Children and Funerals

We took all four kids, ages eight, six, four and two to the viewing last night. We were all close to Aunt Leola and the kids adored her.

My boys both did well. Happy go lucky Caleb at age four does not grasp things yet. He doesn’t pose deep life questions either like his older brother always did at that age. Jack, age eight, has already been introduced to death and he is stoic, strong like his father. He locks emotion away and doesn’t know what to do with it. He bottles it up. Remains quiet. He reacts to sadness by laughing. By fidgeting. So my talks with him and sharing of life take far different tones and private gear shifts than talks with my other kids.

Maggie, age six, however, had the toughest time processing things last night as this is the first human death she is cognitively aware of. She emotes. She feels things far too deeply. (I dread the curse I passed down to her!) And I feel responsible for teaching her how to tame that side of her nature.

We stood in front of the open casket talking, I on my knees, she leaning against me.

We talked about more questions she had, so many of them repeats, differently worded, from earlier this week. She’s been clinging to me all week.

How did her body get into the casket?
Did she die in those clothes?
How were her clothes changed?
Why did she look different?
Where were her legs?
What is a heart attack?
Why do brains stop working?
How do bodies die?
Can people live past 99?
Will she be scared in the big box?
What will the funeral be like?
Why do we put people in the ground?

Will we die?

I walked her in detail through the physical process of what the funeral today would look like. Who would be there. What it would sound like. What her experience would be like.

We talked of the split between a body and a soul. How Aunt Leola’s essence, the soul that she embodied, the vibrant life that Maggie had sleepovers and fingernail painting parties with, was no longer stuck in her body’s shell. And how Aunt Leola firmly believed that her soul would be free to enjoy a beautiful Heaven after her body died.

Maggie suddenly wanted to give her aunt something. Anything. So she found a penny in her coat pocket and placed it in Aunt Leola’s hand. Caleb, following his sisters cue, took off his favorite Olaf bracelet and placed it in her other hand.

They all verbally said goodbye.

We moved to a soft wingback chair and Maggie sat on my lap with her face buried in my chest crying.

She said she feels so so sad.
That her insides hurt.
She pointed to her rib cage.
She said she wishes her aunt were alive again.

She said she misses her smile.

I said I did too. I cried with her.
I ran my hands over her hair and rubbed her tiny nose. I promised her for the millionth time in her life that any question she ever has, mommy will be here to answer for her.

After a few minutes, she stopped crying.

We watched a beautiful slideshow with photos passing by and talked about enjoying life like Aunt Leeky (our family nickname for her) strived to.
We talked about loving people while we were alive. And about making good memories with them.
We talked about how it’s up to each of us individually to consciously initiate wonderful moments that remind us of the gift of life. And how she too will grow through life learning to offer love to others and make beautiful memories of her own. And how every opportunity she has to smile, she should grab it and multiply it.

We talked about how human grief works.
The coming and going.
The ups and downs.
How one minute she will feel happy and then the next minute she will suddenly remember what happened all over again…and the sadness will wash back over.
Like the ebbing of the tides. In and out.

And that it’s ok to cry.

And that it’s even ok to stop crying.

And that it’s ok to tell people the truth.

Everyone kept asking me if I was ok. Asking her if she was ok. That seems to be the opening words for everyone at times like this – “Are you ok?”

It’s an unintentional covert attempt to avoid uncomfortable emotion. A viable way to comfort our own self during someone else’s pain. To massage our inner conscious regarding the person we are asking this of.

I told her it’s perfectly fine to just say no.
It’s such a stupid question when a loved one has died anyway. Of course we are not “ok” at the moment.
I told her it’s even acceptable to not answer at all if she doesn’t want to.

And I gave her the words “…but I will be.”

Because OK will come later.
It always does.
“Ok” is the portion of hope we are all gifted, the portion of hope that exists. The portion that we can continually reach for day by day.

And I must say, never in my entire life have I wished the wise Fred Rogers was sitting beside me than when I was holding my child in that funeral home making this all up on the fly, hoping that by some chance I’m doing this mother gig….. “ok”.

God, I sure hope so.

Author: Lisa Cole

Lisa Cole is a freelance writer and social media specialist skilled in non-profit marketing and grass roots advertising. This mother of four weaves humor, emotion and depth into stories about parenthood and life in the American South.