I’m leaving today for my aunt’s funeral. It’ll be a quick trip to my mother’s place in Baltimore, and then back just in time for Shavuot (if I’m lucky.) I’m picking up cheesecake for the family at Trader Joe’s before I leave, just in case I’m not back for dinner.
I struggled with the decision of whether or not to take my daughters, 4 and 5, on the trip with me. They had only met my aunt a few times, but had they come, we could have stayed in Baltimore with Bubbe for Shavuot. On the other hand, had they come, they would have needed to attend the graveside funeral with me.
I decided against taking them. I think there is something very powerful, in a good way, about the Jewish ritual of participating in the mitzvah of burial, and tossing a shovelful of dirt in the grave. But I have delayed mentioning the whole concept of burials, and this might not be the most, shall we say, gentle introduction. I’ve explained the neighborhood cemetery as somewhere to “remember people who have died” and kaddish as a prayer for doing the same thing. That’s about all I’ve said about death. They know it happens, of course. They know which of our relatives have died, and they frequently (perhaps too frequently?) integrate death into their dramatic play. And like any Annie-loving little girls, they totally wish they were orphans.
To me watching a coffin be lowered underground and covered with dirt is potentially terrifying – the stuff of which nightmares are made. But maybe, if they are exposed to this at an early age, they’ll integrate the experience into their world view in a natural, untroubling way. So maybe I’m making a mistake.
What do you think? When, and how much, did you tell your children about death?
May Aunt Thelma’s memory be a blessing.