Dear friends of mine lost their 7 year old daughter to a sudden illness only weeks ago. I believe this is any parent's worst nightmare. I know this has been and will continue to be an incredibly painful journey for my friends as they begin to live life without their precious daughter, Annie.
Despite all this pain, these friends have taught so many so much in these past two weeks. They have shared so much on their daughter's Caringbridge site (www.caringbridge.org/visit/anniebahneman) about their last days and then last hours with Annie. It's incredibly hard to read as it is so very sad; however, it is beautiful at the same time. They did what felt natural to them at the time and what they knew their daughter would want. Together they held her after she passed sharing stories and thanking God for the wonderful 7 years they had with her. They even took time to wash and comb her hair and paint her fingernails and toenails. Of course none of us know how we would react in a situation like this, but they responded to this situation with love...something that all of us can truly admire.
My friends and their family spent a lot of time during the next days thinking through what they wanted the funeral to be like, taking special consideration into what Annie would have wanted. They wanted it to be a happy time celebrating her life. I know in my lifetime funerals have not always been this way, but I can't help but think that this is such a wonderful lesson for our children. Yes, we are sad that we have lost this beautiful, vibrant child, but we are so lucky to have known her while she was here.
The visitation was filled with numerous memorabilia of Annie's: books she liked, special toys, and other favorite treasures that young children are so drawn to. The room was also filled with photos of Annie with her family, friends, and classmates. As we entered the visitation there was a table set aside for children to draw pictures of themselves with Annie and they were making these into a book. I think this was very therapeutic for many of the children.
The ceremony was lovely and the children present were involved by putting a flower up on the alter near a photo of Annie. However, the part that has stuck with me the most was how the day ended. Annie loved balloons, parades, and pink, so the parents decided to have a walking parade from the church to the burial site. Children were carrying balloons, pinwheels, and were riding on scooters, in strollers, and biking. City workers and police officers were stopping traffic when necessary. The neighborhood families had lined the streets with balloons as well. At times I had to remind myself that I was actually at a funeral and not at a birthday party. Annie would have loved this!
I want to go back to the children's perspective of all of this. Of course there were numerous children present as Annie was only 7 years old. I think to children death is very confusing and often even scary. It's hard for us adults to understand so we can relate when children are confused about this topic. Funerals usually evoke some very hard feelings for all of us and to children these feelings are jumbled and chaotic. To have the focus on celebrating ones life truly kept the focus on the good that has come of this life rather than the tragic loss. I am not saying we cannot be sad in front of our children and cannot bring them to funerals, but I think we can learn so much from the choices my friends made. I think the children that attended this funeral were sad of course, but were given ways to cope with this sadness: looking at numerous photographs (many of the children in them with Annie), drawing pictures of Annie and themselves, watching a slide show of more photos of Annie, her friends, and family, and of course allowing themselves to be happy and giggle and think good thoughts of their dear friend. Many children kept their pinwheels from the parade to put in their yards as a reminder of Annie. At the burial site we all released the balloons. I know this will be a lasting memory for many of those children. It was truly beautiful, not scary. Again, it is a great lesson in death for all of us young and old: To celebrate the life that the person had.
I am not saying the grieving process will not exist, because it certainly does. However, I keep trying to bring my mind back to Annie's wonderful 7 years and how fully she lived in that short time. Would we have loved to have her here longer? Yes, of course. Unfortunately we cannot change that, but we do have her memories to hold onto and I will continue to talk about those memories with my children so they continue to remember Annie and her wonderful spirit!
I admire my friends greatly to be able to teach us all so much these past couple weeks as they have been going through such a difficult time. Our lives are all changed because of this...in so many ways!
Jenny Hanlon, M.Ed. (Guest Blogger)
Founder of Parent & Teacher Support Services, LLC