Open and Shut

We took Ben to his first wake last night. There are certain things I think it’s important to shield children from but death isn’t one of them. It’s a balance, of course, and it worked out nicely that Zack was scheduled for a sleepover at his grandmother’s house across town.

But we live in such a death-denying culture as it is that I don’t feel the need to perpetuate this with our kids. Death is an integral part of the human condition, not something we can put a V-chip on to prevent children from seeing until they reach a certain age.

One of the reasons we had goldfish was to start these very conversations — most of them simply don’t live very long. And we’re not the kind of parents who pull the old bait and switch routine by quickly replacing them with fish of a similar color. I’ve done my fair share of toilet-side burials.

And yet as people of faith, how can we talk about resurrection without speaking honestly about death? This is the whole paradox of Christianity: that out of death there is life. So it is nothing to hide from or fear but rather to embrace the fact that through faith in Jesus there are no final goodbyes — they’re all merely temporary farewells. While human pain and grief are quite real they take place within the context of resurrection. And that’s the heart of the good news of the Christian life.

Ben didn’t particularly know Dr. McGinnis — he was Bryna’s best friend’s father. But Bryna’s friend Hollee has been an important figure in Ben’s life since he was born and we just visited Hollee’s sister Karen last month in Cooperstown. So we talked to him about being supportive of our friends and the importance of simply being present for them in difficult times. And Ben rose to the occasion, even kneeling with me in front of the open casket as I whispered a prayer.

Sure the open casket creeped him out a little bit. Heck, it does the same to me. But the hardest part for Ben wasn’t going to the wake itself but putting on nice clothes for the occasion. At nine, he’s old enough to be gently drawn into conversations about life and death but never too old to put up a fight about dress pants.


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