The first death I remember was a great uncle.
I was elementary school age and I barely knew the man. But he was family and my whole family was there and it was quiet and that’s about all I remember.
For most of us, the death of someone close is the first serious blow to our perceived immortality. For me, I was 14 and it was the death of a favorite uncle. Then, a few months later, a close friend. In the next five or so years, there were a few more: another friend, a few acquaintances, a friend’s little brother, my grandfathers, etc.
I don’t honestly remember much about the ins and outs of the visitations and funerals I attended as a child and an adolescent. I remember how every one was different because every person’s story and family and friends were different. I remember it being confusing. I remember not knowing how quiet I must be, whether or not I could smile at friends and family, whether or not I was saying the right words to those in mourning.
But I remember a lot of hugs. A lot of crying.
And I remember how much the knowledge and experience of death changes us.
Death is on my mind because, yesterday, my family attended the funeral of a young man I never met but whose parents are friends. And, of the hundreds of people in the room (maybe more?), my four children were some of the only children there.
I bring my kids to funerals.
Not every funeral, of course. And we don’t always last the whole service. (And if I had different kids I might reconsider.)
But I bring my kids to funerals because I don’t believe there are many truly “adult things” (as distinguished from “kid things”) and, even if there are, death is certainly not one of them.
I bring my kids to funerals because they are painful and hard and confusing and uncomfortable. But I’d rather my children fumble through the uncomfortable experiences of life in the safety of a family who loves them and is willing to entertain dumb and silly questions about life and death and how we celebrate and observe them.
I bring my kids to funerals because, some day, someone close to them will die. It might be me. Or their father. It might be their brother or sister or grandparent or best friend. Lord willing, it won’t be for a long time. But it will happen. And, when it happens, I don’t want the experience to feel like showing up to their first job interview wearing the wrong color suit. Hard things take practice. We practice together.
I bring my kids to funerals because my deepest anxieties surround their mortality and I need to be reminded that their lives are gifts and they are here with me now even if I cannot be certain they will be with me tomorrow.
I bring my kids to funerals because I cry–oh boy, do I cry–when someone I love or someone someone I know loves dies. And I don’t let my kids see the vulnerable parts of me enough.
I bring my kids to funerals because babies are like puppies and they cheer people up (when they are not howling or chewing up the paper programs, of course, which is why we don’t always make it through the whole service).
But, more than anything, I bring my kids to funerals because they need to see how people with hope observe death.
I bring them because they need to hear about Jesus and Heaven and “forever” from people who really believe it and breathe it in like it’s the only thing still keeping them standing.
In their short lives, my children have already heard plenty from us about “God loves us” and “God takes care of us,” but they need to hear it from other people–especially people who are standing at that dark cliff of death, are stricken with grief, but can still say “it is well with my soul” (even if they’re not quite 100% there yet).
I bring them because Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope.
Death is still terrible and sad and I hate it with everything inside me. But Christians do death differently. And I want my kids to look at the world and look at the Church and know the difference more fully because they’ve sat in those pews and sang those songs and heard–with their own two ears– the voice of a grieving mothering declare the goodness of God over her child’s death.
This is powerful stuff and, as much as I wish I could, I cannot hide my kids from it.