I’m sure I asked this question at some point, especially considering there have been several opportunities to ponder this in the six years since Story’s birth. I don’t remember there being any conflict in my mind, so it isn’t surprising that I didn’t give it a second thought as Story and I prepared to attend a visitation for the son of friends this past week. After arriving, we signed the guestbook (Story signed her own name) and stood in the long line of people paying their respects.
Not long into our wait, I heard some people behind us commenting, rather loudly, on how inappropriate it was to bring a child to a funeral home. I’m ashamed to say my first reaction was to seek out Story in preparation for a scolding for misconduct. However, Story was on her best behavior, quietly chatting with those nearby and slowly moving forward when needed. I scanned the room. There was only one other child there, and he was sitting still in a chair, looking bored but not being at all bothersome to anyone. So what was their problem?
Then I got mad—a defensive reaction to someone questioning my parenting. How dare they comment on my very personal decision to bring my child to the funeral home? They didn’t know my situation. They didn’t know our relation to the deceased. Story wasn’t bothering anyone or being disruptive, nor did she seem scared or uncomfortable. But obviously her presence made them uncomfortable for some reason.
Whether or not to bring a child to a visitation and/or funeral is a decision for only the parents and to be made on a case-by-case basis; it certainly shouldn’t be a policy of funeral homes as my fellow visitors called for. I wish I had asked them to explain their position, because really I don’t know any more about them than they do me, and it’s not quite fair of me to criticize their opinions. But still.
I believe that children are a part of our society and therefore should be part of our society’s customs and rituals, not sheltered from them. Funerals and how we revere the dead are important parts of our culture. We teach our children about other aspects of our culture, why not death? Death is a fact of life that our children will face throughout their lives. How they handle it depends a great deal on their prior exposure and their parents’ philosophy.
It is quite unfortunate that Story has participated in so many funeral rites at such a young age, but with those funeral rites came opportunities to show the importance of celebrating life and honoring our loved ones. She has experienced the deaths of young and old, deaths from natural causes, and deaths from violence. Each time, she makes more connections with her own world and asks more profound questions. Such conversations allow me an open window to discuss the fragility of life and the strength of soul, and our values and belief systems. Of course, Story has her own ideas and has counseled me on what to do when she dies and goes to heaven: I am to call up the bad guys and ask them to shoot me, so I can be with her in heaven. Yeah, there are several more conversations in our future.
What do you think? Should children attend visitations and funerals?