Parent Moments: Guests at the Funeral
The call woke me up early on a November morning two years ago, although I had been told the previous night to be ready for it: After a long and dispiriting decline, my mother had passed away. Among my first thoughts was, What should I do about the kids?
At the time, my daughter -- let's call her Tiny -- was not yet 3. My son, Fellow, was just turning 5. They knew my mother well enough from visits to her, and even through phone calls when she was up for it. They'd never known the strong woman I'd once known, but that was our reality. They did know that she loved them, but they still saw her death as my loss more than theirs. They asked the expected questions: Why did she die? Is Grandpa sad? Who else is sad? What would happen to her next? Concentrating on their questions distracted me from my own thoughts and I welcomed that a bit. Then we started to get ready for our trip to attend the funeral.
As I spoke to siblings and other relatives that morning, many asked what I planned to do with the kids. I had assumed I'd take them with me to the funeral and to the cemetery afterward. It had occurred to me that for small children with only a limited connection to a grandparent, seeing so many people gather to celebrate her life was the best way for them to get a sense that she was more than the sweet, sometimes confusing lady they saw at the nursing home. Even if they wouldn't remember her, they'd remember her funeral. Still, several relatives disapproved. It was inappropriate for kids to be at a funeral, and I should have someone babysit the kids away from the funeral instead, they told me. But I held my ground.
When I finally settled into the front row of the funeral home the next morning and saw my mother's casket, the loss of her finally struck me. Quickly losing it, I suddenly could not imagine how I'd be able to deliver my eulogy. Then Fellow rushed over, probably to tell me about some crisis with his sister, and the stress passed. For the moment, at least, I was able to calm down. I sent him to the lobby with his sister and an in-law for the rest of the ceremony, where they could hear me without having to sit still, and I got through my speech fine.
Later, at the cemetery, members of my family and I helped to drop the first shovelfuls of dirt in the grave. I had told Fellow and Tiny that part of our tradition was also to find small stones to put on the grave. Technically, Jews put pebbles on headstones when they visit graves later, but I thought it would be a nice way for the kids to feel involved. And in fact, with earnest care and pride, the kids collected and dropped stones in bunches. For weeks following, whenever the subject of my mother's death came up, they reported how they had helped by getting stones and how they knew that it was a good deed. That was part of their takeaway, that they had fulfilled some of the family's responsibilities.
The day may have been a little scary for the kids on some level, but for the emotional support they offered me -- even if indirectly, for the sense they got of my mother's importance to all of us, and for the indelible memories they took away, I'll never doubt that it was better for them to be with me than back home playing cards with a sitter.
Have your kids attended a grown-up event?