Last week we found ourselves on a new journey. My grandfather-in-law passed away. We drove the nearly ten hours to attend the funeral and be with family. This was the first time my 3 ½ year old experienced a death in the family. Unsure of how to handle it, I readied myself with some parenting articles and turned a two-day funeral into a week-long vacation.
Here are a few tips on making a death (especially an out-of-town death) easier on the little ones:
• Be honest with them. When Lily saw her great-grandpap in the casket, she had a lot of questions. Patiently, I went over each one and explained as well as I could. She asked things like why he was sleeping, why daddy was crying and even why grandpap had wrinkles on his hands. I cannot tell you the exact words to tell your child but being honest is probably the best policy. No one wants to paint the wrong image of death to a young mind still being shaped. Don’t make it seem better than living by trying to make your child happy with the idea of death. Just keep it simple. We believe in God and heaven in our home so we included these explanations.
• Make sure you bring toys and snacks. I cannot emphasize this part more. We had a full reusable grocery bag of snacks. I’m not talking cookies and candy, but we had peanut butter crackers, fruit snacks, banana crackers, fig newtons, etc. If you are staying in town, fresh fruit or veggies would also be a good choice. Many funeral homes and wakes have light snacks and water available, but don’t assume yours will. You are better off with food you don’t use than needing it and not having it. A slightly older child can pass the time with games on a smart phone, or if they have their own Leappad or handheld electronic, bring these too. They are lifesavers.
• Preach the “inside voice” but don’t overstress sitting still or being completely quiet. Grandpap had one daughter, two grandsons and three great granddaughters. We were included in the eulogy. For immediate family like this, attendees are going to expect you to be there. (If it’s a family friend or someone not related to your kids, a babysitter may be more appropriate.) We did not get one complaint about the girls’ behaviors even when the twins were “singing” loudly along with the hymns. Many gave us compliments on their good behavior even though they cried and fussed and threw their toys the entire time. Lily danced politely in extra space to the music. You will stress yourself out more trying to get your kids to act like adults than if you just let them be kids.
• Make your trip about more than the funeral. When you pack three kids into a van for a full day of driving, you’ll need a few bribes to keep them happy. Research the city you are visiting and see if there are some fun kid activities around. We found some kid friendly restaurants to make stops at as well as one of the top children’s museums in the country. It took the edge off, allowed us to relax a little and helped the girls get all their wiggles out.
Losing a loved one is never easy but at least as adults, we understand what death means. As parents, we will be the ones our kids look to when something as confusing or unknown as death comes up. Be prepared to have this conversation with your little one and help them enjoy the trip if you need to take one.
Let’s connect on social media too: