This post is about whether or not to bring kids to funerals.
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”
We just came back from a funeral. On the way back in the car, in the funeral procession, I turned on the radio and The Rainbow Connection sung by the Dixie Chicks came on, and I cried.
The funeral was for the 45-year-old father of a boy in Fiona’s class.
A football coach who inspired players and coaches with his fairness, spirit, and strong sense of faith.
He left quite an impression on the huge number of people who showed up to say good bye to him today. He left quite an impression on me, and I didn’t know him.
Fiona wasn’t sure if she should go to the funeral. Although she’s in the same class as this man’s son, the boy is two years older than Fi so they aren’t technically friends as much as they are classmates. (Fi attends a Montessori school that has mixed-age classes, and she’s in the 9-12 class.)
I asked if she wanted some help deciding, and she said yes.
So I said, “Answer this question: If it was a funeral for someone in your family, would you want your classmates to be there for you?”
She said yes, and as soon as she did she knew the answer – she wanted to go. To be there for her classmate, and support him in some small way.
This was the fourth funeral of people we know in two months. We’ve been able to go to two of them.
First, it was the unexpected death of an old friend who took his own life in San Francisco. He was a fantastic, vibrant light – the kind of person who brought energy and light into every room he entered. He was also the loving father of an 8-year-old child.
To be honest, I’m glad I didn’t bring Fi to that funeral because his wife started it by playing Michael Jackson, and disco-dancing down the aisle to the front, stopping along the way to sit in people’s laps.
I don’t know what was going on with her, serious grief maybe, but I’m glad my kids didn’t see it.
Two weeks later, my friend Richard passed away from leukemia in San Francisco. My kids asked – well, begged me – to go to the funeral. I hadn’t planned on taking them, but they really wanted to go to the funeral, so I brought them with me to California.
I really didn’t know what to expect for the kids, and I was a little nervous and lectured them on how to behave at a funeral where there weren’t many kids. Once we arrived, though, I knew it would be okay when the chaplain – who was from Ireland – started the service with a powerful moment of silence, then had us close our eyes and take a series of deep breaths.
“We’re all going to hold this sacred space for Richard,” he began.
I peeked at my children: their little eyes were closed, and they were breathing deeply…holding a sacred space for Richard.
Then our friend Jimmy Dillon brought his guitar up to the altar and sang an acoustic version of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, by Guns N’ Roses – aside from cashmere, Richard loved rock n’ roll. There was so much love in that room, and I was so glad I had the foresight to bring my children, because what a gift it all was.
Afterwards, at the reception – Fi made friends with one of Richard’s grown daughters who I had never met because Richard hadn’t even know of her existence until about 10 years ago. She asked Fiona where she was from, and Fi said, “Maryland.”
She said, “Maryland?! What are you doing in California?”
Fi: “We came for your dad’s funeral.”
Richard’s Daughter: “Go. Get. Your. Mom.”
Fi dragged me back to meet her new friend, Richard’s daughter, who said: “Let me get this straight. You flew across the country – at Christmastime – with two children – to come to my dad’s funeral?”
Fi and I: “Well, of course.”
She cried. She was pretty moved that the three of us had flown out to be there.
She said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
Later I said to Fi: “See? Showing up matters.”
When we got on the plane home I asked the girls what their favorite thing about the trip was – the Planetarium? Golden Gate Bridge? Tea and rice crackers at the Japanese Tea Gardens?
It was Richard’s funeral, they said. That was their favorite thing.
Children need to understand life and death as much as we do – and I forget this. Kids need ritual. They want to be a part of it, and of community, just as much as adults do.
I’m just really glad I brought them.
Then the Thursday before Christmas, another father who we had known from our school died. He was flying his plane home to be with his family for Christmas. It crashed in a corn field in PA.
He was only 38. He had three kids under the age of 8.
He was an amazing person - one of the ones who was at the forefront of making the planet a better place with solar power – but above all, he was a devoted father to his three young children. He would fly back from far away corners of the globe just so he could be at his kid’s school plays.
He knew what mattered.
His wife wrote this on her Facebook page:
Hold on to the ones you love today and everyday. So thankful that he knew exactly how much I loved him and I know how much he loved me. Feel extremely blessed to have no regrets…
Then today, another funeral.
Another devoted, amazing dad of two children. Another wife left behind, a life cut short.
The priest kept saying: Life is hard…God is faithful.
It was a gospel church, so the songs they sang were uplifting, and helpful.
Seeing his family was hard – the tears on all their faces as they were following the coffin down the aisle of the church surrounded by the hundreds and hundreds of friends who stood silently in support of them.
And then – down the aisle came this wonderful boy, Fiona’s classmate.
I could see him looking around at all the faces in the crowd, maybe he was trying to find one or two he recognized – then his eyes landed on Fiona, and beside her, another classmate – and you know what?
His face lit up. He smiled.
Then he walked on down the aisle and out of the church, following his father’s coffin.
Fiona squeezed my hand and whispered, “Mommy – I’m so glad we came.”
This post won the popular vote at lovelinks #38.
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