We haven’t had to deal with any death in the family with Ladybug and WhatAboutMe? (formerly known as Butterball) so we had never discussed the eventuality of attending a funeral with them. Grandma Max’s death caught us unprepared and off-guard. In our shock and grief we just jumped into a car and headed to her town, wanting to be there for Pop. Looking back on it, I am sure there are tons of resources and books out there that could have helped and guided us with age appropriate ways to talk to a 5 and 3 year old about death and funerals. We had none of that and, in fact, the idea didn’t cross our minds until Tuesday as we approached the memorial chapel for the viewing. We quickly came to the decision that we would take turns inside the viewing room with family, while the girls stayed in the provided children’s play area–never to be any wiser as to the adult goings on.
Nanny had discussed with the girls that the next day we would be attending a ‘special event’. Not using the words funeral or death, she explained they would have to be on their best church behavior: quiet and still, knowing they were familiar with that and would understand. You can imagine my dismay when I arrived the next morning to realize it was going to be an open casket. We had ten minutes to spare, so I grabbed Nanny and asked her if we should prepare the girls in some way? Considering the room was only about 20’x30’, there was no way they wouldn’t notice a body in a casket in the room. She quickly came up with the idea of telling them that “like in the movie Snow White” there would be a lady sleeping in a casket at the front of the room, but they had to be on their best behavior and I told them if they had any questions to save them until after the service. It seemed as if it just might work, but I have learned over the years….never underestimate the brilliant mind of a child.
Scene: Inside a small memorial room with four rows of seats a beautiful woman of 92 dressed in a lovely pink gown, lies in repose in an ornate white casket, surrounded by a sea of fragrant flowers. A grandma, holding her 5-year-old granddaughter’s hand, makes her way to the back row followed by her husband and her eldest daughter who is holding on to her 3-year-old daughter. They take their seats and the 5-year-old begins craning her neck—trying to see past the other mourner’s heads to the front of the room and eventually scoots up into her grandmother’s lap to see better.Ladybug: (whispering) Grandma? I still can’t see. Grandma: (whispering) That’s okay, honey. You’re not missing anything. You’ll be able to see the pastor when she comes out to talk. Ladybug: (whispering with a hint of pleading) But Grandma, I can’t see it. Grandma: (whispering) Shhh, sweetie. Just hang in there, we’ll be done soon.
There is quiet for a moment and then the child leans back towards grandmother’s ear:Ladybug: (whispering) Grandma? Where are the dwarfs? Grandma: (stunned) Huh??? Oh, ummm, well, they’re not here. Ladybug: (normal voice) Oh. So it’s just Snow White in this show?
The grandma takes the little girls hand and quickly exits the room. On the way grabbing the mother & telling her they need another meeting out in the hall before the service starts.
Later in the day, we were able to laugh about it, as did everyone who heard the story. At the time, I was too worried that she was going to grow up and tell everyone the story about the time “Grandma took me to see a Snow White show and all I got to see was a dead body.”