On Children, Funerals, & How Parents Make It All Worse

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child at funeralThis week, my family and I said goodbye to a very important influence in our lives. We lost my grandmother, a woman whose strength and independence has been characterized as a family legacy. She had the same confidence that I see mirrored in my own daughter. The fact my little girl so closely resembled her great-grandmother was a huge point of pride, for my Gigi, my mother and myself. This loss was my daughter’s first funeral, and while I know she learned a lot, I think I learned more.

My daughter and I had discussed death in an abstract sense. She had heard, both from her Presbyterian pre-school and her family, that when you die, you go up to Heaven with God. But up until this point, I had never thought she was ready to attend a funeral. I assumed the open casket and crowds of people would be too  much for a child struggling to understand why someone she loved had to go away.

However, given my daughter’s close relationship with her great-grandmother, I felt like it would be unfair to deny her the chance to say goodbye. We knew my grandmother was sick, but we thought she had months. Then my dad called me during the day and told me to come immediately. There was time for the adults, but no opportunity to get the kids from school and let them say goodbye. The funeral would  be my daughter’s only chance.

From the very beginning, Brenna seemed to approach the situation with a matter-of-fact point of view. When I tried to sit her down to give her the news, she already knew what I was going to tell her. I sat on the couch and said, “Hunnie, can you come sit with me? Momma needs to talk to you about something.” She curled up in my lap and before I could speak she said, “Gigi’s dead.” I was shocked. I sputtered and asked how she knew. “I just know, Mom,” she told me.

I tried to prepare her for the funeral and what she would see. I let her know that her great-grandmother’s body would be laying there for us to say goodbye, but that she wouldn’t be able to talk to us or respond. She would be listening from Heaven. “It’s like she’s sleeping,” my daughter surmised. I had planned on telling her that next.

Once the day came, I brought my daughter in early before any other guests arrived. I wanted her to have a second to herself, a second to do whatever she needed to do. I was prepared for crying, for confusion, for fear. I braced myself and my mom for my little girl’s reaction. My daughter simply walked up, looking at the casket. She asked a couple basic questions like where her legs were, since half of the casket was closed. Then she started examining the flowers that were stretched along the front of the church, asking if she could pick a bouquet to take home.

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