"Don’t take your children there; they’re too young and wouldn’t understand.”
“It’s just not right for them to be exposed to that.”
I’ve heard it all and of course, once my mind is set, nobody else’s (well-intentioned) advice or rationale will turn me around. Kids needn’t be sheltered from reality, just perhaps introduced to it in a non-threatening, non-hysterical kind-of-way, I believe.
My father passed away a month after my wedding date. My brother died tragically a month after my brain surgery in 2006. My kids never met their grandfather and the three eldest remember very little about their uncle.
Now that we are local once again, visiting two of my favorite men is achievable. And when we go, it’s a family affair. We all sit in a circle around the tombstones, brush the debris off their stones and adorn them with pretty vibrant-colored marbles. (Our Jewish traditions dictate we place pebbles or stones, not perishable flowers.)
Then I begin to tell stories---wondrous stories about their late uncle and his silly sense-of-humor and memorable tales about the loving father I was blessed with growing up. The children listen attentively, in a reflective, almost trance-like mindset. I can almost see their young minds churning as they express, with a simple gesture or shifting of the eyes, how very grateful they feel to still have their siblings and father alive and well. And all together.
Once I conclude with the prayers, blessings and trip down memory lane, the kids weigh in and take turns uttering a few of their own heartfelt words. They tell their uncle and grandfather about themselves, what they like to do, who their friends are, and how they fare in school. Oftentimes, based on an anecdote I’ve related, the kids subsequently make connections between themselves and what they've heard like: "Hey, I also love football like Grandpa did!" And this way, their late grandfather and uncle become more real to them, a regular presence in their lives.
And although these experiences are both solemn and emotionally-taxing, said treks to the cemetery prove so very worthwhile. The kids feel like they’re cultivating a relationship, albeit deceased, with their uncle and grandfather. And because kids are innately spiritual---much more so than we grown-ups are---the children actually feel the presence of these men’s souls very much alive inside of them.
I know this to be true because I hear the kids talk to their uncle and grandfather during their bedtime prayers. They’ve set these two departed relatives up as examples of goodness, people they aspire to emulate. And most importantly, the kids feel an overall connection to their lineage---a link in the chain of family history.
No, it’s not scary or wrong to take kids to the cemetery. I’ve been taking mine since the littlest one was eighteen months. Granted, each child has a unique way of processing the experience and a different level of comprehension, and every parent can assess the readiness of their own child.
But if there is one thing I am certain of, it’s this: this time spent together, bonding and sharing at the graves of my dad and brother is life-impacting and something that’ll forever be imprinted in their memories.