Friday, April 23, 2010

Flashback Friday #7 - Grief

I've had our bloggy friend Lidna on my heart as she is grieving the loss of a dear friend. And while I don't want this to be a gloomy or painful Flashback Friday, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on how we experienced grief in our early years.
How old were you (approximately) when you attended your first funeral? Did your parents shield you from death and grief or was it viewed as a natural part of life? Did you experience any significant loss(es) in your growing up years? What were your early impressions of death and dying? And while I do not intend this in any irreverent way, are there any amusing memories associated with a death or funeral? If you have kids, how have you handled this subject with them? Feel free to share as vulnerably or as shallowly as you want!
As always, the questions are simply suggestions to prompt your memory and give you a starting point. You don't have to answer them specifically, but you are welcome to. I know there are likely some tender memories on this subject, and most of our FF's will be more lighthearted, but both our fun and our serious memories have made us who we are today.

I think I was 5 or so when I attended my first funeral. It was for my great-aunt, and I just remember being absolutely horrified and grossed out that my aunt (who was the niece of the deceased) kissed her during the walk-by at the end of the funeral. As time went on, I realized that was her normal response - I think she's kissed the dearly departed at every relative's funeral I've attended!

When I was in upper elementary school, my maternal grandfather died. (My mom always thought it was ironic that he was a fiercely patriotic lawyer and he died on the day Watergate became news, June 17, 1972.) My grandparents' house was kinda big and I remember being a little scared that he would be laid out on a bed in one of the bedrooms. When we did go to the funeral home, my eye twitched or something and I thought his hand moved. Scared the daylights out of me! I remember having that feeling a lot at funeral homes - thinking that a hand moved - until I became an adult. That was also the time I discovered that I hate having the family enter formally while everyone watches; I tend to get a nervous laugh when I'm self-conscious, and I bit the inside of my cheeks the whole way to the pew trying to look properly sober!

My maternal grandparents were not warm & fuzzy types so my grandfather's death didn't particularly affect me. The first deaths that I remember personally impacting me occurred when I was in junior high. A couple at our church had a baby girl that died a day or two after she was born. That was the first time I had ever seen a tiny casket. She looked like a little doll lying there. Then our youth minister's baby died of SIDS on his four-month "birthday". I absolutely adored that little baby and had gotten to hold him a lot, so that was an impactful experience. That was the first I had ever heard of SIDS (which they just called crib death back then).

My family has always been pretty matter-of-fact about death. We went to a church that had lots of old people and my folks generally took me with them to visitations and funerals unless I was at school. And my paternal grandmother always joked about her "burial robe"; she was in a nursing home and had a brand-new robe, and she thought was so pretty that she wanted to be buried in it. She was buried in a regular dress, of course! The fact that death wasn't a taboo topic of conversation made it not nearly as creepy. (Except for the seemingly twitchy hands!) I do remember hating Abide With Me and thinking it was only written for funerals because that's the only time I ever heard it, and it was always played excruciatingly slow on an organ. Now I think it's a beautiful hymn.

When I was in college, the dad of 2 of my closest friends died. That one was very hard, not only because of my friends' grief but because he and his wife had been very involved in the youth and I was close to the whole family. The night before he died was when I discovered Psalm 116:15, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. At the time, I knew that his death at age 51 from lymphoma was premature, as opposed to someone dying at 75 or 80. But he was my friends' dad, for goodness sake, and 51 was no spring chicken to my 20-year-old way of thinking! His wife was 46 when she became a widow. What an eye-opener it was when I hit my mid-forties and realized just how very young they both had been!

I have always been grateful that my parents took me to so many funerals when I was a child, as it made me so much more comfortable with the whole experience. When I was in college, I was amazed how many of my friends had never been to a funeral and then a grandparent died and they were freaked out by the whole experience. So I was very intentional that my kids would not be like that. They both attended funerals when they were in elementary school - funerals of elderly people that we knew through church with whom they had a special relationship. And I've also made it a point to take them to a visitation if one of their friends experiences a loss so that they understand the importance of providing support. I will never forget the time a couple of years ago when I took my girl to a visitation for her friend's grandfather. The girl's face absolutely lit up when we walked through the door. Her grandparents' friends were there and her parents' friends were there, but she knew my girl had come just for her.

I know I'm weird, but I read obituaries (side effect of being a nurse) and I like funerals. (Even more now, since I don't think the hand moves!) Especially funerals of believers. Viewing the deceased person's body is such a testimony to the fact that the physical body is indeed just a shell and they are no longer there. And I am a strong believer in weaving the gospel into the service since there are generally some non-Christians in that captive audience. On the other hand, a funeral of a non-believer is a whole 'nother experience and probably the most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed.

What a comfort to know that we do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13)

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Skoots1moM said...

i'm with ya...
we shared a lot on this one...

Barbara H. said...

I feel much the same way about funerals. I dreaded them until I went to the first one. A child's is the hardest of all to go to, I think.

Pamela said...

My husband is a funeral director. I have started dating him in high school which is also when he started working at a funeral home. So I have been around death a lot. My mom died when I was a freshman in high school. That has been one of the hardest funerals for me and I still miss her dearly. Also my brother died the day after my first grandchild was born. I honestly think that he held on just so that day could be a celebration day for just her.

My husband has always said that he would rather bury a child than to see the child have to go through loosing a parent. It is hard sometimes to think about in those terms, but in some ways I agree.

I am just glad that my hope is in Jesus and that although the pain of death is hard to deal with here on earth, one day those that have accepted Christ as their Savior will be reunited.

riTa Koch said...

Thank you Linda for tackling this subject, and for sharing. It has proven to be a very interesting reflection.

sara said...

my first funeral was of a close family friend's son, just 2 years younger than me when I was in HS. It had a huge impact on my life.

Anonymous said...

I was very young when I attended my first funeral. My great-grandparents died within a very short time of each other, so I was funeral-savvy at a very tender age. My dad passed away last June 30 after a loooooonnng illness, so we had time to grieve before his death. While Mom, my siblings, and I were at the funeral home choosing a casket, we got the giggles and started joking about things. The funeral director thought we were nuts, but he joined in, and we all had a good release of joy which continued on to the day of the funeral and beyond. Only the Lord could have brought us such a time of joy and laughter. And that's the way my dad would have wanted it, because that's the way he was.

Unknown said...

I was so busy yesterday that I did not have time to make the round for FF.

You are so right, there is such a sense of celebration when a believers passes and and even deeper sense of loss and regret in my her when I attend a funeral of someone I know who was not a believer!

Wonderful memories, loved the twitching hands, it's amazing the tricks the mind can pull!