(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)
I have such great kids. Have I ever mentioned that? :o)
As I wrote yesterday, our friends and next door neighbors suffered a loss over the weekend. Our friend lost his father; his kids, their grandfather ("Paw-Paw"). It was unexpected and we're all very sad. He was a very nice, friendly man. Brendan and I have known them--and him--for 10 years.
Today was the visitation and I went to that in lieu of the funeral tomorrow. (Brendan will represent at the funeral.) I had planned to go by myself--well, my shadow comes with me everywhere, since he's rather attached to me (being that source of food and all), so going somewhere with just him is the same as going somewhere by myself these days. When Ryan heard about this plan, he told us plainly and in no uncertain terms that he wanted to go with.
Well, why not? He knew Paw-Paw, too. I thought it over and decided that I'd rather Ryan go to the visitation than the funeral. The visitation would be less formal, less intense, and less religious (which means slightly fewer questions for me to answer). And of course his buddies (A and his little brother, H) would be there, too. Brendan had to consider it a little longer, but he agreed to the plan.
So I talked it over with Ryan, explaining what a visitation was, what he would see (it was open casket), how to behave, how to speak quietly (his voice tends to carry), how this would not be a good place to run around with his friends, how this was a serious occasion, how he might see people being sad. And I mentioned a few hundred more times about being quiet and not talking too much.
In fact, when I mentioned the open casket, I thought that he might decide to stay here with Brendan. Nope! If anything, it made him more excited to go. Which made me a wee bit nervous. Those of you who know Ryan in real life (and those of you who've gotten to know him through this blog) understand my trepidation. Ryan is full of wonderful, bright, curious honesty, one of his greatest qualities. But he's also six, and when you're six, there's such a thing as too much inquisitiveness and too much honesty and too much talking. Tact, evidently, is a skill that must come later in life. :o)
For you Buffy fans, imagine bringing a newly un-demonized Anya Jenkins to an event like this. Yup.
I could not have been more impressed with him. He picked out a brand new shirt to wear because he wanted to look "fancy." He was patient on the long car ride. He helped me get the baby situated in the stroller and held the door open for me. When we went into the visitation room, he walked right up to A and said, "I'm sorry about your grandfather." Whereupon A corrected him and said that Paw-Paw was his Grandpa, not his grandfather (which is a normal sort of interaction for these guys). Then they started looking at Star Wars cards that their dad gave them.
In talking with A's mom, I learned that A had refused to go up to the casket and was very, very upset. Not that I blame him--I was completely freaked at my grandmother's funeral and wanted to be swallowed up into the earth when I saw her in her casket--and I was nearly thirteen. This little guy isn't even six yet.
A's mom asked Ryan and A and H if they wanted to put little flags in the casket (since Paw-Paw was a veteran of the Korean War) and Ryan said, "Sure!" He took one, marched right on up there, put the flag in the casket, said, "Goodbye, Paw-Paw" and his friend A went with him and left his flag, too. It was a moment, if you understand my meaning.
I think it really helped A, having his friend there. Of course, this whole thing was a million times easier for Ryan than for A, since it wasn't his grandfather up there. But again--he was so unafraid. I'm glad that his presence made it easier for his friend to go and say goodbye.
After that, whenever he was introduced to the family, he was polite and said "Nice to meet you." or "Hello." or "I'm six and I'm allergic to peanuts." or "I'm friends with A and H." Not too bad, not too bad at all!
This event was a big deal for me, too, not just because I knew and liked this man and am sad for my friends. I had the sense that this was one of those Big Parenting Moments, of not wanting to blow this for Ryan, knowing that how I talked about and acted in this situation would set the tone and example for him in all such future events. I wanted to set his expectations so that he would be prepared for what he experienced today. So that when we experience a death in our own family, he'll know that he can count on us to set expectations and help him through it at that time. And I was nervous because I'm not really good at funerals--and I'm also still just a wee tad eensy tiny bit hormonal. :o)
When my grandma died, my parents did a poor job of preparing me. I had never been to a funeral/visitation before and my mom and dad, so wrapped up in their grief, as well as maybe not wanting to upset me and my sister and brother even more than we already were, told us nothing. So everything was a big surprise and that made it, I think, worse than it needed to be. I think it made them too sad to talk about it and they didn't want us to see them sad. But you know, it's okay to be sad when someone dies. Yes, it can be upsetting for a child to see the adults around him sad--but when you talk about why and are sad together, isn't that better, ultimately? I wish that had happened when I was a kid. My sadness would have had some more of that healing feeling to it, and maybe a bit less confusion.
Along these same lines, we have been preparing both Ryan and Morgan for the impending death of one of our cats. She is very old, very ill, and we are planning to have her euthanized soon. We decided that this week wasn't a good week to do it--she's not suffering, so we have some time. (And we haven't told them about the euthanasia part--I think that would be a bit much for them to get, even as understanding as they are.) Even though she's just a cat, she's a member of our family, and I know this will hit them hard. Ryan and I have talked about, oh, lots of things to do with the kitty's illness. You'd be amazed--or perhaps you wouldn't--to learn that he has many elaborate plans for the kitty's bones. See why I was nervous about taking him today? :o)
I see I have digressed. Lots to think over, and writing it is helpful. Anyway, once again, Ryan has amazed me with his honesty, and I don't know . . . fearlessness is the only word that comes to mind. Good stuff, even in this bad situation. And, as an aside, bringing the baby was a good plan, too--I had lots of people saying how glad they were to see a baby there. (Which is good, since I kinda had to bring him.) I think there is something so hopeful and happy and optimistic about the presence of babies that people who are grieving respond to.
And now, to bed with me!