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3 Weddings and 3 Funerals

We went to the funeral for Great-Grandma over the weekend.  She was cremated, which necessitated a discussion about cremation with the twins Saturday morning because I didn’t want them asking at the cemetery how Great-Grandma could fit into such a small box when they interred her ashes.  I felt fairly cringe-y about having the conversation and opted to throw it out there the second they woke up, hoping they’d be bleary and sleep-confused so the information could pass over their tiny heads.  But, of course, they were wide-awake and inquisitive — the worst combination.  In the end, cremation, it turned out, made perfect sense to second graders once they got past the mental image of someone purposefully on fire.  They really liked the idea of scattering ashes in special places.

Every time I’m worried about a conversation, they absorb it without incident.  And every time I think something won’t be a big deal, they fall apart.  Either they were malformed at the child factory, or I was malformed at the parenting factory, but either way, things seem to always happen in the inverse.

There was no question in our heads that the twins would go to the funeral.  They had already been to two other funerals — one when they were toddlers and obviously didn’t know what was happening, and one when they were five and did.  They’ve also been to three weddings.  We’re of the mindset that if they can behave in a way that doesn’t disrupt anyone around us (within reason), they should be there to experience life: the great moments and the not-so-great moments.  We want them to always feel included; they may be small but they know when they’re being shut out of something.

A case in point.  The ChickieNob came home from school on Friday and told me that her friend said that she was lucky that she got to go to the funeral.  The other child informed her that when her great-grandmother died, her parents left her at home.  The ChickieNob was trying to wrap her mind around the word “lucky,” but agreed that it would be terrible to be left at home and know other people in the family were doing something that you’re invited to do but not permitted to do.  In other words, they can understand when they’re not invited to a wedding or a cool meeting I’m having or a dinner party.  But if the possibility exists that they could go, they hate the idea of being left at home.

So we brought them to the cemetery so they could say their goodbyes too.

Right before the service began, the ChickieNob whispered suddenly that she didn’t want to hear it.  She wanted to stand back from the crowd and not listen, until I took her aside and explained that there was no magical realism to get her out of this moment.  Even if she didn’t listen, it would still happen.  Funerals are not like trees falling in forests that you can remain in ignorant bliss about provided you don’t look into the woods.  When she realized there was nothing she could do to stop this train, nothing she could put off to delay the event, she stepped back to the group and I held her through the service and speeches, her cheek pressed tightly against mine.  The Wolvog alternated between pressing his face into Josh’s body or mine, hanging onto his sister’s hair and then my hair; a filamentous security blanket.

She had a long cry, and then while walking back to the car, we saw a praying mantis, and she moved away from that pile of grief as if it were dirt that could be left behind in a cemetery, musing on what form her great-grandmother might want to return as if she were reincarnated as well as what would be the best animal for each of us to return as in our next life (for me, we settled on a squirrel).

And that is maybe why we take the twins to the cemetery with us; because while we lose the ability to get closure with death later in our lives, when our brain can comprehend loss on a deeper level and grief has a tendency to unspiral like an onion, the emotions lingering around indefinitely, children seem to be able to reach a modicum of peace by the time they drive through the cemetery gates.  Maybe as an adult I need to see that peace each time to remember that life has to go on, and maybe as a child, if she builds enough muscle memory in finding that peace, she’ll be able to find it again when she grows up.

At the same time, in the back of my brain is always this knowledge that a lot of parents don’t bring their children to a funeral.  I didn’t go to a funeral until I was 12, even though there were three funerals prior to that point that I could have attended.  I also didn’t go to a wedding until I was older — maybe 15? — though that comes down to invitations.

I know a lot of the decision rests with the individual child.  There are some who can shape their behaviour to fit expectations and some who cannot.  I feel like the twins fall into this category of people who both can shape their behaviour to fit expectations and work hard to do it so they aren’t left behind.  I would say that one of their life mottoes is “bring me.”  So we bring them: to art museums and restaurants and trips and dinners with authors and weddings.

And funerals.

I guess I am curious about what others do (or would do) and why.  I don’t know if we’d change what we’re doing (and we certainly can’t unring the bell on those three funerals since they’ve already experienced them), but the question is always in the back of my head about why or why not to include children in these adult moments.


1 LC { 09.25.12 at 7:39 am }

I was always taken to both as a child. (huge family on my Mother’s side, so we had plenty of both. Now we’re getting to more funerals than weddings). I can’t imagine leaving my daughter home from either. Children are always one of the best parts of a wedding reception. As for funerals, while I can see wanting to protect them from the sadness/fear/whatever of a funeral, death happens. I think that making funeral attendance part of childhood gives kids the tools they need to cope with death as adults. Or at least some of the tools they need.

In 16 months, we’ve already taken our daughter to a wedding and the only reason she didn’t go to her great-grandmother’s funeral is because of a transoceanic flight that prevented us from going too.

2 Tiara { 09.25.12 at 8:04 am }

For a funeral, I feel it would be important to take my daughter if she had a personal connection to the departed, to give her a chance to say goodbye. My dad kept my brother & I away from funerals to protect us but now I feel a bit cheated that I didn’t get a chance at closure…I grew up with a deep dislike of funerals & swore I’d never have one…until my dad died & I realized how much closure his funeral provided for me, realized that funerals were more for the ones left behind & how they are the beginning of healing from loss. So it would be important to me not to deprive Elena of that.

3 Kristin { 09.25.12 at 8:31 am }

My children, all three of them, have been to two funerals in the past 4 years. Like you, I firmly believe children should be given the opportunity to say goodbye whenever possible. Even when we lost my father-in-law 4 years ago and Gabe was only 2 1/2, I thought it was vital to include him. And, he was aware enough to grasp some of what was going on. He recognized that it was his Grandpa in that casket and, at the viewing, DEMANDED to go through the line a second time. He looked at my mom and said “I need to see my Grandpa up there again.” He talked about Grandpa being gone and going to live with God. I can’t imagine how hard the loss would have been if he hadn’t gotten that chance to process it in his own way.

4 loribeth { 09.25.12 at 9:15 am }

My mother never went to a funeral until she was in her early 20s. It was for our elderly neighbour’s wife and she had to take valium to get her through. We were never taken to funerals as children, but when my grandma died when I was 14, all my cousins were going. My parents gave us the choice. My sister & I did NOT want to go, but my parents felt we should be there in some way (and anyway, there was nobody to stay with us), so my other grandparents stayed outside the tiny church with my sister & me (there probably wasn’t room for us all anyway). I still saw them carrying the casket out of the church, & it was still a horrible experience. 🙁

The first funeral I went to was when I was about 15, for my cousins’ great-grandfather. He was in his 90s & I had never met him, but my mom gently suggested I might want to go with her. I think she thought it might be better for my first funeral to be for someone I didn’t have an emotional connection to, so the next time wouldn’t be quite so scary. I didn’t go to another funeral until I was 25, newly married to dh & his uncle died. I knew I didn’t have a choice with that one, or any of the ones since then. 🙁 And I’ve come to appreciate the ritual & the opportunity to say goodbye, if not some of the excess that seems to go along with it.

Our nephews came to Katie’s funeral. They were 6 & almost 10 at the time, and it was their first funeral. I told their parents either way, it was OK, & I think they gave them the choice. It was a very small funeral, just me, dh, his brother & SIL & the boys, my parents, dh’s dad & his wife. I loved having the boys there — one of my main memories of that day was of our younger nephew sitting in his chair, swinging his running shoe-clad foot, because it didn’t touch the ground. But I thought it was such an awful, sad way for two little boys to learn about death. 🙁

Re: explaning cremation, dh took them to the front & showed them the urn, & one of them said, “The baby is in there??” I think they thought we had stuffed her body inside, lol.

5 a { 09.25.12 at 9:48 am }

We took our daughter to my FIL’s wake and funeral. She was the one that fell apart and cried inconsolably, while everyone else was trying to keep it together. In a way, I think it was a good thing for everyone because she did what everyone else wanted to. At 5, I think she was at an age where it would be good for her to understand the finality of things and that we have rituals for them. It seemed to satisfy the questions that the death of my in-laws dog generated. On the other hand, one of my husband’s nephews, who is a year old than my girl, did not come to the wake. Nor did the under 3 crowd. All of the grandchildren were at the funeral and graveside service, though.

When I was about 4 or 5, my dad’s mom died. My next older sister and I were deemed too young for the events and were left with my mom’s friend. That was probably a good thing, because, apparently, my 12 and 11 year old sisters and my 10 and 9 year old cousins got up to all kinds of no good at the wake.

6 KeAnne { 09.25.12 at 10:04 am }

My son is 3 and has been to two funerals. When he was just over a year, he came to my father’s funeral. It never occurred to us not to have him there as the other grandchildren would be there. We also took him to Jimmy’s grandmother’s funeral in January. We absolutely wanted him to be there because she adored him and he adored her and honestly, we also didn’t have anyone with whom he could stay while we were at the funeral. He did not go to Jimmy’s father’s funeral. It was in Florida, and we weren’t sure what we were going to be walking into in regards to Jimmy’s crazy brother and stepmother, so we left him at home.

I think that it is very important for a child to be present at a service for a loved one to say goodbye, even if they don’t completely understand what is going on. My first funeral was at age 7 when my beloved grandfather died, and apparently I sobbed loudly during the service.

7 Elizabeth { 09.25.12 at 10:08 am }

I would take them.

8 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 09.25.12 at 10:14 am }

There were funerals in my family when I was very young, and then none til I was much older. Likewise with weddings. I didn’t find either particularly daunting when I did finally get to go, but then again I did nearly face the situation where my first funeral was my own mother’s (thankfully still with us today) so, you know, that would have sucked a lot.

(You have to consider that I was the oldest, so I may have attended one or two things as a child if I’d been the eldest or the only.)

We did have pets, though. Mice. Lots of funerals for them. There are other ways to exercise the muscles. Families might also have their own ceremonies at the cemetery rather than attend the official service.

Anyway, I think it does all come down to readiness – mainly in terms of appropriate behaviour towards others. Kids can deal with things amazingly well sometimes, with a little handling, although I’m sure there are certain kids and situations where it’s best to create a more specific event that they can deal with (emotionally) more easily.

9 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 09.25.12 at 10:18 am }

(youngest or only, obviously)

10 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 09.25.12 at 10:21 am }

And I have to add (since others have mentioned the reaction) that loud sobbing at a funeral seems entirely appropriate at any age. So I’m definitely not saying anything against that sort of thing when I talk about being ready to behave appropriately.

11 Denver Laura { 09.25.12 at 10:21 am }

A few yeara ago, I told my mother about a reoccuring dream of a funeral. I started describing in detail very specific things about the “dream.” Come to find out, it was my grandfather’s funeral when I was 4. The reason I peered down on my grandfather was not because I was an adult, but because I was being held by my father over the open casket. I had only met my grandfather once by that point so the “dream” wasn’t scary.

Years later we were looking for the family graveyard where he was buried. I had remembered certain landmarks that 20+ years later were still there. It was surreal that I had only been there once when I was 4 and could navigate through cornfields and other fields to find the graveyard.

So yes, as a young child I went to a funeral. And I plan to take my child to any that happen.

12 Jendeis { 09.25.12 at 11:16 am }

Not to squash all over your lovely post and the insightful comments, but I can totally see you as a squirrel. 🙂

13 It Is What It Is { 09.25.12 at 1:06 pm }

We are having a much tougher time discussing death with our 5 1/2 year old. He is fixated on death, what it means, when we’ll die, when he’ll die, etc, and the thought of either is upsetting to him. To soften it a bit, my husband broached the idea of heaven (we hadn’t discussed it, and I wish he hadn’t) and our son now doesn’t even want to go to school on chapel days because he says the sound of the organ makes him think of heaven which makes him sad.

My therapist said that the better tack with young children is to keep the discussion re: death more literal, ie what happens to the body, etc., which I’m not sure I like any better.

At any rate, death and dying is on my son’s mind a lot and comes up daily in the firm if some question or another (usually how long we’ll live or he’ll live) and he is easily upset no matter how we answer it.

Given his sensitivity, I’m not sure what we!d do right now, although my inclination would generally be to take him to the funeral of a loved one.

14 Rae { 09.25.12 at 1:54 pm }

I wish my parents had treated me this way. When my grandmother died, my mother stayed home with me. Then she purchased me a doll and called it Grandma Betty doll. I’m not sure how a doll was supposed to replace the only grandma I had. Strange thing is, it felt normal at the time and wasn’t until I was older and reflected on the situation that I had a problem with it. That’s the way it’s always been though, skirt the issue, not talk about it, and leave it up to your own device to absorb and synthesize the information.

15 nonsequiturchica { 09.25.12 at 1:57 pm }

My parents didn’t have me go to my grandmother or grandfather’s funerals. They died 6 months apart and we lived in IL while they lived in FL. I believe I was 7 or 8. I think for my parents it was more a money thing (my dad only went down, my mom stayed with us) more than anything else.

16 Stupid Stork { 09.25.12 at 3:27 pm }

Again, my dear, so sorry for your family’s loss.

I’m not a Mom yet so I have no idea if my thoughts on it will change someday, but I’m definitely inclined to think exactly what you do – when they’re old enough to go without being super disruptive to others, take them.

Only because death is a much larger club than the living, avoiding it altogether would be impossible and even if you had them skip funerals it may only make them less able to deal with it when they’re older. I think it’s a good idea when you’re young to be introduced to the idea that funerals are for goodbyes, tears and being thankful for being alive/being a part of someone’s life. Most people are still trying to learn that – can’t hurt to get a head start.

17 coffeegrl { 09.25.12 at 4:32 pm }

We’re in the process of grieving for our cat, so I’ve given this some thought – particularly with regard to my 4 1/2 year old. I too am amazed by how she processes her grief – with amazing speed, and yet, periodically reminding us that she “still misses kitty” and I reassure her that I do too and that’s totally normal. When I was a child, we were taken to funerals for numerous grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and other close family friends. I remember at the age of about 7, sitting in the funeral parlor family room with some of my similarly aged cousins while we watched a movie that attempted to explain death and funerals to kids, “Just imagine that the person has gone on a long vacation” and I remember thinking, “Who tells this to kids? It’s NOT remotely like a vacation.” But with hindsight I realize that we were more experienced funeral goers and that plenty of kids that age haven’t had to grieve or haven’t had the experience of attending a funeral. It seems weird to me since that’s totally not been my experience. I can’t imagine not taking my daughter to the funeral of a grandparent or loved one. Having said all this, I admit that I also find myself editing children’s books as I read them to my 4 1/2 year old – to avoid the scary parts. I know how she responds to those stimuli and frankly I’m not sure I can manage more sleepless nights than we already have. I can certainly understand then why some parents might feel that knowing their child and that child’s response to sadness or grief, they might want to skip the funeral until their child is a little older.

18 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.25.12 at 5:42 pm }

Take em. I think death gets harder to process as the years go by if you haven’t normalized it by dealing with it as it comes up.

Squirrel? If you’re gonna be small and furry, I see you more as a mink.

Minx. Hilde.

19 luna { 09.25.12 at 5:42 pm }

I’m not entirely sure what we’ll do and there is a strong likelihood that our daughters may attend up to 3 funerals in the near future.

my grandfather died when I was 5 and I remember not being included, but I did go to his unveiling a year later and I remember it vividly. the first real funeral I attended was at age 12, for one of my best friends and his brothers who were killed in a fire.

not sure how you landed on squirrel, btw, but you may need to see this (wait til the end): http://boingboing.net/2012/09/24/parkour-squirrel-video.html

20 Cristy { 09.25.12 at 7:16 pm }

I agree with everyone else: take them. Funerals are a place to say goodbye and grieve as a family. It also teaches them it’s okay to mourn. Too often we push that aside, suggesting that any show of sadness or grief is a sign of weakness.

Weddings are mixed. I personally love interacting with children at weddings, but I’ve also been a part of weddings which were more adult minded. I would do some research before taking any child and have a plan for the downtime.

21 GeekChic { 09.25.12 at 10:53 pm }

My first funeral was when I just turned 5 – my grandmother. I was also in the care facility room when she died. Actually, those are my only memories of her – the day she died and her funeral. Neither are sad memories.

Eerily enough, 7 years later I watched my grandfather (her husband) die of a heart attack right in front of me. My Dad remembers me asking him why the paramedics were “bothering grandpa” (attempting CPR) because he was already dead. I have fairly vivid (though, again, not sad) memories of his funeral as well.

22 Mali { 09.25.12 at 11:00 pm }

I was only about 5 when my grandfather died, and don’t remember going to his funeral at all. Then my uncle died when I was older (maybe 10 or so), and I guess the funeral was when we were at school, so we didn’t go to that either, even though we knew him well, and his youngest son was a year younger than me. Though I do remember going to the wake, and playing with my cousin. I think it helped him and his mother and older siblings that there were younger cousins there to play with him.

I love Cristy’s comment. Funerals are part of life, and we all need to know it is okay to mourn. Your kids are obviously well behaved, understood why they were there, and got to say good-bye to Great Grandma. It might stand them in good stead. After all, most adults are awful at dealing with grief and mourning. If only we didn’t pretend it doesn’t happen, but learned early to accept that it is part of life, but that life goes on.

23 Justine { 09.25.12 at 11:07 pm }

I don’t like to go to funerals myself. Or wakes, either. I guess it depends on the person being buried, but so many times there’s something about the ritual that feels so artificial to me. Maybe I’m still stuck on the last wake I attended (which was pretty horrible), but I’d want to take my children to say good bye if it was going to feel meaningful, and if the good bye was going to *fit*, if that makes any sense. Sometimes, I feel like it’s better to say good bye in a way that honors the person’s life, rather than in a way that is proscribed by tradition.

(I actually told S. the other day that if I die, he is to skip the funeral and instead throw a party at our house in my memory with a lot of really fabulous cake. I hope it’s not completely irreverent to say that here.)

On the whole, though, I’m pretty honest with my kids, and I try not to leave them out. We talk (my son and I, anyway) about death. We talk about people getting married, and people separating. My son has only been to one wedding so far, the wedding of a gay couple who are friends of mine, which is interesting … and yet, he talks a lot about his own eventual marriage, and draws pictures occasionally of what it will look like. Not sure what to make of that. 😉

24 Geochick { 09.25.12 at 11:17 pm }

I would take them. I wasn’t taken to funerals when I was a kid and so, when my grandmother died unexpectedly, I was the total blob/mess/unglued person in the church. It was embarrassing. Maybe it would have been different, maybe it wouldn’t. Still, I don’t believe in shielding children from the circle of life when it directly affects them.

25 Peg { 09.26.12 at 1:12 pm }

First Mel, I am so sorry for your loss. Your touching posts have been a beautiful testament to your love for Josh’s grandmother.

This post brought back so many memories, you inspired me to write a post about the wake/funeral over at my blog….http://lifeofpeg-familyrocks.blogspot.com/2012/09/kids-and-funerals.html

Thanks for giving me something to write about. It was very therapeutic as we approach the anniversary.

26 lostintranslation { 09.26.12 at 4:39 pm }

I was never left out of these moments, sad or happy, when I was a kid and I am grateful for that.

When my mother died, our then 15-month old son was with us. It was only natural to take him along. He had visited my mom in the hospital, had cuddled with her in her bed when she was back home, saw her in her final days, and even after she passed away (he would just walk in and out of the room without a problem). After her body had been taken to the funeral home, even when he couldn’t express it in words yet, he showed complete surprise when he walked into that room and she was no longer there. During the church service the grandchildren lighted candles next to the casket. He didn’t stay for the entire service, our niece to him with her to a side room, but there was a loudspeaker there, broadcasting the service, and he was captivated by it. He went with us to the cemetery and helped throw sand on her casket. Having him close to me gave me great comfort that day. He doesn’t remember his grandma (he thinks my dad’s new girlfriend is – the funny/ironic thing is that he calls my dad by his first name and he calls the girlfriend ‘oma’), but I will tell him one day about those precious moments. (Ok, and now I have to stop because this makes me tear up…)

27 AP2B { 09.26.12 at 7:44 pm }

I took my son to his first one when he was around 2. He was very well behaved and helped add some cuteness relief. It was for a friend’s grandmother. Over the years he went to a handful, not a ton, but several and he handles them very well. He’s 20 now and it much better than I am at them.
I had a fear of them for quite awhile. I wonder if my mother took me to my father’s (I was 3 when he died). Course she may have and I may have just been weirded out about funerals because of experiencing death at such a young age. Think it would be weird to ask my mom now if I went to Daddy’s. I’m fine at funerals now, but it took awhile. I rarely cry, but I don’t socialize either. Just kinda feel like a robot.

28 persnickety { 09.27.12 at 1:02 am }

I am in my mid-30s and have NEVER been to a funeral. and the number of weddings I have been to can be counted on one hand. In part this was due to the fact we lived on a separate continent to my extended family for most of my life and circumstances prevented going to either (my mum was 8 months pregnant when her father died, so we didn’t go).
As an adult, much the same circumstances have kicked in when such events occur.
I don’t know whether it has influenced me much- I chose to elope for my wedding and contemplate donating my body to science- so perhaps considerations if you don’t want your children to do either.
I would say take them, particularly if the event is clearly for family of all ages. I have zero confidence in my ability to navigate that particular social event.

29 missohkay { 09.27.12 at 3:22 pm }

I love the posts where you explain things to Wolvog & ChickieNob – you certainly weren’t malformed at the parenting factory. I went to several funerals as a small child. What I remember most, though, is the horror my mom expressed when I was five at my grandfathers’ funeral and I asked her what they did with the dead people’s legs – I thought they chopped the legs off dead bodies because the closed bottom of the casket & flowers obscured where their legs were, so I assumed they no longer had legs. She was devastated that I’d spent a couple of years of my life thinking that, but I just felt matter-of-fact about it.

30 missohkay { 09.27.12 at 3:25 pm }

(That should have been grandfather’s, not grandfathers’ — they did not die at the same time, obviously.)

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