By: Mia L. Hazlett
Since I had my children, I’ve heard and been part of many debates that surround whether children should attend funerals or not. For me, there is no easy yes and no. I believe there are determining factors that need to take place if my children will attend a funeral. My youngest, at age five, has not attended a funeral. The reasoning behind this, there is no one she has been close to that has passed. So I really have not had to have the death conversation with her. She understands what “dead” means, but we’re talking bugs or something on TV at the very most, not people.
But my oldest has attended a funeral. She was about six years old when my aunt passed. I won’t say my daughter was close to my aunt. But besides being a woman I loved, my aunt was part of a huge family tradition, Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was hosted at her and my uncle’s home and she and my mother used to wear matching red aprons as they bustled around the kitchen, preparing the family meal. My daughter knew Thanksgiving meant traveling to Rhode Island. When my aunt lost her battle with cancer, I had my first real death talk with my daughter. Because she had been alive when my grandfather passed, but she was only two or three and she didn’t really know him. There was no point in explaining a concept about someone she really wouldn’t miss.
She came into my room and I was crying on my bed. She asked what was wrong, and I explained to her my aunt died. I felt this was the most appropriate time to talk to her about death – when there was an actual death. Not brain surgery, but there were many who opposed when they found out after the fact. I wanted to talk to her about it, because I wanted to take her through the process, because she asked if she could go to the funeral. In a few days there would be a wake, a funeral, and then the repass. I also explained to her how my aunt died. Again I was met with more opposition after the fact. She didn’t attend the wake, but she did attend the funeral and repass. Prior to the funeral, I let her know what to expect. She may see her grandparents and aunts and uncles crying. She needed to be quiet and respectful. This was not a time to be loud or running around. The point is, I prepared her to see adults she was very close to, including me, crying. After the funeral when we were walking back to the car, she caught me off-guard. She began pointing at the other headstones, “There is no stone with her name on it. How will we find her when we want to bring flowers?” I told her there would be one shortly and we would always be ale to find her.
There were many factors that weighed in on my decision. First and foremost, my daughter knew my aunt. I wasn’t explaining a stranger to her. Second, she asked if she could go. There was a curiosity on her part to attend. This was not forced upon her. Third, I explained death to her and prepared her for the funeral. She did see me cry along with her aunts and uncles. I believe it was the first time she had been surrounded by crying adults. And fourth and what I deem to be most important, I took her through the entire process. She understood my aunt died, we then buried her body, and then we gathered at her home with the rest of the family for the repass.
For all of my critics, death is the end of life. My daughter was very much a part of my pregnancy with her little sister, doctors visits, reading to my belly, listening to her heartbeat, etc. She knew how life began. It’s just my opinion, but I believe we as parents owe it to our children, to tell them about death also. My point is, none of us are promised tomorrow. Don’t make your kid’s first encounter with death, be yours.