This past week, my great aunt passed away. Now, I don't know if it's a Southern thing, but I have found that many people seem to be surprised that my family had a close relationship with my great aunt. We have close relationships with a LOT of our extended family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, 2nd and 3rd cousins, great aunts and uncles, -- literally everyone. We have big families, and we know them and love them and are involved in each other's lives. So when my great aunt passed, we were sad and we made time to travel to her hometown a few hours south for the funeral. This was the first funeral for my 2 youngest and I wanted them to be as prepared as possible since death is a difficult concept for adults in many cases and they are only 4 and 5. Also, they have yet to develop that voice in their heads that tells them "Hey, you shouldn't say that out loud because it could offend someone" so I wanted to try to get a little ahead of their possible reactions to hopefully keep them from embarrassing themselves (but mostly me). The night before the funeral, I sat down with the 2 of them to discuss what would happen the next day and to answer any questions that they might have. This is that conversation to the best of my recollection:
So you guys know that Aunt Martha died and that we are going to go to her funeral tomorrow, right?
Do you know what a funeral is?
Okay, well I thought I'd talk to you guys about it a little bit so that you'd know what to expect and so that I could answer any questions that you might have, okay?At this point, I was sort of patting myself on the back. I thought I had done a pretty good job preparing them without going into unnecessary details that would only confuse them. I was expecting them to have a few general questions, but nothing major.
(Nods of assent from both)
When someone dies, the people that loved them come together to talk about them and their life and to comfort one another because they are sad that they are gone. It will be at a funeral home, which is a place especially made for funerals. Aunt Martha's body will be there, and we will be able to see her. She will be in a coffin which is a box that they will bury her in.
In the GROUND?
Yes, they will bury her in the ground after the funeral. The funeral will be sort of like church -- we will be quiet, listen to people talk about Aunt Martha and about death, and there will be prayers and maybe singing. It is important that we sit quietly during this part, okay?
When the funeral is over, we'll get in the car and drive to the cemetery.
Like the graveyard?
Will there be ghosts there?
What about zombies? Will there be zombies there?
No, there will not be zombies there. When we get to the graveside, there will be a few more words spoken, probably a prayer, and then we will leave before they bury her, okay? Do you guys have any questions?
Can we watch?
Watch them bury her.
It's not proper to do that.
Because it's just not.
Where will they bury her?
In the cemetery.
In the ground.
But where in the ground?
Well, in her hometown.
In the ground, next to her husband, in the cemetery, in her hometown.
(Shocked) You mean they killed her husband too??!!
NO! He died before you were born -- he's been buried a long time.
Like with the dinosaurs?
So maybe I gave myself a little too much credit. Or maybe I gave THEM too much credit. But in any event, I had talked to them about what to expect and I felt a little better about everything. After a little bit more discussion about death and how Aunt Martha had lived a long time and that she had died because she was old, etc. we went to bed so that we could head out the next morning.
When we got to my aunt's house the day of the funeral, my fears about the 5 year old's lack of a verbal filter were renewed.
Who lives here?
This is Aunt Martha's house.
But she died.
Yes, but this is her house.
She died because she got really, really old, right?
Just like you will die someday when you get really old, right mom?So we got dressed and went to the funeral home. All of our family was there (including the 11 grand kids from our side of the family) and the kids seemed to be taking everything in and not freaking out at all. I did have to stop all of the kids from running and laughing through the funeral home during the visitation -- they were playing some version of hide-n-go-seek. I sent them outside, problem solved.
(Okay, thanks for that brutal reminder about my mortality).
The funeral home that hosted my family is very nice and the set up is good because it is adjacent to the cemetery. When the funeral was over, we only had to drive through the parking lot and into the pretty large cemetery. As we were winding through the graveyard, the 4 year old looked out the window at the headstones, puzzled:
Wait....are all of those rocks DEAD PEOPLE?!I didn't try to correct any of this. I was just thankful that this discussion had happened in the car.
(the 5 yr. old) Yep! All them flowers too!
Sooooo.....will Aunt Martha grow into a rock? Or a flower?
(the 5 yr. old) No! They don't plant you. They put you in the ground and then they put the rocks and flowers on top of you.
So you can't get out and be a zombie?
(the 5 yr. old) Yeah.
In the end, the service was beautiful, my aunt was laid to rest with respect, and my kids made it through their first funeral with no emotional scarring and no embarrassing comments in front of other people. Funerals are hard matter how old you are, and I am proud of my kids for the way that they behaved. They may have had an inappropriate comment or conversation, but they lightened my mood with them. Their curiosity and precociousness throughout the day were a welcomed reminder that life goes on and that we should always ask questions, be silly, and LIVE while we can, the best that we can.