It wasn’t until I was about twenty that I went to my first funeral, that of my paternal Grandmother, and having spoken to so many of my friends recently about this fact it appears that actually I was quite old when I experienced this for the first time.
My beloved Gramps died in March this year and his funeral took place last month surrounded by his friends, the most beautiful flowers and the huge family he left behind even down to his seven great-grandchildren all under the age of eight. Hector attended the funeral with me along with the other great-grandchildren on the day – a decision that wasn’t taken lightly and one which was incredibly important to me.
Prior to the day itself, conversations with various friends and family turned, as they do, to talking about the funeral, where it was, when it was etc and also who would be looking after Hector on the day. When I explained that Hector would be coming with Ste and I, most nodded their heads and commented reassuringly ‘of course, only right he should be with his family’ but that didn’t stop some people from looking at me rather aghast as if I was a complete and utter maniac for wanting to take my child to a funeral.
My Gramps’ funeral isn’t the first that Hector has attended; I also took him along to a service for a friend of our family when he was eight months old. There’s little chance Hector will remember going in years to come but it was important to me that he was there; I wanted to honour the memory of our friend who had met and adored Hector even if it was just for a short while.
Perhaps I’m strange for thinking it’s ok for children to attend funerals. But my thinking is that death is a part of the circle of life and however painful the process of grieving is, it’s important for children to start to understand it and experience it…if they want to. Hector is admittedly of an age right now where he probably doesn’t really comprehend death and what it means in the way that say a seven year old would and as such it is bound to affect children across a spectrum of ages in completely different ways. Would I have approached the situation differently if he was older? Most definitely, in that I would have given him the opportunity to choose whether he wanted to be there or not and respected that decision accordingly.
Personally I think it’s important to understand the purpose of a funeral from a young age – that it’s a special ceremony that gives you the chance to say goodbye but also to see how much everyone cared for the individual who has died. And that’s so important…to know that everyone loved that person as much as you did; in fact it’s oddly comforting. For me at least a funeral is a kind of marker in the grieving journey and the point where I really come to terms with the fact someone is gone. Why should a child be any different?
The key though is preparation, I think it’s OK for a child of any age to go to a funeral, providing that someone has talked to them about it first, how they feel about going and also what it will involve. That way it lessens any potential shocks on the day itself. I actually shared several conversations with Hector about my Gramps and that we were going to say goodbye. I’m not sure how much of it he understood but I’d laid the groundworks at least. Ste and I had also discussed at length an exit plan if it ended up being all a bit much for him on the day too.
So how did Hector behave on the day itself?
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t apprehensive about him speaking/shouting at an inappropriate moment, for saying the wrong thing or being adversely affected by the emotions of everyone attending. He’s a sensitive soul and I’d imagine it would be pretty daunting seeing everyone you know and love crying without fully understanding why. But as it happened he was a diamond; admittedly he did go up to my mum as she stood on the podium half way through the service as she shared her memories of her dad but she said Hector was comforting and reassuring to her at just the right moment. And if anyone can get away with wanting to dance to Edith Piaf as we exited the crematorium room then it’s got to be a two and a half year old; he was more than a little bit disappointed when the music stopped asking ‘where did the dancing go?’. I know that my gramps would have been pleased (and actually rather tickled) that he was there rather than offended for someone wanting to dance at a funeral.
Have any of you taken your children to a funeral? How old were they? Did they want to go? And how did it affect them? Perhaps you went to a funeral as a child…was it important you had the chance to say goodbye or would you rather not have attended? Why not share your thoughts in the comments box below…