Parenting

Should you take kids to funerals?

Tracy had to make a quick decision about taking her kids to a funeral last week, and she's hoping it was the right one.

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My grandma passed away last week. It may sound like déjà vu, since my mom’s mom just passed away in February. It has been a tough few months for our family. I know how lucky I’ve been to have my grandmas active and involved in my life until they were in their 90s, and while it makes you think about it in more of a “circle of life” kind of way at this stage, it’s still very sad to say goodbye.

Because we were away on our cruise and unable to be at my grandma’s funeral in February, I sidestepped a lot of questions from my daughters. We definitely talked about it — that we wouldn’t see Nan again, that her body was tired, that she had lived a long and happy life and now was up in heaven. We also had time over the past few months to answer random questions that have come up since, about Nan’s last days and why old people die and where her body is now and if I (and they) will live to be 93, too.

What we never discussed was her funeral. There was no need. Then last week, there suddenly was, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Sean suggested I go home a day early on my own to have a little time with my family, and the write the eulogy I’d been asked to say. That evening was the visitation, so I did that without them and was glad, and I talked to some of my cousins about whether or not their kids were going to the funeral. It didn’t seem to be an easy decision for anyone, but most of them said they were bringing the kids.

The truth is, I remember going to a funeral when I was young and being completely freaked out by that body in the coffin. Even today, I don’t generally do well at funerals. Part of me thought I should spare them (or me?) any potential trauma this might cause. I worried if, at seven and almost-five, the funeral would be confusing and scary for them, drawing an alarming juxtaposition between a woman they loved and last saw alive, and a pale, unresponsive body in a coffin. I worried it would give them nightmares, instead of a better understanding of life.

We talked to them about what happens at a funeral and gave them the option of staying or going (my friend offered to take care of them) and I just prepared ourselves to deal with whatever happened. Anna’s biggest worry was that it would be boring, which at least made me laugh. In the end, they decided to go, mostly because their cousins were going. And you know what? It was all OK. They weren’t freaked out in the least by seeing my grandma’s body. Avery was quite fascinated by it, actually, and Anna commented that I was right, it did just look like she was sleeping. They were curious and respectful and, thankfully, not the least bit traumatized. I think they were glad to be a part of this, no matter how sad it was. I also found that I handled the whole thing much better than I usually do with my girls there with me.

Her great-grandma’s death is still on Avery’s mind. She’s been asking lots of good questions, like “I don’t understand how Nan is in the ground and up in heaven, too.” I’m glad to keep talking about the funeral and the questions it’s brought up, and about my grandma, who was such a sweet, loving and important person in our lives. My girls loved her dearly and she is missed so much already.

Have you taken your kids to a funeral? How did you decide if they were old enough to handle it, and how did you prepare them? Since our comments function is turned off, tweet me @T_Chappell.