We will be going to a funeral tomorrow and we are taking the kids with us. We don't want to shield them from death, and we want them to know that someday, sooner or later, everyone dies. We refuse to mislead them into thinking that so-and-so is "sleeping" or "gone away somewhere".
I went to my first funeral when I was 12 or 13. My Mom's mother died after a long (? was it long? Hard to gauge time after so many years now) illness and an unsuccessful open-heart surgery.
I remember not too long before her death, we were staying the night at my Aunt's house where my grandmother now lived. Sometime in the middle of the night, the light from the hall woke me from where I slept on a little cot in the dining room. My grandmother was coming down the stairs and she saw me looking at her. I sat up and then she told me, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" She left the room and I sat there, stunned, and wondered what it was I should be ashamed of.
The funeral was held at a large funeral home and I remember touching her cold, smooth face. The skin of her face seemed to melt and pool on the pillow where her head rested, and my mother tucked an orange tiger lily in her stiff hands. They were her favorite flower and she always had them growing around her house in Minnesota.
I didn't feel sad, or angry or any of those emotions you're supposed to feel when a loved one dies. I didn't really know her that well, it seemed like we always lived so far away from her that we didn't see her often and then when we did see her, it was short. The last few months (years?) of her life, Mom said she changed after the open-heart surgery, and she would be fine one moment and then a different person the next.
I remember, more, that there was a dead baby in the other viewing room of the funeral home and I was fascinated with the makeup they put on the baby to make it's cheeks look rosy pink. She must have been less than a year old and her cheek was so soft and rounded. I ran to get my sister to come and see and then the funeral director shooed us out and shut the double doors to the baby's room.
The relationship between my mother and her mother was strained, to put it nicely, and because of that, I work hard (it's not hard at all!) to make sure that my own relationship with my mother goes smoothly. I want my children to know their grandparents in ways that I never got to know my own. I want them to spend time and really know them and to be able to ask them questions that I cannot answer. I ask my Mom things about her past, and because my grandmother had the belief that the past stays in the past, my mother doesn't know the answers to my questions. It's not that I want to live in the past, but it would be interesting to know how my grandmother and her family ended up in Minnesota. What food did my grandmother preserve and how did she do it? Why didn't she sign with her own children, who were also deaf, and wait until they found out on their own that she could sign? Or what happened to my grandfather? These are things that genealogy cannot answer.
I'll be thinking of all the friends and family that I have loved and lost when I go to the funeral tomorrow, remembering them for who they were and what they meant to me. I'll be explaining to the kids why we pay our respects to the dead and if they have any questions, I'll be ready to answer them.