A Celebrant colleague shared a newspaper article today (1) that has saddened me so much. A school in Leicester had assigned Year Eight pupils, so children of 12 and 13 years old, to complete what I would consider to be a life skills task. Similar in importance to how to open an online bank account, how to manage your finances, the importance of writing a will…..all the things I wish I had known about BEFORE it became an essential thing to know.
The pupils were asked to plan their own funeral as homework during the lockdown. They were asked if they would want a burial or cremation, to consider a style of coffin they might want, the type of flowers, favourite hymn and even who they would want to attend.
The school has since been required to apologise after angry parents complained “with one saying it was “way over the top” and another adding the assignment would cause a lot of fear”.
I can imagine that in some households this was a very divisive debate for a child to ask their parents something that they haven’t even considered themselves. But who are we protecting? The child who may want to have a healthy open discussion about death and dying or the adult who may want to run away from the conversation or shut it down at every opportunity?
I’m writing this blog on Father’s Day and it’s quite poignant for me as my Dad died when I was 13. I don’t really remember him that well, he wasn’t a particularly hands-on Dad, but he was still my Dad and I suppose I miss the concept of a Father more than anything.
I do, however, remember the night he died vividly and days afterwards leading up to his Funeral and that awful awkward period afterwards.
He was knocked down by a car and died almost instantly. In the days after, my Mother asked me if I wanted to see him at the Funeral “Parlour” and I said yes, I did. (That’s one good change, getting rid of the word parlour!) The only reason I wished I hadn’t seen him, lay in the small details that the FD had got so completely wrong. His glasses had smashed in the accident so he didn’t have them on; I can’t blame that on the FD but he just didn’t look like Dad! His hair had been brushed the wrong way and no one warned me about the odd smell. But I am to this day so very glad I saw him, as that proved to be my only chance to say goodbye.
Mum was insistent I wear a white dress all day….a podgy adolescent more used to jeans dressed in broderie anglaise is quite something to see… but she quite simply wouldn’t allow me to the funeral. She never did say why, but I can remember feeling frustrated that I was allowed to see him dead in a coffin but not be at the ceremony to say goodbye.
Going back to school was excruciating because no one knew what to say to me, including the teachers. How much more useful would it have been to use these experiences to initiate discussions and try to allay fears? I felt the adults tip toe around me for ages afterwards. That was it. Dad was dead, he was swept under the carpet, no need to address this at all.
So yes, I find it very sad that an opportunity to grasp the nettle that is the word death and use it as a learning experience has once again been lost. In “protecting” our children we deny them so much.