Practicing Parents

Why We Took Our Almost-4-Year-Old To His Grandpa’s Funeral

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–By Chris Lenshyn

The sanctuary was not big, so the walk was not very long. Asher, my son, could see the casket in the distance as our family trudged down the centre aisle. It was horrific and beautiful. Dad was in the coffin with a Montreal Canadians flag and Wolverhampton Wanderers flag draped over the casket just like he would have wanted it. My son, quiet with his fingers in his mouth like he does when he is nervous, was silent. Somber almost, even though he didn’t fully understand what was happening. He didn’t say a word, or even run.

I couldn’t bear myself to see dad in the casket right away so I sat down at the end of the front pew, about 3 metres away from the coffin. Asher, standing next to me kept looking at me for reassurance, then looking away at the casket. He looked back, moved about 2 feet toward his grandpa in the casket, stood on his tippy toes, saw his grandpa motionless and dead, and beautifully looked back at me with his big blue eyes almost desperately looking for reassurance. But he looked again. And again. And again, piercing my soul every time. He didn’t know his grandpa. But he will remember that moment.

During the funeral service he was like an almost-4-year-old is . . . restless, wanting to play, wanting to run, annoyed that he had to stick around in the pews with the rest of us. So we welcomed him to walk to the back play room.

It was a strange experience taking my almost-4-year-old to my father’s funeral. Yet it never crossed our minds not to take him, and we do not find ourselves in a place of regret for that choice. Our full intentions were to allow Asher to experience the breadth of the loss, and to help navigate his intuitive curiosity of the loss, the weight of which we carry as a family.

He is experiencing the breadth of life and death within the warm emotional, physical, and spiritual embrace of his family. We were, and are, and will continue to be blessed by his innocence, curiosity and intuitiveness as he too navigates this loss.

Author Peter Block, in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging writes that “Questions create the space for something new to emerge.” Too true. When an intuitive, curious boy begins asking questions about the reality around him, it opens space for new thoughts, ideas and understandings to emerge. Asher’s questions about his grandpa have certainly opened the space for newness and refreshment; the space for encounters with a new depth of loss . . . and joy.

Here are some that he has asked us:

Why did Grandpa die? I want to see Grandpa again.”

Is Grandpa with God in heaven?”

Is Grandpa coming back? Jesus did, why can’t he?”

Is Grandpa with Auntie Pat?”

Why do people die?”

His questions, innocent, divine, curious in nature have brought us to a place of deeper understanding.

One thing I have realized in this experience is the importance of how each in our family mourns. We need one another. We all mourn differently. Our almost-4-year-old doesn’t fully understand what is happening, but his intuitions are going crazy with curiosity. With appropriate support, sensitivity and understanding we offer him a place of reprieve, free to be fully curious and intuitive about what happened to his grandpa. He thus becomes connected with the fullness of life–the cycle of life, death and the eternal. It is through his questions that we have seen this.

The blessing lies in the gift his intuitive, innocent, divine curiosity has been to our family as a whole. Without having to engage his questions, we would be worse off, unable to break through the bricks and mortar of anger, depression and deep sadness. Asher knows his grandpa is gone. He knows that Grandpa is with Jesus.

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6 thoughts on “Why We Took Our Almost-4-Year-Old To His Grandpa’s Funeral

  1. One of my earliest recollections is my wanting to attend my great grandfather’s funeral and not being allowed because I was “too young.” I resent that choice still.

    • Sometimes an overprotective mindset can set us back. Collectively, because children and their observations offer so much to us, we potentially miss out sometimes because we think they may not be able to handle it.

  2. Pingback: Why We Took Our Almost-4-Year-Old To His Grandpa’s Funeral | Faith Bytes: Elsie Spins a Blog

  3. Thank you for your words on this difficult topic. I found them comforting.
    I recently brought my 3 year old to my father’s viewing and funeral. At the viewing, as we looked at Pop Pop in the casket, I told my son that Pop Pop was with Jesus. When we got to my mother in the receiving line, he repeated “Grandma, Pop Pop is with Jesus.” She said it was the most comforting thing any of the hundred or so visitors said. I agree.

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