ALBION, N.Y. -- In my family, we try to teach children about death. One way is by exposing them from an early age to the ceremonies and realities of death.
My parents took me to my first wake when I was about 5 years old. Back then, wakes still were held in the homes of the deceased. So we walked across the street to see a woman (she was not related to us) we called Grandma Morse. But I told my mother I didn't want to go because I didn't want to see an old woman naked. (My 5-year-old mind couldn't imagine why dead people needed clothes.)
My mother explained what I would see when I got there and off we went.
When my daughters' maternal grandmother died this summer, both of them had nursing babies and couldn't get away on a day's notice to attend the funeral. So instead we all came here to upstate New York this past weekend to visit the cemetery and to dedicate a tree at their grandmother's church. Their grandfather had died in 2000. When we went to the cemetery, my grandchildren went along. We took the picture you see here.
It will be awhile before they understand much about the visit and about death. But we think it's important not to shield them from all aspects of death. My guess is that one day they will look at this photo and be able to connect their lives to their great-grandparents' lives in a special way. And we think these kids' great-grandparents would have been thrilled to have them plopped atop their headstone.
Parents and grandparents have to be discerning about what children are ready to learn about death, but if you never start teaching them, they wind up as part of America's death-denying culture, and that helps no one.
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