I have never liked the rituals that accompany death...the "viewings" especially. They always struck me as creepy and morbid. The deceased never looked quite like themselves and I couldn't imagine why people would want to remember their loved ones that way. Even worse, there are those (including my own mother)who want photos of the person in the coffin. Yikes!
Growing up in a family that doesn't exactly have a reputation for longevity, I attended many funerals as a child. And to this day, as much as I love flowers, walking into a flower shop gives me goosebumps. To me, the smell of a generic mix of flowers is the smell of a funeral home. While I'm not happy with this long-term effect of my childhood funeral experiences, I am glad in an overall sense that I was allowed to attend those funerals as a child. I've met many people who never attended a funeral until adulthood and it was usually the funeral of someone very important in their lives - a parent or a sibling. That's not the time you want to feel unprepared and creeped out.
While I had the benefit(?) of early exposure that helped me to know what to expect and become somewhat immune to the creepiness factor, I still don't care for the funeral process. Bu now, as a more experienced adult, I am able to better understand the need for these rituals that we put ourselves through. In fact today, I was reminded of my early experiences with death and of the need we have for these parting rituals. Today I was reminded that no matter how much we try to protect our children, we simply can't
My kids had their eighth birthday a few days ago. My kids (my daughter in particular) had been lobbying for getting hamsters for some time, and while I didn't want anymore pets to care for right now, I decided that my kids deserved to have pets that they could call their own, that would help to teach them responsibility and that would, eventually, give them an early lesson in coping with death. Unfortunately for my daughter, the lesson came all too soon.
Max, as she called him, became ill the day after he came to live with us. We cared for him as best we could and made him comfortable hoping he would get better. He seemed to be improving but this morning, we found him in the same position we had left him in the night before. After living with us for just five days, little Max had died in his sleep.
Now I know that a lot of you are saying..."Oh please, all this about a HAMSTER?"...but in my house, all life is valuable and we are a bunch of softies. We all cried this morning for our little friend, held him, petted him and told him we loved him. Afterward I told my daughter that I would take Max back to the pet store (which, not to sound cold, I need to do because we have a two week guarantee and she can get a new hamster). I assumed the pet store would keep Max and take care of him but Hayley informed me that she wanted Max to come back so she could bury him in the yard under a tree. She proceeded to tell me what she would bury with him and to tell me stories of her memories of Max. I didn't prompt her to do this...it was her natural reaction to the death of a loved one. Doing these things was clearly her way of coping.
So, as much as I hate funerals, we'll be having one in the next couple of days. Why? Because death is difficult and it is a basic human need to ritualize it. We need closure, we need to feel that we have done all we can for our loved one, we need to say all of those things that perhaps went unsaid. We need to show how much that person (or hamster, as the case may be) meant to us. We need to pay tribute. Sharing our memories and our grief in a way that demonstrates our love for the departed helps us to make the transition to a life without them. While each of us may go about it in a different way, we all have some way of saying good-bye. Today, I get to help my daughter find her way.