50: Funeral Fun

50: Funeral Fun

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Funeral Fun

Dying is a very dull, dreary affair . . .

~Somerset Maugham

We have a large extended family, and we were in a period of time when many of our elderly relatives were at the end of their lives. I prepared my nine-year-old son for the process that was about to unfold as we drove the forty-five-minute trip to visit the first of three elderly aunts in the hospital. We talked about how Aunt Bianca was old, how she lived a good and happy life, and how she was very ill from a heart attack. We discussed what the room would look like, what she would look like, and what he could and could not say.

“She’s going to die?” asked Noah.

“Yes, maybe soon, but we don’t discuss that when we visit her. It’s too sad.” I have to explain every detail to him, because he approaches many events with such a matter of factness that his comments or questions can be inappropriate. We also talked about how to behave in a hospital since this was a huge worry to me. His voice is very loud and he’s not good at being calm. It was a boring visit for him and he tolerated it well. Noah was fascinated with how all the machines worked and what they did for Aunt Bianca.

He asked about the dysfunction of our aunt’s heart, since the internal body was one of his topics of interest. Otherwise there wasn’t much for him to do. He was uncomfortable and bored.

A week later, Aunt Bianca died. I prepared him for the process of viewings and the funeral itself. We talked about appropriate behaviors and conversations. Again, Noah was overly curious about what happened to her heart, why it stopped, how it became sick, how it got a clog in its own artery, what would happen if there was an artery explosion in her heart and on and on about every scenario he could think of concerning hearts. The viewings were long and boring for him. Driving forty-five minutes to and from the viewing and sitting for up to two hours in a room full of mourning adults required many vending-machine treat incentives from the funeral home lounge.

The next day at the funeral involved more than three hours of driving and hours of services and a somber family gathering with nearly nothing for him to do.

Just a few weeks later we had to repeat the same process when Aunt Bianca’s sister had a heart attack. We visited her in the hospital, we discussed hearts and their dysfunction, we went to viewings, a full mass, the funeral, the gathering, and we drove. A lot. More promises had to be made for vending-machine treats. Privately he was more vocal and rude, and bordered on a meltdown, but publicly he kept it together.

It was barely a week later when the third aunt died. Aunt Myrtle was on my mother’s side of the family and because it was so sudden there was no time for a hospital visit. “Looks like I escaped the hospital visit,” he said with blunt honesty. Aunt Myrtle was one of those aunts who loved children. She really enjoyed her seven grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, five great-great grandchildren and all of her great-nieces and nephews. She was always crocheting sweaters for the next generation of great-grandchildren and great-great nieces and nephews.

The funeral home was another long drive away and Noah was banking on a vending machine in the lounge. So was I. He was reaching his limit and if there wasn’t a vending machine, there could be a meltdown. He was already concerned with the next day’s funeral and if we had to go to the “boring party” afterwards. Once we arrived and did a round of greetings and condolences, I was quickly given some groans and reminders about the lounge. As promised, I helped him find it while nearly holding my breath with fear that it would have no treats. What relief and surprise as we entered and found, not only vending machines, but a television playing cartoons. This was a double treat for my son, who rarely gets the privilege of watching TV.

He was not only placated, but happy!

The next day’s funeral service was held at the funeral home and Noah had to be warned that he needed to stay with me, rather than in the lounge, out of respect for Aunt Myrtle and the family.

He was very loud about his disappointment and I was dreading the whole day. I was sure that he had been pushed too hard with all of this and that an already stressful time for us was about to turn ugly.

Once at the funeral home, he was quiet and handled the service well, but the day was far from over. We still had a visit to the cemetery and then the family gathering. The drive there was a breaking point. There was a lot of screaming, kicking of seats and refusals to get out of the van. I went into the house while my husband stayed with Noah and helped him calm down.

With all the children in the house, it was full and active. My parents greeted me with knowing apologetic looks after learning that Noah was still in the van with his father. When they finally came in, Noah looked tired, but brightened a bit after seeing the spread of sweets. It was a sugar fanatic’s dream: cakes, pies, cookies!

After eating the required dinner in order to get the sweets, he was off investigating the piles of toys and the swing set. He kept busy following all the other children in their games. He needed a little help navigating the challenging social rules of the other kids and he was caught many times snatching more sweets from the buffet, but otherwise it was a smooth and pleasant visit for him, which meant it was good for us, too.

When it was time to leave, he was resistant. We gave him a ten-minute warning. After we said our goodbyes, we tried coaxing, bribing, and demanding that he leave with us. Finally we had to physically guide him away toward the van. Despite his loud protests, out of habit, we reminded him he needed to say goodbye.

We were surprised when he turned toward the crowd of mourning relatives to loudly scream, “Bye! BEST FUNERAL EVER!”

Our embarrassment left us pale and speechless as we piled into the van for the long trip home.

It was a few days before we thought it through enough to know this would have been a huge compliment for Aunt Myrtle. We’re sure she would have loved that so many children were there joyously celebrating her life. I also think she would be pleased that her great-great-grand nephew, who struggles daily with social situations, regarded hers as the “best funeral ever.”

~Angela Benam

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