I was five years old, but I clearly remember my Mom coming to my room to tell me we needed to pick out an outfit for Granny’s wake. I remember walking up to the casket. My great grandma who we called Granny, was wearing her blue dress with a high lace collar. Her salt and pepper hair styled, her eyes closed.
I put my hand on hers, with my parents by my side, and said “Bye, Granny”. I wasn’t afraid. My parents prepared me for what I would see.
I left the casket, and me and my cousin Chat ran around the funeral home like wild, unrestricted 80’s kids.
My Granny’s wake was the first of many I would attend in my years to come. I come from a big family. I live in a small community, and attending wakes and funerals has always been a part of my life.
I remember when I was a teenager and someone in my family passed away and my friend at the time wanted to support me and come to the wake.
He had never been to a wake.
He had never seen a deceased body.
He nearly passed out.
I also remember that same guy not knowing that when a funeral procession drives by you, the etiquette is to pull over.
Until then, I thought everyone knew that. I thought everyone went to wakes regularly.
But I learned that was not the case.
Death is a weird topic of conversation in North America. I took a course in University on death and dying and it’s safe to say western culture is uncomfortable with death.
Recently, a friend’s grandpa passed away. Her daughter (let’s call her Lucy) is in my son’s class and he thinks Lucy is the bee’s knees. He absolutely adores her!
I told my seven year old son I was going to the wake, he asked if “Lucy” was going to be there and if she was, could he go?
I said yes of course.
A few weeks earlier his sister attended her friend’s Grandpa’s wake, so this conversation was fairly fresh.
The night of the wake came. He dressed himself in his “fancy” blazer. He styled his hair. We talked about how it would be, what to expect and to use our quiet voice.
I explained that that polite thing to say to the people in line is, “I’m sorry for your loss”. He thought about that said, “I’m going to say I’m sorry he died. That makes more sense because it wasn’t me who made him die.”
I’m always fascinated at how children interpret life, they are so literal. He had a valid point.
We entered the funeral home and he wanted to sign the book. He walked through the line and shook hands. He quietly said, “I’m sorry he died”.
There was no casket, just a table with an urn, flowers and pictures.
Finally we came to Lucy. My son hugged her. It was the cutest damn thing.
When we got home we had a hot tub and I asked him what he thought. He said it was a bit different than he thought, but fine.
I know some kids aren’t ready to go to a wake. I know every kid is different, but I also think kids are far more capable than we often give them credit for.
I also believe the younger you introduce these discussions the easier it is. So often it’s the parents who pass on their fears and worries.
I would never force a child or anyone to attend a wake or funeral, but I do think it’s important to talk about death with your kids.
I asked the question on my Facebook “When do you think is a good age to take a child to a wake or funeral?” We had a ton of responses, (read them HERE) so many that I thought I best speak to a professional about the topic.
I hope you enjoy this week’s MF’s Trans Canada Nissan Drive By. Scott Davidson is a long time funeral director and owner of Hendren Funeral Home. We talked for over an hour about death and funeral rituals.
I was really surprised to hear what he thinks about how our society is changing (for the worse) when it comes to managing death. Turn up the volume and watch this week’s MF’s Drive By (watch time under 12 minutes). I have so much more footage if you are interested in me releasing a second part of this video, we also talked about how social media has changed the funeral industry. It was all very fascinating.
Thanks to Scott for sharing his time and insight!