I was sad to learn about the passing of my ex father-in-law last week. He was a kind, generous man and we had a very good relationship for the duration of my marriage to his daughter. But time waits for no man and in his early 90s he’d had a rich and full life and when he did go through the last phases, it was quick and he was apparently pretty unaware of what was happening. A blessing.
But Linda and I are no longer together and we view funerals and the passing of a loved one differently. When my mother passed I didn’t fly my children out to LA to be with their Papa and, as per her wishes, we had only the most informal of memorial services, one that my family hosted at my Dad’s house. Lots of friends, lots of sharing of what everyone had loved and admired about my Mum, and that was that.
Life goes on.
When I returned, the children and I had a brief period of reflection about Nana and we laid some flowers on the mantel in memory. Then went on with our lives, as she’d have wanted and as my Dad also expressed he wanted: people die. It’s sad, but it happens. Life is about the living, though.
Now the children’s second grandparent has passed away and it’s become A Big Deal, with them missing almost a week of school to fly to another state for not only a funeral service, but a separate memorial service. In both instances, my understanding is that the ceremonies include a viewing of Grandpa’s mortal remains.
My personal view is that once you’ve passed on, the body itself is unimportant and when I have attended funeral services, I have opted not to view the body. In fact, when I die, I want a New Orleans-style party where people laugh and savor who I was and how I lived my own life, not wear black and bemoan my passing.
The issue that’s arisen for me with the funeral activities is whether the children should view the body. My opinion is that they shouldn’t unless they really want to, and really, what children want to see a dead person? Don’t we all want to remember the person as alive, vital and happy? I’m also savvy that it’s not my place to tell my ex how things should transpire at her father’s funeral, especially since I was not invited to attend or even told where it was happening.
Nonetheless, they’re my children, and I believe it’s quite possible that the extraordinarily powerful image of seeing their beloved Grandpa’s body in the coffin is going to be one that will stick with them for years, if not the rest of their lives.
Do I just let things transpire without saying a word?
Do I honor the intent and spirit of our divorce agreement and let her manage their experiences and activities with zero input of my own while they’re with her?
It’s a tough call.
What I have done is to remind each of my children individually that when they attend the funeral they have the right to respectfully ask that they not have to view the body if they would prefer not to.
Will they? I guess I’ll find out…