I need advice on a family issue. My wife’s father is at the end of a long illness. He is in hospice in NJ and she is there now. He will likely pass in the next few days. We are trying to decide if I should fly the kids from CA to NJ for the funeral. There will be a short service followed by a 3 day Shiva. What is the right age-appropriate thing to do? My daughter is 5, my son 8. We have discussed Grandpa dying and it was amazing to see the developmental differences between 5 and 8. Both of them got it at some level, but she moved on and them came back to it several times. He had a much more adult reaction. There is an important life lesson here, but also be a long and hard trip. The kids are good on planes, but is this just being hard on the kids for an adult’s sense of responsibility?
Ed, in CA
Ed, I am so sorry to hear about the suffering in your family.
Let me reassure you that there is no “wrong” answer here. Consider:
1. The lesson you and your wife want to teach.
2. The logistics involved.
Teach connection to the family. This would be easiest by going. And I have a strong list of reasons why kids benefit from going to funerals. If you’re not able to, then you can:
- Have your kids call at a good time.
- Ask them what kind of food mom and Grandma like and sit with them while you all find a place in NJ that will deliver it.
- Create a photo book of Grandpa for Mom to have when she gets home.
Teach compassion for the grief. You’ll need to be intentional about this whether you go or stay.
- Make cards for the family.
- Plant a tree or garden that will flourish each year in memory of their grandfather.
- Ask your kids to make a list of things they can think of to help their mom and Grandma (and aunts and uncles and cousins) when they are sad.
Teach resilience and flexibility. This would be made most clear if you don’t go. At this time your kids probably really want to see Mommy. If the trip would be too difficult – financially or logistically or for any other reason – help them understand that we can’t always go directly to the people most in our thoughts. Then talk about everything above and whatever other great ideas you and your kids have to handle the separation.
I hope that your father-in-law’s memory will always be a blessing to you and your family.
Readers, how have you handled it when you have a far away funeral?