In every parent’s life you come to the point of deciding when to take your children to funerals. Sometimes this decision is made for you if the deceased person is a close relative and the child needs to go in order to have closure. Sometimes the choice to take the child to the funeral is optional; the deceased is not related and there are no close ties with your children. However, eventually, a close relative will die and the children need to be prepared to deal with death.
For our family, the scriptures dictate the parameters of the “hereafter” and the “state of the dead”. But I was apprehensive about dealing with my children’s emotions of standing in front of the casket. I had been protecting them from what I perceived as a “dead body” trauma. So, I did not take them to funerals of non-relatives and even some relatives. My Mom kept telling me I was wrong to shelter them because they were five and six years of age and death was a part of life.
Well, Floyd’s brother, David, died and I had to take them to the funeral. My Mom and Floyd’s Mom would have been distraught if I had kept them home. So, I girded up my loins and prepared to get them ready for the “DEAD BODY”.
I sat Joel and Ruth on the couch in the living room and went over all the basic facts we had discussed in our home school Bible Class. We talked about how the dead know nothing, see nothing and are waiting in the grave for the Resurrection. I explained that when Yeshua returns for the righteous, we would all get new bodies.
I described the funeral home with separate rooms for each family to view their dead loved one. There would be chairs and the casket in the front of the room. I described the funeral procedure from the family coming in, to the closing of the casket and the people leaving the funeral home. I didn’t dare explain the Uncle David was going to be cremated. I couldn’t deal with the questions and the horror I thought the kids would have.
They seemed to understand the funeral process. They asked a few questions that had nothing to do with the “dead body”. I was surprised that they were so calm and collected about the whole thing. I told them if they had any more questions to come and ask me.
About 15 minutes later, Joel came back into the room, “Ma, I have a question.”
“OK. What is it?”
“Where do they put the little box?”
“What little box?”
“The box with the head in it.”
I was perplexed. Joel looked at me and was puzzled at my expression.
“You said when Yeshua returns, we get a new body. So where do they put the box with the head in it?”
OK. Soooo… I went back to the drawing board on that one.
We made it through David’s funeral with no emotional problems.
Now some background on Joel and Ruth is needed before I can continue with this saga.
Joel was cautious and very prim. He would run from blood, gore and any unpleasant smells. It took him years to get the courage to pick up and rub our barn cats. He was afraid of getting dirty or scratched.
Ruth was fearless and not squeamish. When she was eight years old, I was at the sink preparing food when she walked in the kitchen. I didn’t turn to look at her. She began to moan as she came right up on me and said, “Oh, Mama look. the kitty is dead.” I turned around and she was holding a very dead kitten in her bare hands. I was startled and immediately went into a double role; the “nurturer” of my child and the “protector of kitchen sanitation”.
When she was eleven, she watched with interest our goat in labor. When the labor persisted over night with no kid in sight, I decided we should go in and pull it out. Ruth was raring to go. Floyd wanted no parts of it. Joel was forced to be present just in case we needed a runner for supplies or a call to the Vet.
I explained the birthing procedure I had seen three times. The first time was watching James Herriot deliver a calf on PBS Television (All Creatures Great and Small) .
The second time was at the County Fair in Michigan when two guys assisted a calf being born. The third time was when a lady brought a laboring goat to the Vet’s office in Michigan. The Vet took the goat outside, put on long gloves (up to her shoulder), put her hand and arm into the vaginal opening and brought out the kid. Ruth eyes and my eyes were riveted to the scene. Later, Joel said,
“As soon as I saw the Vet put on the gloves and turn towards the goat, I turned away!”
However, based on these vicarious experiences, I was ready. More than ready; we just happened to have some long Vet gloves left over from applying medication to a dog with mange. Ruth had been listening to my explanation of the procedure and was excited. She asked,
“OK, do you want to go inside, or shall I do it?”
Since I had more “experience”, I elected to go inside while she held the goat. We delivered a beautiful little billy goat.
So, you get the picture of the temperaments of Joel and Ruth. Now, back to the main story.
There were two more funerals of relatives that Joel and Ruth attended. They had no immediate or delayed emotional traumas. I even escalated the experience by asking them to touch the bodies. This was no problem for Ruth, but Joel had to meet about three or four dead bodies before he touched one. I believe he touched Granny Shirley’s hands, Floyd’s Mom, at her funeral.
So I then figured I could take them to some of the viewings/wakes of people I know, but Joel and Ruth really didn’t know. Now I did this for convenience. Floyd worked a part-time job in the evenings and often these wakes were in the evening. I couldn’t leave Joel and Ruth alone at home and it made no sense to me to hunt down a babysitter for one hour. We lived in the country and finding a sitter with a car to come to our farm was always a challenge.
Now I’ll give you a little contextual information on the community. We were black in the white rural community of Morenci, Michigan. Our house was about 75 feet from the Michigan – Ohio border.
There was only one other totally black family in the area. There were a few other blacks, but they were in mixed marriages or were adopted/foster children.
A friend of mine’s uncle died and I was invited to the wake in Fayette, Ohio, a small rural village. Actually, Fayette was closer to our house than the town of Morenci. I went to the wake with Joel and Ruth. The deceased was an elderly white gentleman; he looked in his eighties. When we walked into the funeral home, there were 40-50 persons there. I knew some of them from church and recreational activities with my children.
When we entered the viewing room, I stopped to sign the guest book. Joel and Ruth (by now, no shy bones in either of their bodies) went directly to the casket of a man they had never met. I finished signing the book and turned to join Joel and Ruth.
To my horror, they both had their hands in the coffin! As I got nearer, I saw that they were poking the pimples on the man’s face. His face was covered with protruding nodules. I quickly got them to stop and slowly turned around to see if anybody had seen them. Luckily , there was no one else standing near the casket (WHEW!!). I would have died of embarrassment!
Sometime later, I asked Joel why had they poked at the man.
“We just wanted to see if those bumps on his face would go down.”
I chose to see this behavior as curiosity in budding scientists. I know others may see this as a lack in my parenting skills.
However, I did accomplish my goal. They were not afraid of “dead bodies!”
Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Eddie Rickenbacher