Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Children at a Funeral

Explaining death to children can be a difficult situation. More often than not, parents and other adults get it wrong. The children end up even more confused than before.
I've witnessed nuns ushering children through the church and back to class while we were setting up a funeral. All the while saying things like; " It's part of life" or "We all die". Many times I'll see parents trying to quiet or calm children for a service. The child barely realizes where they are or why they are there. Parents will force children to sit quietly for a few hours before the service and expect them to continue their boredom throughout the service. Rarely, does any of this work and certainly doesn't explain to the children anything about death. Often I think they only bring the children because there is no one to babysit in such a situation.

I've even seen one child get upset in the middle of a service because she wasn't sitting where they always sit in church.

Recently, I found myself at an evening funeral at a tiny country church. When they remodeled the church a few years ago, they put in a single door at the entrance. With a step at the threshold, and five more steps three feet from the door, we had to carry the casket at the ends to fit through the door and then directly up the steps. On the way out we squeezed two pallbearers at each end and proceeded down the steps. As the preacher opened the door and we stumbled over the icy doorway, I was expecting to see my beautiful hearse with the door open and all the bright LED lighting illuminating the rear compartment. But what did we see instead? Two children! Climbing into the back of the hearse! The other men and myself were in need of setting the casket down and all we could do was yell at the kids to get out of the way.

My parents sheltered me from death. Even when my Grandfather died, we did not attend the funeral (for multiple reasons). We simply stopped going to his house. It wasn't until last year that I finally made it to the cemetery where he is buried although his death was over 30 years ago. And none of my siblings have ever been there either. We never said goodbye to anyone, we just never got to see them again.

I've recently run across this Sesame Street example that does an outstanding job of getting the point across to a child (or Big Bird) as to exactly what is going on. In it, the storekeep, Mr. Hooper has died. The writers decided to have the character die as well. >>This is how they handled it.....<<

Death is never easy and there isn't always a good reason.
But I feel that we need to educate our children better.
We don't need distraction toys in the lounge, we need to teach respect and honor.

How did you learn about death?
Did your parents shelter you?
Or were you faced with it head-on with no explanation?
What was your first experience like?


Rich C said...

Though I was fortunate not to experience much death as a child, I wasn't sheltered from it. I do know that asking a child to quietly for hours with absolutely nothing to do is probably worse than the emotional experience at a young age for many. As an adult I can't bear being at a viewing for more than half an hour.

I remember as a kid seeing the Sesame Street episode and being sad about Mr. Hooper. It also reminds me of an episode of This Old House a few years ago. Their tile contractor had a heart attack and passed away. They took the same tact and put it front and center in his memory.


Stew Adams said...

Maybe they are asking for too much time from the kids.

MorningAJ said...

I remember being upset that I wasn't allowed to view Grandad's body because I was too young - even though my sister was. She's said since that she hated it. but I always felt I'd been cheated somehow. I've still never seen a body. I've been in the presence of several (I'm a journalist - it happens.) but they have always been covered up. Unless you count pets. Then I've dealt with quite a few over the years.
I'm not sure I could do your job. But I'm glad that you and people like you are there.

jaz@octoberfarm said...

my mother died when i was 9. no one ever talked about her after that. her father who lived with us, my only grandparent died 3 months later. no one ever mentioned him again. ten years later my brothers died in separate car crashes and my dad died within 7 months. i've been surrounded by death for my whole life.

Jim said...

I was 5 years old when my father's mother died. I remember standing in front of her casket and looking at her....all the while hearing and seeing my aunt (her daughter) wailing by the casket. It was very upsetting for me and confusing. I often wondering why and how I ended up there at such an young age. I do not remember hearing anything about what death was. It definitely affected me as far as the whole concept of death goes. I agree Stew that parents should take the lead in this in educating children about death.