By Diane Ako
Our family friend, 91 year old Ernie, died last month. We just attended his funeral. As I knew we were taking Olivia, I tried to prepare her for the event.
When I broke the news to her about his death, she didn't seem too affected. My six year old said she knew what death was (because of our fish), and said she was a little sad, but I don't think she fully understood.
A day before the funeral, I talked to her about what to expect. I told her funerals are a time to remember the people we love, and to say goodbye one last time. I wasn't sure if he would be in an open casket, so I said we might see him at the front of the room lying down.
Olivia nodded but I am certain she could not possibly understand what all this meant until she saw it. So the time finally came when we walked into the chapel.
At first, she wasn't scared because she's seen empty caskets before at Claus' mortuary. We put one out at our annual Halloween party. She pointed and exclaimed, "That's Daddy's casket!" (which is not something I like to hear even though I understand what she meant.)
After the sign in and pleasantries, we made our way to the casket. It was open. In my limited opinion, the embalming job was good, but people always look different when they're embalmed. They look waxy and not quite right.
Now I think it hit Olivia. She kept staring at him in the casket with a mixture of curiosity, fear, and sadness. She had never seen a dead person before.
I stood at his casket and thanked Ernie for being part of our lives and said goodbye. Shortly thereafter, we left. I didn't take Olivia to the burial, because I wonder if it might have been too much knowing that the guy in the box just went into the ground.
On the way home I asked her how she felt, and she said she was OK. She said Ernie looked like he was lying in an ice box and that he looked funny, and wanted to know why.
For the next three days, she peppered me with a LOT of questions about death, each answer leading to just more questions. She couldn't sleep that night, telling me she was afraid. She kept coming out of her bed for three hours after we tucked her in, asking to stay with me.
Maybe because I reported news for so long, or maybe because I'm a mortuary wife- I don't consider the subject taboo. Death is a part of life, and knowing it's coming helps us to appreciate our loved ones each day we have them. I try to find the balance between honesty and oversharing.
How would you explain death to a child?