Written by Doctor G

Kids and funerals

Snappy title, don’t you think? Listen, I know this subject is awful, kind of a why-think-about-it-before-you-have-to kind of thing. Each person’s experience of grief, or dealing with the grief-stricken is very personal. Add to that the complexities of relationships and religion (and our relationships to religion) and it’s a morass to even write about when you have an opinion, let alone try to form an opinion when faced with a funeral to go to.

So why bring it up? Well, death happens. And children need to begin the lifelong process of understanding and coming to grips with it. In order to raise children we respect and admire we have to discuss the hard stuff. Death tops the list.

Last week the principal at my sons’ school lost his adult daughter. The kids were told in a very general way about this and the parents (informed beforehand) could take over from there in any way they saw fit. It is our religious tradition to visit the family in mourning in the week following the funeral. This was (thanks be) the first time in a while that we had such a visit to make and my husband and I decided to bring the two older boys along. They each have a relationship with their principal (good, so far!) and we believe that comforting the bereaved is a sacred obligation.

Even if that is not your religious belief, I propose that comforting the grieving is a very important life skill. The gravity of the situation allows children and teens to (briefly) get outside their current thoughts and problems, and figure out how to talk to someone in a worse situation than them. Experiencing the community aspect of these gatherings is also a good lesson.

OK, lets talk about a couple of what ifs.

“What if my child is too young?” Only you can decide when your child is old enough. A lot of this depends on the age of the deceased and the personalities in the grieving family. Would a small child playing bring a smile or a frown? A child too young to understand death won’t be scarred by a funeral but may make you too nervous to be able to really be present yourself. If the child is in the family of the deceased then I think most instances warrant bringing the child to be a part of the family. When we lost my father-in-law it was our then 2 year old that kept the rest of the family intact, just by being himself.

“What if my child might be scared?” This is reasonable. First I would challenge you to make sure that it is not your own fear (of death or grieving) that you are projecting. Beyond that, I urge you to introduce your child to this topic gently – avoiding an open casket wake (or sticking to the back), waiting and paying a social call on the family some time after the immediate grieving period.

When we entered the home of this tragically saddened family, the principal was standing near the door. When he saw me he smiled a gentle smile he had clearly been putting on all day. When he saw my sons, something in his face opened and he said, “Oh, more of my children. This is what will get me through.” As he enfolded them in a hug – that they both returned – they brought him a comfort I could not.

This is hard. If you ignore this opportunity for teaching, it may (hopefully) not come up again for a while. That won’t avoid it forever though, and kids deserve this education as much as any other.

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3 thoughts on “Kids and funerals”

  1. I saw that moment– when he said “oh, more of my children.” I had to fight tears after that. I didn’t want to cry in front of my students and Mr. Sternberg but I thought it was such a beautiful thing. It increased my respect for Mr. Sternberg as a person– his ability to find comfort in his students is what teaching is all about. Teaching isn’t linear from teacher to student– we teachers (and principals) are impacted daily by the beauties our students possess. I thought it was wonderful and appropriate that your kids were there– and I’m so glad your kids know they helped Mr. Sternberg. Children are so powerful! 🙂

  2. I appreciate this posting. I remember clearly the times as a child when I experienced the death of a family member or friend, and I learned a lot from these difficult moments. I also remember observing carefully how my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins acted and reacted to know how I should respond. Now as an adult, I think of death as a unique opportunity to celebrate life — the life of the person who is gone and a reminder to cherish life that can be so fleeting. While it can be overwhelmingly sad to lose someone, these latter opportunities to reflect and appreciate are valuable.

  3. Along with the knowing smiles you generate from me with all your writings, you also brought the tears on this one. I can only marvel at your wisdom my daughter. This is said with much love.

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