I grew up as a pastor’s kid. Oh yes, and for a time, my father also worked at a funeral home…just call me Veda from “My Girl”…not really…it actually wasn’t like that at all…okay…moving on. Anyway, funerals were a regular part of our family’s life. My father spoke at funerals. My mother sang at funerals. As I got older, I began playing piano for funeral services. My brother and I were involved in preparing/delivering/setting up food for families who had lost loved ones. All of this came with the territory. My father served as a shepherd to his flock, and as a family, we all worked together to offer comfort and support to families who were facing some of the most difficult days they had ever known.
We learned so much from these service opportunities – it was truly a training ground for us! We learned how to serve others…how to look outside of ourselves and focus on the hurts of other people…how to give of our time and talents to encourage other people.
We learned a lot about life…and death.
As I’ve had conversations with other parents, I am amazed at the number of families who shelter their children from the reality of death. Time and time again, I have seen families experience the passing of a friend, a neighbor, a loved one, and the children are excluded from the funeral services.
I have heard parents offer a number of explanations:
- “My child is very sensitive…it would just be too much for them.”
- “They’re too young…they may have nightmares.”
- “We didn’t really know the deceased all that well, so it’s really not all that important that my child be there.”
- “I don’t think I’m going to take them…they would probably just be bored.”
- “They have never been to a funeral before…I’m not sure I’m ready to ‘go there’.”
- “It would create too many questions that I’m not ready to answer.”
Friends, I have to say that while I understand a parent’s desire to protect their child from the harsh realities of this life, I can not help but ask:
How can we teach our children to live with an eternal perspective when we shelter them from the reality of death?
Yes, I realize that even the thought of death is uncomfortable for all of us…even those of us who have been around it our whole life. I have never gotten used to the awkward feeling of playing prelude music for a funeral service…especially when no one else is really there yet…and the piano is positioned right next to the casket…uh, talk about uncomfortable…and I have never, ever, ever been able to stomach seeing a child in a casket. However, we can not ignore the fact that we live in a fallen world…a world where babies don’t survive…and children die in accidents…and mothers are taken too soon…and father’s get cancer and pass away…and grandparents leave us before we’re ready…and friends take their own life.
These are not things that any of us like to think about, but to ignore the fact that these realities are very much a part of this life would be unrealistic…and to paint a picture to our children that this type of harsh difficulty does not exist is doing our children a terrible disservice.
Ecclesiastes 3:2: …There is a time to be born and a time to die…
Remember the days of glances at the obituaries in the local paper? It was very rare for all of the death notices to be for elderly folks. No matter the week, there was usually an infant…a child…a teenager…a young adult…someone who [through our earthly lens] was taken far too soon. Friends, life is not fair. In fact, we were promised difficult times:
John 16:33: …in this world, you will have trouble; but take heart, because I have overcome the world.
No one is ever truly prepared to face great loss, but how devastating it must be for someone who has never had a glimpse in to death to experience a tragic loss of their own. It is so important to consider practical ways we can train our children for life…even when it is terribly uncomfortable.
Children can learn so much by being included in memorial services:
- We can encourage our children in their responsibility to help bear the burdens of other people. As members of a faith community…as part of the body of Christ…we are called to encourage each other and build each other up…not just in the times of great celebration, but also in times of deep sadness. A grieving family may not remember what you said to them in the receiving line…They may remember what kind of casserole you brought to the house…but they will remember that you were there…and that you cared for them during a time when they needed it most.
- We can help our children grasp important realities: Life is ugly…it can be really, really messy…it is painful and sometimes hurts more than we could ever imagine…but…this is not the end!
- We can teach our children that there is hope beyond the grave. I am so thankful that there is life beyond all of this…all of the hurt…all of the sadness…and tears.
We have this hope as anchor!
- We can confront our children with their need to make a choice about where they will spend eternity. We spend so much time investing in our children…working to teach them so many things, yet when someone passes away, we miss an opportunity to discuss life’s most important matter with them. I don’t believe the goal should ever be to scare children in to making such a life-changing decision, but to simply bring them face-to-face with the most important questions they will ever ask themselves. Have they accepted Christ as their personal Savior? Will Heaven be their home? What will eternity look like for them personally?
- We can answer our children’s difficult questions. What an incredible opportunity for family discussion! Offer your children opportunities for closure…Let them know that you understand their hurt and confusion…Encourage them to ask questions…Make sure they understand that you don’t have all the answers…Create a safe place for very real discussion…discussion that can be ongoing…Take them to the Scriptures for comfort…the only place where the very real promises of peace and hope can be found.
Disclaimer: I realize that there are special situations that must be considered. There may be children who have experienced tremendous loss and attending such a service would serve an an unnecessarily harsh reminder of something devastatingly tragic that they have faced. The thoughts shared in this post were not intended to address these very special situations that I realize must be handled in a very different manner.
Thank you for your kindness and respect as share my heart with you, my readers~