virtual children by Scott Warnock

Getting you through the long days

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There are rough days when you’re raising kids, starting when they’re wee with worries about what will be and extending through months (or, in our case, years) of sleeplessness and intensifying when you have teenager aliens skulking about. People with kids in their 40s and even 50s confirm to me that you never do stop worrying.

Why go this route? Well, there’s biology and oopsy lust and all that, but sometimes your kids rise up in the midst of pain, and their wonderment, their newness to the dreary routines and responsibilities of adult life, their ability to make you chuckle in spite of yourself, pull you through for one more day.

We had a tough family funeral recently. We lost my cousin. Way too young. The week before it was long. The day of was worse. Although we’ve gone through deaths, my kids had not been through a family death like that.

Myself, I was, as an old friend once said, a “cosmic virgin” until relatively late in life, having not experienced a profound death until I was well into adulthood. So I still feel I’m on a slow learning curve of dealing with the end of life.

Children have a purity of response, especially in a low-context culture such as ours. We’re casual, and funerals are one of few ritualistic events in which you are supposed to exercise a certain decorum that can really be learned only through experience. I wondered, worried: How would they act?

The main lens for this was my youngest. He knew it was heavy. He knew it was bad. He had to watch my uncle, aunt, and cousins go through the pain. My aunt and uncle both always have a joy and ease to them; it’s in their eyes. That was hard to find now.

You go to someone else’s home during a week like that, and it’s all about what they need. But you bring your kids and, of course, they do things like misplace their shoes. So, instead of leaving one night with the proper decorum, we’re out in the dark with a flashlight searching for a pair of flip flops.

The day of, I had the boys with me in the car. At the church, we received our “funeral” flag, which I attached to the car window. My little guy looked at me, without guile, and said, “Does that mean we don’t have to pay for parking?”

Later, at the end of the end, we were standing in the cemetery. Silence broken only by a sniffle, a sob, and the spritz of holy water. We were up front. The priest spoke the final words. Right then is when my little guy got the hiccups, a loud, extravagant case. He stood there looking up at me, bland-faced, helpless, wearing his little tie. I pulled him behind me, but each one boiled up with a clear “pop!” in the still graveyard air.

Later, at the reception, I talked to my weary uncle. Evasively, I asked if he heard. His eyes got the old glimmer of mischief that I hadn’t seen that week, and he smiled: “Oh, we heard him.”

There were other things, like the proper buffet etiquette – things you don’t do at a funeral reception meal – and other matters that kept me shifting from thought to action, back into the stern role of parent that, funny enough, may keep us sane when faced with the unthinkable.

In memory of my cousin and my buddy, Ryan DeWitt. He found goodness and humor in everything, and I hope he is smiling down on this little blurb.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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5 Responses to “Getting you through the long days”

  1. I am so sorry for your family’s loss Scott but I immediately thought that perhaps your cousin had a hand in the hiccups…
    May you all find peace.

  2. My funeral experience as the oldest grandchild on both sides of my huge families is vast. It’s not really something I’d put on a resume, but I have been there at the heart of it many more times than I can remember. It’s -dare I say- the circle of life, but the presence of a full span of generations is what completes that circle.
    I can almost vouch that your Ryan popped those hiccups in mini-warnock’s throat himself, with a humorous twinkle in his eye. So sorry you all had to suffer a loss- but the lost flip flops, lost rosaries in caskets, lost dress shoes- they are all totems, moments of relief in such a world fraught with the depths of loss. Here’s to the hiccups, cracked teeth, sprained ankles & missing pocket watches that provide moments of rest that are most assuredly happening with some hand of divine guidance… Lots of love to you all, thanks for putting another special moment into thoughtful words.

  3. I agree with Mary. I have a feeling Ryan had a hand in the hiccups…So sorry for your loss. Hugs to you and your family.

  4. As you know Scott, my youngest is a bit precocious. I was so worried about how she would act at her grandfathers funeral several years ago. Besides a few glitches, she did well and learned some traditions. She insisted on watching the funeral director prepare her grandfather at the closing of the casket. The next day her beloved guinea pig, Hammy died. Such bad timing. She cried and sobbed, and then she prepared a casket and Hammy for his final resting. It was so endearing to see. She made us laugh at such a sad time. I know her grandfather would have appreciated the moment. God bless your family at this sad time.

  5. There are no words for the loss of Ryan..but you, dear Scott have found some

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