In dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one, children need the chance to say goodbye, the chance for closure, just like adults do. If your child is old enough to make their own decisions, it is important for them to make their own educated choice of whether or not they’d like to attend a funeral. Before deciding, it is important that they are aware of what a funeral or memorial service entails, and that it is explained to them in an age-appropriate fashion. Here are some guidelines to help.
Age of Child
Families will often decide not to bring children under the age of three, as they may be noisy. However, if you are unable to secure a nanny or babysitter, it is fine to take them, you can always find a quiet spot to take them to if they act out, and people always love seeing children, so it may bring some lightness to an otherwise somber affair.
If they are over the age of three, and if they are aware of what happened, it’s best to let them make the decision themselves of whether or not they’d like to attend. If they are not given an option to attend, you run the risk of them feeling left out and them missing out on a chance to say goodbye.
What really matters is giving them a choice, after explaining what happens at a funeral which is detailed in the next section.
In advance of offering the choice of attending the funeral to your child, it is important that you take the time to sit with them and walk them through what exactly a funeral is, and what is to be expected. This step is crucial if your child already chose to go to the funeral, as it will help alleviate their fears and anxieties.
It’s recommended to explain each step of the funeral process. Describe to them what they may see at the service. For instance, there will be a lot of people acting solemnly, they may hear crying or weeping, their grandparent will be in a casket but they won’t be in pain.
Explain Burial and Cremation
If the funeral service involves a burial or cremation, it is really important to tell your child exactly what this means. Keeping it basic is a wise idea, but it is equally important to be honest. Say that their loved one’s body will be in the casket, and then lowered to the ground and buried. Remind them that their loved one can’t feel anything, so it will not hurt.
Depending on your religious beliefs you may also talk to your son or daughter about heaven, or where you believe your family member will be in the afterlife - this may bring your child some comfort and help them process their grief.
Also remind them that they can visit the cemetery anytime they’d like. When explaining the process of cremation to children, you can say that the body of their loved one is placed in a very hot room, but they are not in pain and do not feel anything. You can tell them that when the body is placed into the hot room it becomes ashes which are then placed into containers or urns, which can be very beautiful. The ashes can then be spread somewhere important to their loved one, kept by people who cared about them or even buried like a casket.
If You Decide Not to Take Your Child
If the child’s capability to attend, or the logistics of bringing them don’t work out; that’s OK too. If you know in your heart that your child wouldn’t emotionally be able to handle a funeral, don’t stress. Their capacity to understand closure will develop as they get older, and experience other deaths and losses in their life. When you are emotionally able, you could sit down and have a talk about death with them. It is OK if you are sad or crying, as this is an important emotion to show that it is part of the process. You could even have a small ceremony just with them. Do something important to remember your loved one - whether it be looking at pictures, planting a flower, listening to their favorite song - so that your child feels included in the grief process, even if they weren’t able to attend the funeral. Even if you bring back a funeral program to sit and discuss with them, it will let them feel included and hopefully bring some closure.
Be Gentle on Yourself- There is No Right or Wrong Answer
This decision is ultimately up to you as a parent. If you are able, you really should allow your child to make the choice of whether they’d like to attend or not; but it is a personal decision, and no one knows your child better than you. If you’d like to reach out with any questions, our knowledgeable funeral staff are standing by. Call us at (781) 595-1492.