As soon as funerals are mentioned, one of the very first questions I've always been asked is "what are you going to do with the children?". It seems almost everyone's first default thought is that they shouldn't go, but why not?
I read a blog post written by a Pastor's daughter the other day entitled "Why you should've Taken Your Kids To That Funeral", and it stirred a lot of emotions in me because I have never had any issue with my children going to funerals, but people I know do.
When our youngest boys were only a few months and 2 years old their Great-Grandmother died. The service was up in Scotland, we couldn't leave the little boys at home, and there was no-one in Scotland to watch them, so they came. I was ready to leave with them at any point, but it wasn't necessary, and I felt that whatever noise they'd have made, it wouldn't have mattered. The small congregation had nothing but smiles for the children, and thanks to us for travelling that distance with them.
My brother died a year later. At 2 and 3 they were still too young for school, the service was back in my home town which I had left several years before, and every relative I had would be there. It didn't really leave me any other option than to take them, and as my brother loved children, I didn't think he'd mind. Some of my relatives did mind, and that was a great shame. The boys were very well behaved, quiet and reverent throughout. It felt very right to have as many of the children with me as was possible. It felt right to have them there to hug and hold, and they didn't become overwhelmed or upset. They were calm.
When Elspeth died last August our children all understood what a funeral was, how it worked and what should happen. We let the children make a lot of the decisions about the service, including choosing the music, dress code and order of service. We chose an amazing Humanist Celebrant and she was delighted the children were so included. On her suggestion our 6 year old pressed the button to close the curtain around his sister.
There weren't only our children there, her friends were there, schoolchildren and young people filled the room. They all had a chance to lay flowers on her coffin and share their words with the congregation.
Everyone got a chance to mourn together, to celebrate her life, to laugh and cry, and to say goodbye properly. Everyone got a degree of closure. Everyone got a chance to support each other.
By preventing your children from attending funerals you prevent them being there for you. If your child was hurt, you would want to comfort them, and they feel the same way. Crying in front of your child not only shows them it's okay to express emotion, it teaches them how they can help, it gives them a purpose and it makes both of you feel better. It shows them it's okay to feel the loss of that person, they can cry too. It makes everything real.
I think somewhere along the line we did something right, because all 6 of our children coped so incredibly well with their sister's funeral. They were all there for each other, they all took an active part and they all put something of themselves into the service. I think in honesty they coped far better than we did, and without their help we'd have found it all a lot more stressful. I'm very grateful to them.
I gave birth to my youngest child in our living room, while 3 of his brothers sat in the kitchen eating noodle sandwiches. I taught my children about birth and what would happen, I prepared them in case it was very quick and they had to take some responsibility. Nothing that happened that day phased them at all, and they all bonded with their brother immediately, with my 18 month old shouting "my baby" at the Midwife.
Birth and death are what happens. There's other stuff too, but they're the basics and they're going to crop up fairly regularly. You can shield your children from them, but not forever, and being the one who doesn't know the secret is hard enough any time, even harder when you know something is wrong. You might buy your child a pet, and teach them about death that way, but it won't be the same. You can hide your own emotions, but what good does that do when what you really need is for your family to give you a hug? Children have a right to be included IF THEY WISH. If they were part of their life, then in my opinion they should be allowed to mourn and to say goodbye with everyone else.
I once said I hoped there were lots of children at my funeral, lots of smiling and colour, and the person I was talking to told me that was an awful idea. I disagree, I still hope it's the case.