Children at funerals

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

Waiting is too hard.

Jack wanted that bag of cookies. 

His mom said,

“Jack, I told you, we need to eat our breakfast first.”

 He wailed and I mean it was loud, using the full extent of his lung power,

“Noooooo I don’t wanna wait.  It’s too hard!”

 In that small cafe, it doesn’t take much wailing to fill the room.

Jack appeared to be four or five years old.  His mother looked at the few of us gathered in the cafe early one morning last week and shrugged apologetically. 

I stood at the counter, placing my coffee order.  A young man waiting near me said, 

“Poor little guy.”

I nodded and added,

“I agree with Jack. Waiting is too hard.”

The mother heard us and said,

“I shouldn’t have bought the cookies ’til we finished our eggs.” 

But at this little cafe/bakery, decked out to resemble a French bistro, when you place your order, you pay for everything at once, so Jack knew that cellophane bag of treats was waiting.  Who could blame him for focusing on the treat?  Focusing on the treat is about as universal an emotion as I can think of. 

All of a sudden it got quiet in there.  Jack had stopped yelling long enough to say to his mom, 

“I am serious!”

The man and I, waiting for our orders at the counter, both broke into laughter at that, which probably didn’t help. 

Jack’s mom looked at us and smiled and over his now-renewed protests, she  said,

“He’s having a bad day.”

The man said to me,

“I can relate.”

I  walked past Jack, carrying my coffee and newspaper, and patted him on the head. 

He hollered some more and then gave it up and ate his scrambled eggs and toast. 

As Jack and his mom left, he asked her,

“Can I have a hug?”

She picked him up, and with his long growing-boy legs dangling, she carried him out, as he clutched that bag of meringues tightly.  He gave me a smile as they left.

I’ve been thinking about Jack and his bad day ever since.   I envy him.  It would be nice if once in a while wailing out loud in public was considered acceptable behavior for adults.  But since it’s not, at least we still have cookies.

Ó Anita Garner 2009