Children Bring Joy to Mourning
Based on the number of young children I see at funerals and memorial services, many people feel that they are not fit to witness these ceremonies. I understand. They are loud. They wiggle and fidget. They ask a lot of questions.
They say things other people would not say. Things about farts, for example. I know this from personal experience.
I recently attended a viewing and graveside service for my grandfather and my son (aka The Boy), who is three, came with me. We traveled for four hours by car (including the break at the rest stop to run around and squeal). The first stop we made was at the funeral home. With just 25 minutes before the end of viewing, I didn't' have the time to take him somewhere to run out the crazies first. I felt horrible for the long ride and then a visit to a place that prized quiet conversations and decorum.
I reached my hand out for his, which was a bit sticky from very soft snickerdoodle cookies. We walked inside and he remarked about how it was such a beautiful home. The funeral director smiled and kindly showed us to my grandfather.
My grandfather's sister and two members of her family were visiting. I put down my camera bag and purse and crouched in the corner nearest the doorway with my son. I explained how we would see many sad people. I told him we were there to visit with and say goodbye to my grandfather. He nodded quietly. He climbed into a rocking chair covered with a quilt and snuggled, his feet just barely reaching the edge of the seat.
Then it happened.
RRRRRRRRRRRPFFFFFFFFT RRRRRRRPT RRRRRRRPT
Someone farted. I knew it wasn't us by the location of the sound. I turned to look at The Boy. His eyes were wide and he sat at full attention.
"Mommy! Mommy, I heard something!" he exclaimed with urgency.
"Oh," I replied as casually as I possibly could. "What did you hear?"
Why did I ask that question? How could I make this less of a scene? I thought about the most prudent approach to guiding him through this moment.
"It was loud! It was loud and bumpy!" His stage whisper seemed like it was loud enough to be heard down the hall and in the entry. I was caught between chuckling and wanting to melt into the floor and disappear.
This is why people do not bring children to funerals and memorials.
I knelt before him and snuggled him quietly, my back turned to the others in the room. I heard the throat-clearing and brief shifting of positions of the other people in the room. As my body settled into his, I realized how grateful I was for his company and his perspective. I was thankful to have someone there with me, not as a distraction, but as a grounding agent. He pulls me down in the best ways to make sure I am connected. He shows me what things are important and what things don't matter much in the long-term.
When the other mourners left shortly afterward, we had the space to ourselves. I approached my grandfather, who looked just right. He was wearing a blue, button-down shirt and although he had on a cardigan over it I'm pretty sure it had short sleeves. I photographed a few details in the room, because that's what I do. It was a way to help me work through the feelings.
The stage whisper started again.
"Mommy! Stop looking at your grandfather! He's resting."
I smiled. When my eyes crinkled I felt tears well for the first time. This little boy was doing everything he could do to respectfully participate and connect. At three he doesn't understand the concept of death and that doesn't matter. He came for me, and he came for other members of our family who appreciated his joyful chaos and expertise in full-body hugging.
There were other funny moments of the day. This one I will remember for the rest of my days. This one I will tell his future spouse, should he decide to marry. This one I will tell his children.
Parents aren't sure how their children will behave during what is usually a solemn occasion and I understand that reasoning in leaving them behind. I also understand and appreciate that the best way to learn about the world, learn about expectations, and practice what to do is to actually do things. I encourage parents to bring children to services when their children are interested in participating. There may be crying, shouting, laughing, or other distracting behavior. I think that's okay. These kids aren't intending to disrespect the family or the dependent - they're merely experimenting with behavior to find the right place to settle. Adults can help them do that.
And in some cases, they bring a smile or laugh that is needed. When we come together to honor and remember a life, we remember the joy, too. In that little boy of mine is a piece of my grandfather. For that and so many other things, t I am grateful.
Keywords: behavior, casket, children, death, family, fart, funeral, grief, joy, kids, memorial, mourning, preschooler, viewing
Thank you, Kevin. It's hard to talk about death because people tend to be so closed to the experience. It's really uncomfortable and friends and family want everything to be just right. The Boy reminds me that everyone farts. Everyone has bodily functions. Everyone lives and dies. We are all the same that way, and that's just right, too.
Thanks for letting us inside your moments and helping us gain perspective and stay grounded through your writing.
That was beautiful. Grandpa would have been laughing too!
A truly teachable moment, and you did it great!
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