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A Guide to Your Kid’s First Funeral

Today’s post is from Reno Mom’s Blog guest contributor Shontell Brewer. As a wife, homeschooling mother of five, host mom to one foreign exchange student, and the director at Little Lites Christian Learning Center in Reno, Shontell has her sights set on being a writer on the side of all of it. Keep up with her oddball family and sarcasm on her blog Nonsense at its Finest.  

My first funeral, my first experience with death of any kind, is as a teenage bride where I am expected to be someone I have never been. It is assumed I will know how to behave, what to say, how to support a husband who lost a parent, and what to wear. Looking at me, married and out of my parents’ home, you may assume I can handle this level of maturity. Inside, I am terrified. I haven’t a clue what lies before me. I don’t even know where I am supposed to sit when we go inside.  Let me set the scene…

It’s October. I am in my freshman dorm room at Whittier College in California. My high school boyfriend has driven in to see me from where he is stationed in San Diego. He has just given me a ring and asked me to be his bride for as long as we both shall live. We agree that college is important and foolishly convince ourselves that four years isn’t too long to be engaged when there are goals afoot. We are 19; this is the sort of thing 19 year olds are always saying.

It’s November. My now fiancé has just learned that his father has cancer: six months to live. We process through our devastation and hug him as much as possible. It occurs to us that six months is much shorter than the four years before our wedding date. It occurs to us that my husband is an only child, so this is the only wedding his father could attend. The only chance he gets to be the father of the groom. We move the wedding to the following March. Four months to plan. And we do, because it’s that important.

It’s July. The doctors were nearly exact in their diagnosis of how long my father in law would live. We get word that he has passed. We are devastated. We are married and trying to handle this news correctly (whatever that means), but it occurs to us that we are still 19. We are teenagers. Then, I realize I am going to have to attend a funeral.

I stand in the foyer waiting for my parents to arrive. I go over at least ten things to say to them, but every one of my conversations came back to the fact that I feel my parents have let me down in this area. I am not prepared. In this moment, and not a second sooner, I grasp that my parents lied when our dog died. It became clear that they would have attended many funerals. They’ve known death. They know what to expect. They know what to wear. And they even know where to sit.

This experience goes into the “what I plan to do differently as a parent” vault.

About three weeks ago, we got a call that an older gentleman at our church passed away. He left behind a wife, who we hug and chitchat with every Sunday. Their kids are all grown and moved out. It’s just the two of them sitting in the back row each week. She has amazing clothes from the seventies, and he always expected a handshake from whoever he talked with. You know that couple?

Well, as I was deciding whether or not to go to the funeral, a passing thought hit me. What if I was able to pay my respects and help my children by removing the mystery of funerals? So, I sat my kids down, and we had a talk. As expected, they were completely freaked out!

My oldest was certain I was off my rocker; she said funerals were awful and scary and she wanted nothing to do with it. Each of my kids followed suit. Well, except Sam, but he is a touch eccentric. Plus he is seven. I explained my experience and reminded them I would never set them up for failure. We were like those High School Musical Kids: all in this together. They conceded and the following Saturday, we loaded up in the minivan for a morning of mourning.

Now, I have had some brilliant parenting moments. By this, I mean something happens on accident, and I take credit for the good that took place here. But this was in fact a wise choice.

My five kids range in ages from seven to 15. The lessons that were taught varied with their ages. My high school daughter couldn’t understand why she couldn’t wear a waiter’s vest and Mohawk. We discussed respectful mourning clothes and discussed the proper way to honor a family from an older generation.

My 11-year-old daughter wanted to bring her iPod to help her pass the time. That brought up the conversation that it isn’t about her entertainment. We were going to support the loved ones left behind.

All of my kids hated the music. This began the conversation about respecting traditions and going with the flow, even if it’s a totally different style than what you think is appropriate.

Of course, my eight-year-old daughter had to go to the bathroom halfway through the service. I was able to teach her how to go quietly and not during someone’s speech.

When a few people stood and gave a funny recap of something they remembered most, we laughed along, and my son told me he didn’t expect there to be laughter. His smile said he was pleasantly surprised.

So much good came of this experience. When we left, each of my children said they were glad they came. They agreed that Ms. Marilyn felt blessed and supported because she told them so. Our conversations lasted for days. But I know this experience will stick with them forever, because they also each agreed that funerals aren’t as terrifying as they thought they would be.

This subject can seem so taboo, but really, as moms, it’s our jobs to equip our kids and guide them into being capable adults. We don’t just wake up one day and know how to handle something as heavy as a funeral. We have to be taught. We have to experience. We have to bring our kids along for these interactions.

It’s a little crazy when I say it, but maybe you should consider putting a funeral on your kids’ bucket list.

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