This is a different ‘take’ on my Easter letter this year. It is a personal account of having my grandchildren at my dad’s funeral.
Many of you know that my dad recently died after a long illness with dementia and we had his funeral on January 12th this year. I have six grandchildren who were aged 4,5,11,11,17 and 20, in January. My children said it was up to me whether I wanted my grandchildren at my dad’s funeral.
Children and funerals is a difficult call and over the years people have said to me children shouldn’t go to funerals because: children shouldn’t see adults upset; children shouldn’t see and experience things they might not understand; children should enjoy life, not worry about dying and death. What’s your opinion? For what it’s worth, this is mine: on the whole I think children should go to funerals and I’m going to explain why I think this.
Firstly, dying is a part of living and how we grieve needs to be seen by children, so they learn about it. Children should see us coping with sadness. I think this helps them when they come to sad times themselves. As Christians, every year we go through the Easter Story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Children learn that sad times come, and they are hard, but our faith will help. We know death is not the end and this flavours the whole process.
Secondly, finding out that no-one wants to go to a funeral but going and sharing a friend or family member’s sadness can help them through a hard time. Children learn we help each other. Also, a Christian funeral service does show children we know our loved one is with God, who is loving them and caring for them far better than we ever could - this gives children hope. So, did my grandchildren come to my dad’s funeral and how did they cope with it? The four- and five-year olds I decided were too young. I think at this age there has to be a connection with the person who has died so they can talk about them in a personal way. And they didn’t really know my dad.
The 20-year-old was 21 on the day of the funeral and he texted me to say sorry he couldn’t come as he’d arranged to go out with his mates, and I said sorry as I’d forgotten it was his 21st. birthday on that day!
In the end, just the two 11-year olds and the 17-year-old came. I spent time with them beforehand asking what they wanted to know. I was surprised by the questions. The two 11-year olds wanted to know where they would sit, what they would do if people looked at them and what they should do if their parents cried.
I told them exactly where they would sit, and that people would be thinking nice thoughts if they looked at them and to link arms with their parents and hug them if they cried - I noticed they did this. The unexpected from my 17-year old granddaughter was that she wanted to choose the flowers for my dad’s coffin. I said yes, do this and I was surprised at how traditional her choice was.
Afterwards, they said the funeral was OK and they enjoyed the food especially the chicken legs and they thought the flowers were lovely. And they hugged me - which really helped me, and I told them this.
I hope these three have learnt that talking about death and funerals is OK, it’s nothing to be feared and together we can go through this difficult process. I found that knowing my dad was with God and that Jesus conquered death, did help me practically. It gave me the confidence to be honest and up front with my grandchildren, especially about coping with the sadness and tears.
Once again, this Lent and Easter we will journey with Jesus through his own death and resurrection. We will be reminded on Ash Wednesday that we will die, and that Jesus’ Spirit will journey with us through our own dying into eternity with him. If you see me out and about, I’d be interested in your experience about children at funerals.
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool