In Her Words
When Someone You Love Dies
My children say goodbye to their great grandma
Last week, my husband’s grandmother died, and our family traveled to Minnesota for the funeral.
This was our children’s first real experience with death and funerals, and at the ages of 7, 10 and 11, I wasn’t sure how they’d react. While obviously, death is never an easy topic, I did know this was the ideal situation to introduce them to the fact that people live and then they die. Great Grandma was 88 years old, had lived a full life, and had died without complications, in her sleep.
Since Great Grandma had lived in Minnesota, my kids only had the chance to meet her once, but there were the occasional phone calls; I sent school and sports photos, cards, and kept her updated on what activities they enjoyed. She, in turn, never missed a birthday. They had a relationship with one another, and so, of course, my children were sad at the news that their Great Grandma was no longer living. We explained to them that the funeral would be to celebrate her life, and that we’d also be able to spend time with their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and possibly even get to swim and horseback ride.
The day we told them the news, my youngest, Luke, looked lost. He roamed around the house, then fell onto the couch and cried. I comforted him the best I could. What goes through their minds? I’m sure he felt sadness and fear, and worried about the unexpectedness of it all. Later that day Luke said, “I never thought it would hurt this much when someone in our family died.” That was crushing, to know that my little boy was hurting, and also because I was completely aware of what his hurt felt like, and there was nothing I could do to make that hurt go away.
We prepared our children the best we could, explaining that there would be a dead body, and she would be lying in a casket. They were expecting a coffin-like box, and my 10-year-old daughter, McKaelen, kept referring to the casket as a coffin. Before Great Grandma had died, she had sent McKaelen a locket. In the locket were pictures of Great Grandma and Grandpa (who had passed away 15 years ago). My daughter wanted to give something in memory of Great Grandma so she found a locket she owned and placed her own picture inside. She planned to leave it with Great Grandma.
At the wake, my children cried. They walked around, looking distraught and sad. They looked at her body, were curious, wanted to touch, but were afraid to. I encouraged them to do what felt right, and the kind funeral director offered them paper and pen to write letters that we then placed inside the casket. He also placed McKaelen’s locket around Great Grandma’s neck.
When only the family was present, the pastor asked us if we’d like to share memories. At first, no one spoke. A few neighbors and relatives said some kind words. But then my oldest, AJ, who is 11, spoke up.
“I may not have known Great Grandma very well, but …”
And then his voice cracked and he started crying, which, of course, brought everyone else to tears. But then my brave boy continued.
“I may not have known Great Grandma very well, but one thing I do know … she gave the best hugs ever.”
My son had hugged this woman exactly one time in his life, yet he knew in his heart that was true, and he knew he needed to say something to honor his Great Grandma. It was a heartbreaking yet special touching moment for all of us.
We said our goodbyes at the funeral the next day, and AJ was even an honorary pall bearer. At the cemetery, each of our children took a flower from her casket in her memory. While none of us ever wants to face death, sometimes it takes the grace of children to help adults heal, and my children displayed more grace and conducted themselves in such a way that I knew they had brought joy to others in a time of sadness. They expressed their sorrow, showed their love, and reminded everyone that life continues on.