It hit me as I looked around: there were no other children in the funeral home besides ours. We had come to pay our respects to a much-loved gentleman friend who had recently died, and it seemed that we were the only ones who had brought our children along. Our girls are 8 and 11 and this was certainly not the first funeral they had attended, but since the body was “laid out” and we would be walking by it to greet the gentleman’s wife, my husband and I thought we should do some prep-work to make sure neither child said something embarrassing or upsetting, as children (and especially ours) are prone to do. Like I said, this wasn’t their first time, but just to be on the safe side we decided to give them a little refresher course.
While we stood in the line, I turned to the girls and looked into two sets of eyes.
“Do you guys remember when I told you about how when we die, the spirit leaves our body and goes to Heaven? Remember how the pastor said that when we are absent in the body we are present with God?”
Two heads nodded solemnly.
“Remember how I told you that our body is just a shell? It’s like a peanut shell – you take the peanut out and all you have left is the empty shell, right?” (OK, so it’s a silly metaphor, but I knew it was something they would understand, and they did.)
More wide-eyed nodding.
“Mr. A’s body is up there and we’re going to walk by it in just a few minutes. You don’t have to look but you can if you want to. You’re probably going to have questions and that’s OK. But whatever you do, do not say a word about it while we are in here. When we get back in the car you can ask me and Daddy any question you want and we’ll answer it. OK?”
I’m mentally patting myself on the back for my awesome parenting skills and the speech that deftly allows for curiosity yet respects the feelings of others. The youngest one nods while the older one thinks a moment, head cocked to one side. Finally she says this, in complete innocence:
“So I can’t touch him then, right?”
Oh. My. Goodness.
I guess they weren’t quite as prepared as I thought.
(By the way, I love that child’s innocence and sweet spirit. She would never intentionally do anything to upset the bereaved family but doggone it, she was curious and I’m sure the family’s potential reaction didn’t even cross her mind. I can’t even bring myself to imagine what the outcome might have been had she not asked the question in advance and instead just proceeded to check things out. Yikes!)