Six Reasons I Bring My Kids to Funerals
Written by: Pastor Ben Workentine
There’s a funeral this week at church. I’m going. My family will be there, too, including my children. I’m willing to bet you’ve faced the question of whether or not to bring a child to a funeral. Here are the things
my wife and I have thought of to help us make the decision, maybe they’ll help you too. I get the natural impulse to leave kids at home or at school for a funeral. Kids are messy and unpredictable. Who wants a toddler-breakaway down the aisle just when the pastor is wrapping up his sermon? For older kids, can they (should they) deal with the heavy emotions of grief, anguish, and sorrow?
After all, isn’t The Bridge to Terabithia (and Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter) all about the bridge from childhood to adulthood that crosses over the river of death? What if they become fixated? Fearful? Get
nightmares? Nobody wants that for their child.
The question of attending funerals is not a hypothetical for our family. Pastoring a church and being in my late 30’s, we’ve had many opportunities to go to family funerals and church family funerals. And here are just a few reasons we bring my kids, age 7, 2.5, and almost 1, to funerals:
#1 I want my kids to be able to do hard things.
They step into a place where emotions are messy and complicated, where they can’t quite be sure of how things are going to go or how people will respond. This is an uncomfortable place and I want them to be able to
move through, not just run from, uncomfortable places.
#2 I want my kids, three boys, to be brave.
A person can only be brave when you know the danger you face. I define bravery as weighing danger and benefit accurately and moving forward fully aware that you’re choosing danger. I want my kids to be brave, not fools. A fool moves forward ignorant of danger. If my boys can’t count the cost, can’t fathom the danger, they can’t really be brave, they can only be fools. When they stand in front of a casket, they gain a clearer sense of the “worst-case scenario”. Death can and does happen. I want them doing the calculus: this thing I’m about to do, I could die from it, should I proceed? There will be times when the answer is “yes!” In their lives as men of God, they will be faced with chances to be brave. They will recognize the danger and move forward anyway. Their choice to be brave will serve the people they love, and the people around them. But they literally can’t be brave unless they make the choice with eyes wide open. I take them to funerals because I want my kids to learn bravery.
#3 I want my kids to live in a world where they are not at the center.
A funeral is unavoidably uncomfortable and painful. But however much discomfort the funeral causes me, the attender, imagine how much pain it’s causing the family of the deceased. And if by being present and
embracing my own discomfort I can bring even a little relief to those suffering, I have shown my children how to live in a world where they are not at the center. So much of the rest of the world revolves around them. But this place, this funeral, it’s all about someone else.
#4 I want my kids to not fear death.
Consider, people have been dying since… well, since the beginning. People have always been dealing with death. And when we were a people gathered in small towns, living close to family, death was much more
present. When grandma died her body was prepared for burial on the kitchen table. When a newborn passed away from some disease he was dressed by mom and dad while the rest of the family made the box and dug the hole. Death was much more present in the lives of the average human. In other words, death has always been a nearby companion in the journey of life. Countless generations learned to cope with death, and that could not possibly include running from death. Bringing them to the funeral eliminates the stigma of death. Otherwise, death is still a mystery where kids’ imaginations can run wild. Let them see the truth and push away the scary and inaccurate storylines they may invent for themselves.
#5 I want my kids to build community.
People who know, love, and respect each other show up for each other. That includes the kids. Gatherings like funerals are a galvanizing event that demonstrates for my kids what it means to “show up for each other.”
We who love the bereaved are preaching “you are not alone” but only if we show up. I want to show up for my community, I want my kids to show up for theirs. Funerals are a crucible where community is forged. Plus, having hosted a funeral once, I actually loved seeing a few of the kids playing on the swings just outside of church before the funeral. I loved hearing some squeals of joyful play coming from the nursery in the moments after the service. Why? Because it reminded me that this death that brought us all together is not the death of me, it is not the death of the world. The world turns on, and people keep living. Grief will never be far from the center of my heart, but there will come a day when it will not consume my heart. Thank you to those who brought their kids, they reminded me that tomorrow will come.
#6 I want my kids to see Jesus.
This one is the most important. The central message of Christianity is the resurrection. It’s the lynch pin, the pivot point of the whole thing. No bodily resurrection, no Christianity. And how can the resurrection be real if death isn’t real? I want my kids to look in that casket and see the Enemy lashing out, anguished by his defeat. I want them to look in that casket and know that Jesus was once in the same position. And he no longer is. I want them to know that death is real, and Jesus beat it. I want them to feel the burn of tears and know that Jesus has come to dry them all. I want them to curse the curse of sin. Who is Death to stand against our God? God reigns. Not death. Death is real, never more so than when you stand next to a casket. But our Jesus is more real. I want them to know that in their bones, in a way they can only know it by coming face to face with mortality. One day, they will be in a box just like this one that houses their friend, great-grandparent, or member of the church. Chances are good that they’ll be the ones carrying a casket or the ones sitting in the front row of a funeral. But at the end of all that, they need to know that there’s a box with their name on it. I want them to live every moment with enough purpose, joy, and hope in their own resurrection that when the box comes, they can greet it with relief – eager for the rest it offers. I want them to see death not as a mystery to be feared, but as a threshold to be crossed. King Jesus reigns over death too. And one day, I pray one day soon, he’s coming to take me from his kingdom on earth to his kingdom in glory. I want my kids to look forward to that day as much as I do.