Buy Prints

I'm now accepting all forms of payments for prints.
Check out the online Store!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On death and funerals

Well, it's been a while since I've written here, and I think most of you who read this know why.  Last Wednesday, Brian's mother passed away unexpectedly.  The past week has been full of dealing with the aftermath: planning and attending the funeral and wake, dealing with and planning for the division of the estate, making arrangements for the cremation and the subsequent interment, and of course grieving.  

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the passing of my mother-in-law.  Mostly, I'm filled with intense sadness and sympathy for Brian and his sisters.  I can not imagine their loss.  But I think that here, in this blog, I am going to keep my musings mostly on the topic of how this relates to Mira, since this blog is dedicated more to our children rather than being focused on Brian and me.  

This is the first time in Mira's life that someone she knew has died.  In my mind, it is both good and bad that this has happened at such a young age for her.  Good because she doesn't comprehend the loss, so she has not needed to grieve; she won't carry a painful memory of this with her.  Bad because she will likely have no memories of her paternal grandmother, and it's sad to think that she'll miss growing up in her presence.  It really serves to reaffirm my appreciation for Mira's other grandparents.  

Throughout the process of the funeral and grieving, Mira has been very removed from the experience.  She's not been in the thick of any of it.  At the hospital, as Brian's mom was passing, Brian and I both agreed that it would be better for me to stay with Mira and not to bring her to the hospital.  The funeral itself occurred during Mira's afternoon nap, so she stayed with my family while Brian and I attended the services.  She has even been pretty removed from our grieving process at home.  I did tear up in her presence a couple of times, but for the most part she has not seen our grief, or anyone else's.  Brian has had a few moments where he dropped his composure and really allowed himself to express his sorrow, but they were all when Mira was sleeping and only I was around.  (I think he feels an obligation to remain outwardly stoic for the sake of those around him.)  It wasn't really my intention to keep Mira out of what was going on.  I wasn't trying to protect her from the emotions of others, per se.  It is just more.... the way it ended up working out.  And I'm not sure if it is a good thing or not.  On one hand, she has pretty much gone on with her life happily and as though nothing happened.  On the other hand, this could have been a learning experience for her about emotions and empathy.  So I don't know if we did the right thing or not by unintentionally excluding her.  

At one point, Mira saw me crying quietly and she came over, looking worried, and gave me a hug.  At that point, and a couple other times, I did try to explain to her what had happened.  But death is such a big concept, even for a secular family like ours.  It seems impossible to explain in terms that a toddler will understand.  I told her that death is what happens when someone's body stops working.  And that lots of people were sad because her Grams had died, so we would never get to see her and play with her again.  I told her that she didn't have to be sad, if she didn't want to, but that other people around her might be sad for a little while.  But I have no idea how much she understood.

One thing that has really been illuminated for me by this experience is just how important it is to plan for and prearrange your own funeral.  I have been to my share of funerals and experienced the death of those very close to me, but never have I been witness to the minutia and planning and details the way that I have this time.  Not that I did much of the work, but I saw Brian and his sisters scrambling here and there, raising funds, planning and revising and WORKING.  Hard.  To make arrangements for their own mother's funeral. In a time when they should have been grieving, they had no time because everything had to come together just so and by a certain date and time and on a certain budget.  And Brian's mom had done a lot to prepare for her death before she died.  I mean A Lot.  But even her careful documentation and preparedness was not enough to prevent Brian and his siblings from having to rush around and fret and worry whether things would come together on time.  Seeing them go through that made me realize how much I Do Not Want that to burden my children when I'm gone.  So I've actually started looking into and planning for my own funeral.  And Brian's too, to some degree, though only he can specify his final wishes.  But certainly, being privy to the behind-the-scenes elements of funeral planning has put some things about Mira's future into perspective for me.


Donna Kinney said...

Sweetie, I really don't think Mira was going to be able to understand much of this, no matter what you had done. I told her a couple times that Daddy was sad and needed a hug, but that's about as much as I think we can realistically expect from her at THIS age. (Even though, as you and I know, she is the most brilliant, perceptive, precocious child in the universe - Except for maybe my two daughters. And I, of course, am totlly UNbiased!) If she were a little older, that could be different.

Hannah said...

I'm sorry for your loss. My mom told me, in the days after her mom died, that she thought all those funeral arrangements were a good thing. That they bring everyone together and give them a reason to keep moving for those first few days. Then when the dust settles and those affected have time to sit and grieve it's not so raw. Not that you shouldn't plan for the inevitable. But I do see a kind of social purpose to our cultural traditions at times like this.

I agree that Mira probably doesn't get much about death at this age. But she's learning from example and if she sees that it's okay to cry sometimes and that we show compassion to people who are sad then I think she has learned what she needs to from her Grams' passing.