I took my 5 year old to a funeral
I have a full time nanny so why in the world would I take my son to a not just the funeral but the burial as well. Not to mention he sat in on the writing of the eulogy with the rabbi while he interviewed every family member.
I had been planning this day for years. To expose him to some of the truths of life. Just like Simba in the Lion king. This is the circle of life. We all know people don't live forever and part of life is dying. For some reason when my mom was in the middle of all the radiation and chemo from the mastastasized breast cancer that came back with a vengeance after 12 years in remission it just never crossed my mind that this disease would take her life. I had never lost anyone. She was a survivor a true fighter. The words never entered anyones mouth in my household that this disease could kill her. My mom constantly told me again and again that she was going to live a long life and if it meant she was going to do chemo until she was 100 she was going to do it. To question was sin. I learned that when I was 20. Her cancer had spread to her liver that year. She had always told me that she would be fine as long as the chemo can keep the cancer from spreading to her organs. The day she told me this news it was 9:30pm. I was a student athlete at Michigan State University. I was in the Clara Bell Smith Center which is where all the athletes go for a required study hall. I had good grades so I was off the required list but out of habit still went there nearly everyday. Study hall ended at 9pm but the building remained open so it was empty except for me and a few other stragglers. She called me with the update of her cancer spreading. I said to her you said you told me you would be fine as long as it didn't go to your organs. She yelled at me "Don't you say that to me too Emily!" My mom never yelled at me. I was shocked. " Too," I had no idea what she meant. Who else told her that. I apologized, we talked a little more about nothingingness and we got off the phone. My brain stopped functioning and I literally just walked around the facility. My legs moving but my brain not. I eventually found my way to the exit where I sat down and just cried. I never asked a single question to my mom again after that day. I never asked her to do anything again for me. Never asked her help with a decision. She was fighting for her life. She had more important things to focus on as far as I was concerned. So at 20 I was alone in my mind and in my life. I didn't tell my friends in detail. I didn't know they wanted to be there for me but like me didn't know what to do or say. I just kept it inside. That year I found myself at parks sitting on swings just trying to get my brain to focus. During soccer I would repeat in my mind "you are on the green team, get the ball, run". I had to tell my brain what to think about because if my mom entered my mind I would collapse so I just didn't let it. I forced myself to think about anything else in a repetitive obsessive way. I couldn't let the thought of what she was going through in because I couldn't handle the outcome. I literally felt like it would kill me. I remember driving the streets in the pouring rain in East Lansing, MI. Wishing some car would just accidentally run into me. Knock me unconscious and put me in coma until all this was over. Until the chemo and rounds of radiation were done and she was better. I couldn't bare the thought of my mom going through this poisonous concoction they put in her veins. That stem transplant she did in high school nearly destroyed me. To this day I still remember the look on her face after her treatments as the days passed and side effects got worse. Hearing her hide in the bathroom so sick but not wanting us to know. I hated it. I hated it. I hated it.
I have to interject here because I will go back to the fact that nobody knows what is going on in your life but you. From the outside I was a full scholarship student, had tons of friends, had a boyfriend and tons of other guys always wanted to date me, had great grades. From the outside world everything looked fine. I had this beautiful head on my shoulders. People did not know that my body felt like it was rotting from in the inside out from the sadness and fear I felt of the unknown.
Death was never discussed in my family. When my family dog died my parents did not include us. They shielded us. They thought that was the best choice. All parents are doing their best and they did theirs. They didn't want to talk about it in depth or do anything special. I accepted that and just didn't talk about it either. I knew my mom kept a handful of his toys in the basement hidden away. I had dreams about that dog for years after he died. I started counting memories in my mind each night of him before I went to sleep. I was coping the only way a child knew how on their own. I repeat those memories each night. I didn't want to ever forget him. These mental stages are a story of their own. I will save the details for another time.
I will now go full circle with my title of taking my 5 year old to a funeral. I too am doing the best I can. I wished I was more prepared for my mom's death. Even after all the years of chemo, radiation, stem cell transplants, extreme weight loss, sickness, surgeries. I still thought for some unknown reason that she would live until she was 100. I was wrong. She died at 52 and the loss hit me like she got hit by a car unexpentedly and died. I should have known but I didn't. I wouldn't let it in like she told me not to. You see when you are fighting for your life you can't let any darkness in or it will take over. She like my post about my husband's business success kept her eyes on the prize and just took hurdle after hurdle. Never letting a negative creep in.
When my son was 3 I spotted a dead cardinal in our yard in the distance when we were playing outside. I had him walk the other way when I saw it. I thought to myself do I really think he is ready to hear about this. Am I ready to talk about it in a positive way not putting my emotions from my mom's story into my delivery. I wasn't. We walked inside. We played for awhile while I thought more about it. I thought how surprised I was by my mom's death how unprepared I was for loss. I decided I need to get him out there. He and I were going to talk life and death at age 3 about a creature he does not know and does not have an emotional attachment to. I had compared the red cardinal to a toy that batteries stopped working. Something I thought he would understand. I told him my story of heaven and what I thought happens when creatures die. I told him my idea of souls and how our bodies house our souls in a similar way as a toy houses a battery. I made it simple, not to wordy. Just basic. He just looked cute. No real questions just said can we go on the swing. I felt proud. I did it. After that I pointed out trees and random things maybe once a month that were no longer living. Nothing crazy. Maybe look this worm is squashed. That means its body no longer works. Never to frequently. In a very aware fashion to not make life just about death.
So when my son was 5 I had been preparing him for a death that I knew was around the corner. His great grandma who was over 95 years old had suffered many strokes and a broken hip but was still alive and able to go to some family gathering. I would tell him before family dinners she was at to take notice how her body is no longer working well. She can no longer feed herself. She was in a wheel chair and could barely hold up her own weight. She could no longer talk. I would tell him about this in detail so he could see. I would again compare this to toy that had a low battery. I would tell him that people can't change our batteries. I would share how she got to live such a full life. She had children and grandchildren. She lived to be part of weddings and other blessings. I would tell him her body is getting ready to let her soul go to heaven. I wanted to have this dialogue. I wanted him to see its natural. I wanted him to understand that it is ok to be sad and it is ok for the life cycle to happen. This of course is the best case scenario. Nothing like the loss of my mother at 52. I wish I had some peace with death before my mom died. I did not. I have spent the last 13 years trying to find it. I have in most ways. Not all ways.
He went to the meetings with the rabbi, he heard everyone laugh and cry. He sat through the funeral. He sat right next to the rabbi and asked him a million questions. The rabbi graciously answered all of them. For those in the area it was Rabbi Loss from Temple Israel. My son participated in the burial. He saw everyone around him in tears saying their goodbyes. He cried too seeing those surrounding him tearing up. He learned so much. It was a proud parenting day. I had doubted the decision a few times as the day went on especially when people commented to me about it. I had my younger two home with the nanny. They were too little to be quiet and not play during the services. It is important to be able to be able to show respect and be quiet for others that are there in my opinion so they can have their time to grieve. I still told my littler children what happened and prepared them the same way.
People often think parents just are in the moment with decisions. I can say from my perspective this is not always the case.
So what did I learn..... Trust yourself. Trust your gut. All parents are just doing the best they can. Parents that have not lived through my experiences might not get why I did what I did. Hopefully this post might give them some insight and something to think about.