What is the advantage in taking young children to funerals? In my humble opinion, their presence exposes them to indelible images that may later prove even harder to deal with.
I was raised in the Deep South during the 1950’s and our culture of dealing with death and the departed included the family’s insistence on an open casket if at all possible. Coffin lids were closed only in cases of extreme disfigurement. After the service at the home of family members or in the church social hall where casseroles were consumed, much was made over how the deceased appeared in death. “Didn’t she look good? And words meant to be a comfort – “They did such a good job with his hair, didn’t they? Looked just like he did last week.”
Funerals were loud affairs with sobbing and moans mixed in among the amens and exhortations from the preacher. Demonstrations of grief were many and varied. Eulogists offered proclamations about the virtues of the departed while singers invariably waved handkerchiefs around – using them to mop sweat during humid summer events or to dab tears away when the singer knew the departed, and sometimes a handkerchief was merely one more dramatic device.
Good music at our funerals was a matter of pride and if a home congregation didn’t boast singers of the right caliber, a call went out to find someone who could offer the best interpretation of the songs the family chose. A funeral was quite a show and I guess our people considered them a healthy way to get it all out, because folks would respond to a wail with, “That’s right! Let it go, sister!”
Children attended these services. I was a child myself when my preacher-father required me to sing at funerals. Very soon (I started singing at funerals at the age of 9) I learned to avert my eyes because gazing on a coffin, even when I’d never met the departed, was disconcerting.
Some people today believe that taking children to funerals provides “closure” or at least a step toward that desired condition. I believe nothing can provide closure to a fatherless or motherless child. Of course many parent-less children grow up to thrive and even devote resources to championing help for other children without parents.
But all of this is to say that I wouldn’t voluntarily open up a discussion with a young child based on the theme, “He’s gone and he’s never coming back.” Those discussions will come soon enough and will likely last a lifetime.
Ó Anita Garner