We were walking home from an art group a while ago and came across a huge crowd of people. they were all wearing black and had lined the streets to pay their respects to a local soldier who had died on duty in Afghanistan I had forgotten that the funeral was going to take place that day. Had I remembered, we probably would have walked a different way home.
As our path was blocked, we joined the crowds waiting for the funeral procession. The local newspaper said that over 10,000 people lined the streets which is fairly astounding for such a small town. All the shops were shut whilst the service took place and the high street was closed to traffic. I had an inquisitive young man with me. The last time we had waited on the streets like this was for the Olympic torch going through the town. I guess he assumed it was similar.
I answered questions such as, 'why are people crying?', 'but why is the soldier dead?' And, 'what is war mummy?'. All in all, I did a pretty good job with my honest answers. However, he was still struggling with the idea of being dead. Just as I started to explain again, the church bell started tolling. Silence descended on the crowds. 'Dong' tolled the bell. In the silence which followed, my daughter mimicked the bell 'dong' she proclaimed loudly. She continued to copy the bell, breaking the silence each time. The people around us smiling at her, until we were all distracted by clapping.
It got louder and louder and soon we were all clapping. The girl and the boy thinking it was great fun and clearly wondering if we were going to make a habit of coming into town, standing on the road and clapping with loads of other people. Then the hearse pulled into view. The clapping reached a crescendo and then, as the hearse passed and then stopped about 20 feet away, a gentle calm came over the crowds. Even my children clearly realised the need for silence and both stopped clapping. Then the coffin was carried out of the hearse by soldiers and was carried into the church. I paused for a moment, my thoughts with his wife, just younger than me, left with two young children and I felt such sorrow for her.
The ten minute walk home involved more explanations about death. I wished we hadn't had to get on to the subject. Trust me, trying to explain war to a three year old is harder than I ever imagined. They want to know about justification, why there was a war. And, to be honest, I struggle with any justification for war so I knew they were not going to believe my half-hearted explanations..
In the weeks that followed, every time we walked into town we faced the same question. 'Is the soldier still dead?'. It continued for months. Then one day I found both children lying motionless on the floor in the living room. 'What are you doing?' I asked them both. 'We're dead mummy' replied the boy. 'Yeah, edd' my 20mth old daughter added. I think that he had finally processed it as he hasn't asked about the soldier since!