Recently my friend Dave passed away after battling with a terminal illness. He and his wife, another dear friend of mine named Iris, had had many interactions with my two young girls as they had assisted Dave many times when we volunteered with the facility in which Dave and Iris lived. Following multiple excursions to Walmart, with my two young girls arguing over who got to push Dave’s wheelchair, Dave had come to call them ‘his girls.’ He frequently expressed his gratitude for their presence both during, and after those volunteering encounters.
When I found out about his passing, I was faced with the decision on whether or not to bring the girls to the funeral. Since the girls had had such a positive impact on Dave’s life over the last few months, I felt that it would mean a lot to both him and his wife Iris for the girls to go to the funeral. Many parents may worry that exposing their children to such ceremonies at an early age will traumatize them or potentially desensitize them to the occurrence of death. However, this is not necessarily the case. Following a brief conversation about Dave’s death and his pending funeral, my girls were willing to attend.
This funeral was not the first that my girls had attended. Two years previous, my grandmother had passed away, so my girls and I travelled to Prince Edward Island with my mother to attend my grandmother’s wake and funeral. Despite their young age, following age-appropriate explanation, my girls seemed to understand the finality in death and the importance of celebrating a loved one’s life. Following my grandmother’s funeral service, my youngest had even commented to my mother about “Great-Granny-Nanny” not being alive anymore.
Dave’s funeral service was a beautiful one. While there was a tangible amount of sadness during the service, his eulogy contained many snippets of his humour which made some of the attendees laugh as they remembered Dave as he had been. It had also contained some memorable moments from the 64 years in which he and Iris had cherished together. Throughout the service, my girls behaved well and following it, they each took turns giving Iris a hug and we handed her a condolence card in which the girls had happily signed their names. After some visitation, we left the venue and went on about our day. My girls were okay, they were not scared or scarred. I think in a way, it helped them understand that we would not be helping Dave around in his wheelchair anymore.
The decision to bring children to a wake or funeral is a very personal choice. Many factors may play a role in that decision, but the fear of grief or in death itself, should not be a leading factor. Since death and dying are universal occurrences, which means that no one is immune to it, I believe that it is best that we empower our children with knowledge about death and dying. Death can happen for a wide variety of reasons, some of which are natural progressions in life. In addition to potentially providing our children with a sense of closure following a loved one’s passing, allowing children to attend funerals and memorials may help them acknowledging that grief is a natural reaction to a loss. Instilling the idea that we will still carry our memories of our loved ones with us all our lives, despite not having the person with us anymore, may further help children in dealing with the loss of a beloved friend or family member.
We went to visit Iris the other day and the girls were not upset, scared or fearful. They did not dwell on Dave’s death or Iris’s loss. Instead they watched television while Iris, my mum, and I visited.
And so, life goes on, with Dave’s memory in our hearts.