Today was my mother's birthday. So the whole family made the trip all the way up to the cemetery to go and see her. There were lots of groups there today- a few funerals, but lots of family groups visiting their loved ones. However, despite all the activity, we were definitely the only group with children. Especially young, little, tiny children.
I've tried to explain as best I can to my girls what it means to them that Grandma died. We've had way, way, way to much death for their little short lives. But, of course, it really doesn't matter when they learn about it, because it's going to happen eventually no matter what I have to say about the matter.
Jewish tradition doesn't put much stock in visiting the grave site of a loved one. That's not to say it's not done on the memorial day, or on holy days, but it's sort of seen as a few and far between thing. Judaism is all about acknowledging the pain, but keeping yourself in the present. Additionally there is some worry that you could turn your deceased relative into some sort of deity by 'praying to them' at their grave site. I only think it's interesting because the grave sites of many Rabbi's have become internationally known places to go and pray, not to mention the western wall, which is sort of like the grave site of the temple, no?
But moving on....
It can be sort of tricky to explain to a three year old why you are visiting your dead mother. The conversation goes something like this....
EG: Where are we going Mom?
Me: To visit Grandma Judy.
EG: Oh, okay. Why are we visiting her?
ME: Because today is her birthday, and it's nice to go there to see her.
EG: But mom she can't see us.
ME: Well, I believe she can see us. I know it's sort of confusing, but there are really two parts to each person. Your physical body, the part you can touch, and a part we call your soul, which is inside of you that you can't touch. Grandma Judy is with G-d, and G-d is everywhere, so she can see us.
EG: But Mom, G-d doesn't have eyes...
ME: Well, no he doesn't. Do you remember the song from school? Up Up, down down, right left and all around, here there and everywhere that's where he can be found... see, G-d is everywhere. And so is Grandma Judy.
EG: Look Mom- my shoe won't go on right.
Thank goodness she usually gets distracted before I have to get to far into the conversation. I'm not afraid to talk about death or G-d or, really, anything with my daughter. But putting all these confusing topics into words is really hard. Trying to help her understand. This is the same girl who is worried about her missing front tooth because it can't see where to go, so she's trying to show it with her own eyes.
Then we get to the graveside. We wander around looking for appropriate rocks. One of these days/yahrtzeits I'm going to remember to have her look in advance and paint the rock to leave at the grave site. I think that would be a wonderful and nice tribute to my mom...but I digress.
There we are, with two little tinnies, who are rearranging rocks, adding pine cones, playing literally on my mothers stone. I know Mom wouldn't mind, but that isn't how the other mourners felt. We've got no one sitting in black, both of my kids are loud, and pointing out butterflies. While Working Dad and I are a little subdued, neither of us are trying to shush the kiddos.
At the end of the day these children are her legacy. They along with their cousins are all that is left in the world of her spirit, and I think they honor her to know where she is, to visit her and maybe connect with her and G-d. I know that she would love to hear their sweet voices, even their sad cries and tears. So I choose not to be upset by the fact that some others might not like it. Let them mourn in their way, and we'll mourn in ours... loudly- with butterflies.
I've been on the search for some books to help with the subject, and the first one I come upon is this one:
But then I kept looking, because one book might not be enough. You never know what might click with a kiddo. Then I found this one...
Here's hoping these books with help us answer some of these questions. Do you have any good books you go to? Any good thoughts about how to talk to little ones about G-d and graves and death?