Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kids and Funerals

I love it when posts from another blogger inspire me to write.  Mel over at Stirrup Queens asked a question in her last post about whether or not to allow your kids to attend a funeral.  This of course got me thinking about how we handled the wake and funeral for Jeanne and Mike when it came to our kids and the girls.  First, let me say that I really think it depends on the circumstances.  We had a family friend die a few months before my sister who knew and loved the boys, but I did not bring them to the funeral.  At the time, I didn't think they'd get it and to be honest, I just wanted to go and cry and not have to worry about the boys.  I also think you need to gauge your own kids.  If you think they are the age to behave appropriately then I think it's a good think to allow kids to be there.

Hundreds of people attended the wake for Jeanne and Mike.  We had two visiting sessions for about 5-6 hours total and the line never ended.  Not only did friends of Jeanne and Mike attend, but we all have a lot of friends that were there to support us.  K and I, in particular, had tons of friends there for us.  The big girls were there for the first session for a bit and E stayed for part of the evening session to pray the rosary.  We did not bring 3 year old L to the wake at all, but we did bring A and D (ages 9 and 7 at the time) to be there for their cousins.  At that time, and months to follow, the boys also did not want us out of their sight.  A wasn't eating unless I was there and D was having diarrhea and bathroom accidents.  The funeral director set up a room for the kids (and any weary adults) with food and we brought games, books, crayons, etc. to keep them occupied.  At some point my sister-in-law brought the kids to a mini-golf down the street.

Wakes are weird things.  Everyone was there to show their love and respect, but most of the time I felt like I was there to support them in their shock and grief.  By the end of an hour, my shirt was wet from the sobs of others on my shoulder. I took many breaks during the day to "hide out" with the kids and get a much needed break.

During the afternoon session we did have a viewing for only the family.  We gave all of the kids the option to participate.  E and M wanted to go in, but M only wanted to go if one of boys would go.  A said no very quietly.  My brave, kind D stood up and said he'd go with M.    I walked in with both of them wrapping my arms around their shoulders wishing it wasn't really happening.  They eventually pulled away from me and D held M's hand and approached the coffins.    I remember thinking how small he looked. 

E was kneeling next to her dad.  M looked at her big sister and mimicked her actions in prayer.  D hung back, eventually leaning into his dad with he eyes fixed on the two coffins.  I could tell M was getting fidgety so I approached her and walked D and M back to the break room.  The conversation between the two of them was so honest and funny.

"My mom looked like my mom, but my dad looked weird."

"Yeah, your dad didn't usually wear make-up."

They both went back in the room and joined A, filling him in on the viewing in a direct, innocent way.  He listened, changed the subject and they were back to being silly and laughing.

K and I drove E home from the wake that evening.  I'll never forget K and E laughing and comparing notes about what were the most awkward moments from the day were.  E thought it was seeing her 13 year boy classmates crying and hugging her.  I thought it was hugging my hugely overweight and sweaty boss at the time.  K thought it was calling the same person the wrong name twice.  We actually were laughing as the three of us drove past the accident site.  Strange.  It was such a long, tiring day, we couldn't help from giggling to relieve the tension.

For the funeral, we decided that all the kids would be there.  Even though they wouldn't remember, we didn't want the little girls as adults feel like they missed out on something so momentous.  We decided to bring L for many reasons.  First, we thought he'd behave pretty well and we have my sister-in-law on board to bring him out if he got squirmy.  Also, at that point we were all so stressed and tired that I couldn't think of anyone I trusted to leave him with that wouldn't be at the funeral.  Selfishly, I also wanted my boys with me.  I needed them.  Moreover, I wanted them to be there for their cousins.  Not even knowing what their future would hold in our family, I knew that this bond among the cousins was going to be important if we were going to get through this.  D and M during the wake had already poignantly demonstrated that.

In the long run, I am so glad that we had the boys as much of a part of the process as possible.  This one event has had such a huge impact on all of our lives.  It's become even more important I think since the girls have joined our family.  Funny thing about kids too in their ability to jump from sadness to joy fairly easily.  We all got back to my sister's house after the burial, changed out of our fancy clothes and played some whiffle ball.  On a day in which we felt all was lost, they helped us step outside of our adult grief, if only for a bit.  That kind of respite is priceless.


  1. This ending is exactly why I wanted the twins there: "On a day in which we felt all was lost, they helped us step outside of our adult grief, if only for a bit. That kind of respite is priceless." Because where everything felt so enormous, kids have a way of bringing things back to the moment, to being in the moment, to not standing there dazed but instead jumping into a game or following a praying mantis, etc. Sometimes I think they become our anchors and that being at the funeral is as much for them as it is for us.

    That said, I really really really wish all your kids had never had to experience that at all.

  2. I can't remember if I've mentioned before that my husband's father died suddenly when my husband was 4 years old. My husband has a vague hazy memory of going to a funeral as a child, but he's not sure if it was his father's or not and it makes him really, really sad.

    It's just all so sad.