Funerals and related rituals (memorial services, wakes, burial, shiva) are important not only as a time to say good-bye and to begin to accept the reality of death, but they also provide an opportunity to recognize the relationships and impact that the child or teen has had on others. Funerals allow a gathering together to share memories and to show support for the remaining family members. A funeral is a tangible demonstration of love.
We had Greg's minister, godparents, and kindergarten teacher come to our house to help plan the service. We did not want it to be scary, because we wanted all of his young friends to come. They needed to say good-bye, too, and above all, we wanted them to be comfortable. During the service several songs were sung, and the minister didn't stand up at a pulpit. He stood on our level with his hand on Greg's casket, and talked about Greg's life. It was simple and good. On the way to the cemetery it rained lightly, and the sky was filled with three rainbows. Sadness and hope.
Children of all ages should be allowed to attend the funeral if they wish, but only after they have been prepared first about what to expect. They need an explanation of where they will be going (funeral, shiva, wake, memorial service, burial) and what these words mean. They need to know what type of room they are going to, if the casket will be there, if it will be open, if there will be flowers, who will be there, how the mourners will be acting, who will stay with the them, what they will be expected to say, and how long they will be there. All questions should be answered honestly and children's feelings respected.
Many siblings also benefit from giving one last gift to the departed, such as writing a private note and dropping it in the casket, or bringing some of their sisters favorite flowers to put in her hands. If you have any questions or concerns about what to tell the remaining children or whether they should attend the services or burial, read How Do We Tell the Children? A Parent's Guide to Helping Children Understand and Cope when Someone Dies by Dan Schaefer and Christine Lyons.
As the car drove us to Guildford Cathedral, the rain started to come down in torrents; even the angels were crying. It got darker and darker, and I felt lower and lower.
As we walked around the corner into the Nave, we were absolutely amazed. There were 700 people in the Cathedral. 700. I could not believe my eyes. Michael obviously touched a lot of hearts.
When the service started, the singing was just out of this world. And right next to me our son Christopher shut his eyes and sang along with his friends from St George's who had come along to bolster the Guildford Choir And that was quite something, to see the boys from the two choirs sitting side by side in the choir stalls, together with the men of two choirs. Michael had always wanted to sing with his brother when he was still a chorister He finally got the two Choral Foundations together
The tribute from his godfather was perfect: funny, witty, poignant, and included a wonderful tribute to Christopher as well. The sermon from Canon Maureen told everyone what a strong faith Michael had and how he was so sanguine in living and in dying. "Here was someone who was alive from top to toe!" she said. And he WAS.
The anthem was moving, the prayers touching, and then the undertakers moved in to pick up the coffin, and Graham, Christopher, and I moved behind it to take that long, long walk down the Nave. By now I was in tears—and walking past 700 people most of whom were also in tears was not easy. As we got to the Great West Door, the pallbearers turned round so that Michael was facing the altar, and everything was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly, over the speakers, came the sound of Michael singing, "In the morning when I rise..."
Christopher and I stood with our arms round each other and tears pouring down our cheeks. As it finished, the organ swung into action and Michael's body was turned around and carried out for the last time of his beloved Cathedral, just as the sun came out.
Ministers, priests, and rabbis have a unique opportunity to provide support, love, and comfort to the grieving family and friends. They usually know the family well, and can evoke poignant memories of the deceased child or teen during the service. Members of the clergy often have excellent counseling skills, and can visit the family after the funeral to provide ongoing help during mourning.
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.