Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How Not to Behave at a Funeral

I’m sure there are plenty of parenting resources out there that explain how one should approach the subject of death with a three-year old. Having none of those resources around, I found myself incredibly short of words and ideas the week of Thanksgiving. We had a death in the family—a great uncle whom Bryn and I had never met—so we loaded up the family and traveled to Oklahoma for the funeral. I tried to explain where we were going and why, and why Daddy and Grandmother were sad and would appreciate us being as helpful and nice as we could be. But in saying the words “Grandmother’s brother died,” I realized that those words—to a three-year old—probably sound no different than an explanation about why the batteries in the remote control don’t work anymore. Obviously the implications are dramatically different.

The Southern rule book indicates that you always attend funerals and weddings to support your friends. Attending funerals—I believe—is all about empathy, and I’m not sure when people hit that developmental milestone. Some people never develop much of it, I guess. But three years old may be a little early to have a robust empathetic bent. I was pleased when Bryn showed some signs of understanding, telling Grandmother one time (unprompted) “I’m sorry your friend died.”

In other cases, she was just taking it all in the festivities with seemingly no grasp of the weight of the situation. After we filed into the chapel for the service, she was settled preemptively between me and Beau’s mom. Her response to my request to be very quiet can only be described as a poorly executed stage whisper. As the last of the family was seated, Bryn whispered, “Is the show about to start?” Me: “Yes, honey. Now, please. You must be very quiet.” Bryn: “oh-KAY.”

But, being very still is clearly a different request than being very quiet. I hadn’t covered that in my “how to behave at a funeral” crash course that morning. She wanted to stand in the pew (to better see the show—no doubt) and was quickly yanked back into my lap. So began the struggle to stay seated without too much hub-bub. I tried to sit very still to compensate for her movement, but that worked about as well as when my sister and I would get the giggles in church and try not laugh and instead our heads would bob uncontrollably and the entire pew would shake. I’m sure—to those behind us—we were a bonafide mess. I’d be surprised if all the extended family that we didn’t know weren’t thinking “who brought the zoo and elected to sit up front?”

I had promised that I would take her out if she needed to go, so I had to debate the exact moment that her behavior in the service was so intolerable to justify the shrieking that was inevitable if I were to forcibly remove her. Oh, and I forgot to mention her unbelievably inappropriate outfit. It’s really most important at this point in the story. She received a dress for her birthday that was navy blue corduroy with a sweet white turtleneck underneath. The weather was quite cold and rainy so I thought it would be our best option: dark color and relatively warm. I hadn’t had Bryn try it on, but when I put it on that morning, it was REALLY short—as in barely covering her bottom. Ok, I’m rounding up…it really didn’t cover her bottom all that reliably. Add to that the fact that she “declined” the tights that I brought to keep her warm-ish. So, as I escorted her out of the service—shrieking for GG and other family members—her pink princess panties were on glorious display.

At the end of the day, our real comfort in times of loss is the next generation. I would like to think that Bryn’s spirit brought some comfort to people in the room, (she says hopefully). At any rate, I’ll still be tiding up my “rules of behavior” manual in the meantime.

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