from it can be traumatizing in the long run.

    I remember the day I asked my mother what happens when you die, and she said nothing. I said well where do you go, she said "no where, you just die". I couldn't accept that as a five year old. I cried and it was traumatic for me due to the way she explained it. I never could accept that you lived in a void of nothingness. She can, I can't and to this day we disagree. I am a Christian and she is an athiest. At five years of age I knew there was a God and I'll always believe that.

    Sorry I got off on a tangent there at the end. ;)

  5. I think it's best for each parent to make that decision for their own family. I would bring my kids if it was a close family/friend that they knew. My daughter had her first funeral experience when she was a freshman. One of her friend's father passed away in an automobile accident and she attended the wake. She also lost a classmate in 11th grade and attended his funeral. My first experience was when I was 12 and my cousin passed away.
    When my son was in 5th grade he drafted his own will. It scared me because it seemed like it came out of the blue. After talking to the school counselors we realized it was because of my husband deploying. Whether writing a will or creating a sculpture of a funeral, it's their way of discussing the process of dying. I'm glad they are "talking" about it instead of holding it in.
    Stopping by from the Blog Hop.

  6. I'm not only supportive of how you handle the funeral/child situation; I did the very same thing. You're right - it's part of life and the way to alleviate fear is to become familiar with.
    My kids grew up fine.

    I'm your newest follower. Please stop by and say hi.

  7. I love your post. Kids are so very light hearted about what we consider dark topics.

    We all will face these decisions on whether or not to take the kids to a funeral in the future. I think you handled it well.

    I know hubby and I will have to make a decision on this too. I think I would probably take my 6 year old if she wanted to go, but my 4 year old can't sit still. If the kids wanted to go though, I would let them.

    And allowing them to go to funerals will have them playing 'funeral'. But I think it's just a way for them to accept it as a way of life, though we as adults may be a little mortified or laugh hysterically.

    Regina, The Crazy Nuts Mom


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