New York State Funeral Directors Association

Children are the Best Teachers about Funerals or Anything for that Matter

"Let the little children come to me, and don't stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."    -- Luke 18:16

The first time I can remember my daughter teaching me anything was during my father's funeral back in October 1989.

She was just two and during the wake she was just running around and jumping into people's arms giving kisses.

She was as cute as can be, a pure example of innocence and love.

In my professional capacity I've tried to encourage families to have their children attend funerals and participate in the ceremony no matter how small the detail.

With Virginia, the next day, my wife Gretchen and I decided not to have her attend the funeral but we would go to the reception afterwards.

Picking her up at day care we stopped at the funeral home where she directly went into the room where my father was waked and asked immediately where's "Big Daddy?" and what happened to him?

Wow, here it was the student giving the teacher a teachable moment. So practicing what I preach, I had her get into her car seat and we proceeded to the cemetery.

Along the way I explained to her that "Big Daddy" had died and gone to heaven and was with his mother and father and Jesus.Deans daughter Virginia for Guest post 200x197

She still asked where is "Big Daddy?"

I then showed her the grave where it had since been filled in and said his body was below the ground in his casket and a vault and that his soul and spirit were with God in Heaven.

All she said in reply was, "OK"

We went back down the hill and got in the car and went to the reception. I guess her curiosity was satisfied because she knew where her grandfather was, safe and sound maybe.

Upon arrival at the reception I immediately sought out my niece Kristen and asked her about my niece--her cousin--Hilary's funeral. Hilary died at age 3 in 1976.

She said she remembered wanting to go but not being allowed and she expressed not her anger but regret.

Since that day in 1989, Virginia has buried two goldfish and Jackie the turtle in our back yard with services.

Children are aware of death and in their uncluttered minds can understand it in different meanings.

Today we are in a technology world where instant gratification is expected and demanded but where feelings of love, and grief, the opposite of love, are being suppressed and avoided.

Conversation, personal interaction and sharing has been handed over to e-mails and photos on Facebook.

Burial of the Bird

Above is a photo print by Currier and Ives entitled "The Burial of the Bird" Please study and maybe ask yourself these questions:

Do you see yourself? Both as a child and an adult? Where and which character? What was your role then and now as an adult? What message is the artist trying to send us about death, family, friends and emotions at difficult times? Do we handle death better now as adults or before when we were kids?

Here is my interpretation:

First, I see the funeral director and grave digger on the left appropriately dressed with an ascot tie and proud of his work and what he has been charged to do; waiting on one knee in reverence.

Notice the perfection of the dug grave and his readiness to perform his final duties. But notice the grave size is almost four times what is needed.

The older sister in blue is providing comfort to her little sister in red. The branch in her left hand signifies a job already completed--decorating the hearse.

Her solemn look downward.

The oldest and tallest of them, probably not a relative, but an employee's son or a true friend affected by the death of a little creature of God that somehow communicated with these children.

Notice he has no shoes but wears a nice coat and proper hat for the occasion.

The youngest, like my daughter Virginia, is maybe looking back to see if a miracle will be performed and the bird starts flying again -- like those of us who see our loved ones in a casket, hoping `this is not real.'

But with her observation, she will be able to accept what has happened.

The dog, which is man's best friend and the ultimate example of unconditional love and support, maybe in his soul trying to give comfort to his master by being there like we as humans do.

Finally, the grieving brother whose pet it is, is experiencing and expressing his true feelings.Dean 200x199

Are his tears those of guilt for not feeding and watering him or because he took such joy and love in caring for him?

He has taken the time to put on a tie and coat but his pants are ripped. But he continues to carry the cage for his own reasons maybe of not "Letting Go" but "Holding on."

Maybe the undertaker made a bigger grave for him to leave his feelings of guilt, shame and fear in the grave -- which a lot of us don't.

Last but not least, the bird which has been placed on a clean, white cloth representing purity, love and warmth.

That in its new life the bird will be embraced in light and not the darkness of the grave.

What do you think? Take another look.

Are we as a society today denying ourselves the needs that these children unknowingly brought into their lives to fill?

Adults today say `don't waste your time on me with a funeral, just toss me away and forget me.'

My daughter and these children will never forget where a part of their life is buried. Allow them to have a place for them to remember.

Remember the dead have no need for a funeral but the living usually do.

God Bless
Thoughts welcome

Dean Burns
Licensed Funeral Director

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