Their needs, Your needs

Should my child attend a family funeral?  Recently a friend asked me that question.  It caused me to think and I discovered a new thought on the subject.  To my own surprise I advised, “Maybe not.”

Our children were 7, 4, 2 and 2 months old when my mother-in-law suddenly passed away.  It was a very difficult time for me.  I didn’t know I could cry that much.   We traveled 600 miles for the funeral.  I cried all the way.  Once there we worked with the family to make plans and arrangements. The only visitation was for the immediate family and we took all our children to it. Even though the casket was closed we took our children to see it and the inside the funeral home.  We also used this opportunity to prepare them for what would be happening the next day.butterfly
On the day of the funeral my sister-in-law’s friend, whom I had never met and I did not know, offered to watch our
two youngest children and their two year old cousin.  On our way back from the cemetery and on our way to the church for a meal we picked up the children.  I am very thankful for that kind woman.   I am grateful for her assistance.  Caring for them myself during the funeral service would have been very difficult.

I previously wrote in my blog called Weeping that attending funerals is a part of life and it was fine for children to do so.  But I had not considered the emotional needs of the parents.   I needed to not have to be responsible for my youngest children at my mother-in-law’s funeral.   I didn’t have any particular responsibilities at that funeral; I was just struggling with her unexpected passing and my own great loss.

Yes, I actually had a wonderful mother-in-law.  She was my biggest cheerleader.  She never criticized me.  She taught me many domestic skills like jelly making and embroidery.  When she would visit us she would play with the children, teach me new skills and help me complete many unfinished projects.  She wrote me frequent letters. (This was long before email or cell phones.)  She told me that when a daughter marries the mother gains a son, but when a son marries the mom must become friends with the new daughter or she loses her son.owl

When my mother-in-law passed away I truly lost a mom and a friend.  My heart was so broken.  My grieving was heavy and it was almost exactly a year before I could think about her without breaking down.  Be
cause her casket needed to be closed I never saw her at rest and so closure eluded me for a long time.  Seeing a loved one lying in peace really helps bring closure for me.

Here is my bottom line.  Yes, take children to family funerals.  It is not too difficult for them.  But it might be too difficult for you.  Only you can decide your needs as well as theirs.  The friend who brought up this question to me took her 6 year old and 11 month old to the funeral visitation of her grandmother, but on the day of the funeral they stayed with her in-laws.  Family members all saw her children at the visitation and the children saw the reality of grieving family.  The funeral service was a little easier for her thanks to her kind in-laws.


Taxiing and Driving

I actually like driving and have for a very long time. I think it may have started with my little brother’s dashboard driving toy.  I liked honking the horn, turning the key and turning the steering wheel.  By the time I was twelve I would sit next to my mom on the front bench-seat of her sedan without seatbelts and she would let me steer the car while she drove on our neighborhood streets.  (The car might have had seatbelts but no one used them.) Next I was starting the car for her and then driving it in the driveway.  Eventually I was fully driving in my neighborhood.  Yes, this was before I entered high school and took driver’s education as a sophomore.

My driving career has included sedans, coupes, sports cars, mini vans, full size vans, 15 passenger vans, pick-up trucks, sports utility vehicles, a yard tractor, and a Honda scooter.  The last one is my current favorite ride.  It is not that I object to the driving, but it was the amount of time running around for, and with, my children.  I have seen bumper stickers identifying family mini vans as family taxis.

flintstone car

Soccer practice, orthodontist appointment, friend’s house, gymnastics, babysitting jobs  . . .  Someone always needed to go somewhere.  Drop off child number one at his buddy’s house and pick up child number two from book club. Remember to go by the post office and the bank on the way home from the library.  Sometimes the lists seemed endless.  I hated being a taxi and spending so much time in the family van.  Additionally there were things to be attended to at home.

We did our best to combine errands and not be running to do one thing now and one thing later. We also choose to limit how many activities a child could participate in at a time. One.  One at a time.  That was one club or sport in addition to AWANA club when they were young or youth group as teenagers.   There were some additions allowed when multiple children could participate at the same time.  Many years the three oldest did swimming at the YMCA and later at Wheaton College.

The more children you have, the harder it is to manage everyone’s schedules.  Hence, I was thrilled when our oldest child turned fifteen and we enrolled him in a driving class.  By the time he turned 16 he had a full year of on-the-road driving experience and he was ready to get his license, which he did the day after his birthday.  Then he could take himself on some of his errands and help with the siblings’ errands.  Hooray.  Driving  is a big step in the direction of being an independent adult and that is our parental goal.

go karats

We did this with each of our children.   Since there is a 17 years difference between our first born and last born there were some changes in our state laws regarding teen drivers and requirements to obtain licenses. Overall I still think it is a great plan to get their permits at 15 and licenses at 16 year old.

We also offered each of our kids a monetary bonus which they received on their 17th birthday if they went the full year without causing an accident or getting a ticket.  They all earned it. I suggest parents do this as it is great incentive for careful driving.  Because we could afford it, we paid their insurance expense as long as they were enrolled in high school or college. Clunker cars are the best for teen drivers.  Most teens will have an automobile accident.

Our children were permitted to drive our oldest vehicle until they could purchase their own.  We did assist each of our children as they made decisions and choices with the purchase of their first vehicles. The looking and buying process was a valuable learning experience for them.  Two of them bought vehicles with manual transmissions and had to instantly learn how to do that.  By the time they each had their driver’s licenses they had already learned how to change oil by working with their dad.   At age sixteen our youngest son took a two day class of auto maintenance for new drivers at our community college.  That sparked an interest which led to him seeking further education and a career in automobile mechanics.

Yes, I am glad my mom let me illegally drive early.  No, I did not do it with my children.  However, I did let them drive the yard tractor to mow.

inside the tank


Winning and losing.  Living and dying.  These are a part of life and offer such valuable lessons.  Of course we will always choose the winning and living, but there is also losing and dying.  Children have very limited understanding of the later. Our daughter was a preschooler when my Aunt Ruby passed away.  She went with us to the funeral home for the visitation and then the funeral.  She referred to them as the “dead body party” and the “dead body meeting.”  There were lots of people and there were flowers, hugging and talking and later there was food.  I can understand why it seemed like a party to her.  The funeral service was sort of like a church meeting or worship service.  She typically had to sit still and be quiet for church meetings just as she did for the funeral service. Funeral homes sort of seem like churches.skyscape

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  Yes, even children are capable and able and willing to do this.  Except under special circumstances children should not be shielded from death.  For most children their first exposure to death is a grandparent or a pet. Help them to learn from their own hurt to be sympathetic and empathic to others.  Help your children find ways to express their own sorrow and be supportive of others in their sorrow.  There are many things a child can do for others such as give a hug, make cookies, draw a picture or make a card.  They undoubtedly will have other ideas which you can discuss and help them to decide on the most appropriate actions.

Most adults feel awkward at funerals and don’t know what to say to the sorrowing family.  Saying the perfect thing is not really important.  A warm two-handed handshake or a hug expresses much.  The following are some helpful and simple thoughts which when said sincerely are meaningful.  “Sorry for your loss.”  “I care.”  “I love you.”   Of course you can also add a short antidote about the deceased or just a reference such as; “I will miss ________, too.”  “They were a good (loving/faithful/inspirational) friend or boss or ____________.”   “I am thankful for ____________ which (the deceased) taught me.”

Before taking your child along with you to attend a funeral or visitation be sure to talk with them about what to expect.  Tell them there may be lots of hugging or crying. That is normal at such gatherings and it is okay.  Let them know what is expected of their behavior.  Discuss the things they may say or not say.  Don’t force a child to get physically close to approach the casket or look upon the deceased if they are uncomfortable doing so.

Don’t try to explain death as sleeping because we all go to sleep every night.  Do explain God’s plan for us to live in eternity with Him where there will be no crying or sorrow.  If you need to know more about heaven, read Revelation chapters 21 and 22.  I have been told that Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven is outstanding.  Alcorn also has a Heaven for Kids edition.


Grief is a process.  Everyone goes through that process at their own pace.  Be patient with your children.  You may have to ask your children to be patient with you.  You cannot protect your children from experiencing grief, nor should you.  It is a part of life and it is a part of growing up.  There are hard and troublesome things in life but we can learn to love and support each other through them.  Don’t forget the rejoicing with those who rejoice part of the scripture.  Practice that too.