To take or not to take children to a funeral... that is the question. Since we have the very real hope in Christ that death is not forever and that souls are present with the Lord, we can explain, with joy, the passing of loved ones. The pain may last awhile but the comfort God offers is a peace that passes all understanding. However, children are in the process of trying to figure this all out.
Meghan immediately burst into tears when I shared with our four children that Great-Papa had died. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and she was close to this old man who had touched her heart. Molly responded by shrugging her shoulders and Emily and Oliver just stared. I knew that their reactions were simply a part of their initial understanding and that they would begin to make connections between the other losses we have experienced in the past year and a half.
The funeral day came and we chatted on the ride to the service all about what we might see. Since it was to be a closed casket, we didn't feel the need to explain what Great-Papa might look like. However, as it turned out, a family member had changed that small detail. Oliver and I went into the crowded viewing room to find my mom and step-dad and when we approached the casket, I realized this was going to bring on new questions. I had a conversation with Oliver while Terry shared with the girls what they were about to see. Emily was apprehensive but after mustering up some courage, she exclaimed to my mom, "He looks better than the last time I saw him!" Upon exiting the room, Oliver pointed his thumb back over his shoulder and announced, "He's dead in there!"
So far, so good.
Meghan, being eleven and more in touch with her emotions in all of this, clung to her "conjoined twin" cousin, Brooke, and cried some more. She shared with me later that Brooke had explained a little of the embalming process. Alrighty-then. It was a beautiful celebration service, laced with hymn-singing and a couple of anecdotes about Elwood. He had lived a long and full life, even to the last hours. My husband sang, "I Will Rise" by Chris Tomlin and my sisters and I sang back-up. I had to keep my eyes down as we sang because each time I looked up, I caught my sobbing niece in the corner of my eye and began to feel the tears well up.
Upon the conclusion of the service, my husband and a few other pall bearers slowly carried this dear man's soul-empty body out the side door of the building. Oliver, who was in my arms, had full view and began to cry, "Don't take Great-Papa away! I NEED to see him! Don't take him away!" I tried to calm my flailing boy but he became louder and family and friends gathered around, each becoming emotional over the passion of my son. I assured Oliver that we would go outside and see him again in the "box" at the place where they were taking Great-Papa and that is what calmed him. A granola bar in the van, a change of scenery, and the reminder that we'll be with him forever in heaven, was all he needed to return to a happier mood. We drove to the cemetery and the dreary, cold weather matched our thoughts. The pastor spoke a few words, sang a hymn and prayed. It was lovely. The funeral director pulled flowers from an arrangement nearby and handed one to each of us to lay upon the casket. Molly must have been bothered that a few of them were falling between the casket and the concrete box that it had been lowered into, because when it was her turn, she leaned way down into that box to retrieve those flowers. Her short little arms didn't quite reach easily and to my dismay, my eight year-old girl, laid sideways over the casket, head between the boxes, one foot in the air. Yes, indeed, she saved those flowers from being lost forever in the crevices and stood with a look of accomplishment on her face. She had done her part. Later, during refreshment time, my aunt saddled up beside me and shared that she had just finished a very interesting conversation with my two youngest girls all about skeletons. Emily had been explaining to her wide-eyed great-auntie that skeletons don't normally have blood and skin on them, that those parts come off and the bones are left. Molly demonstrated that the face is then left to look like this... and she made a toothy, hollow-faced expression. Well, my aunt was convinced that the girls were describing some creepy Halloween scene they had encountered. But then Molly matter-of-factly stated, "Great-Papa isn't a skeleton yet and it doesn't matter that his body will go down into the ground anyway because his soul is in heaven."
So, taking children to a funeral means responding to something new around each corner but I think it's just what we needed in order to fully grasp death and eternity and all the love in between.
Good-bye, Great-Papa, we'll see you soon!