Working with families at the time of a loved ones death, one the of the most common questions I am asked “ Should I take my children to the funeral?”.
The decision to take children to a funeral is an extremely personal one and can be a very difficult decision to make. Every child and circumstance of the funeral is different including the age, the emotional maturity of the child, the relationship to the deceased and whether the child wishes to attend or not.
And although there is no right or wrong answer and I am certainly not an expert – all the following advice is given based on my own personal experience.
Here are a couple of points to consider.
Nowadays we live in a culture where we want to protect our children. We tend to believe that children, particularly primary school children are too young to be exposed to the grief at a funeral.
However I am pretty sure that my positive association with funerals is thanks to my early exposure with death and dying from a young age. Growing up in a culture where death is normalised, resulted in a very positive experience where I felt involved and included in such a significant family occasions.
Children need to grieve too. I don’t believe that children are ever too young to attend a funeral and like adults a funeral may give a child an opportunity to reflect on a loved ones life and say goodbye.
However it is important that children are given the option to attend or not and respect their decision, whatever it may be.
Tell your child what to expect. Often children don’t know what it means to die or even what a funeral is and what to expect at one.
Prepare them that they may see adults crying and reassure them this isn’t a bad thing. It shows kids that it’s ok to express our emotions. But equally prepare them that there may also be laughter. And this is ok too.
Involve the children in the service, if they would like to be included.
They may want to write or draw something special to display on a memory table or place on the coffin
They may want to help choose some of their favourite photos for the slideshow or depending on the age of the child they may like to have some words on their behalf or even say them themselves.
Ask them to choose something to wear, their favourite dress-up or clothes. Be prepared it may a spiderman outfit and if this is the case, its ok. Let them do what is comfortable.
Have a friend or relative who they are familiar with, but who is not quite affected by the death, available to take them out and distract them should they become restless or just want to leave.
Be prepared for children asking a lot of questions. They will want to know the Who, what, where, when and why.
Nothing will take away the sadness or grief but it may help give them an opportunity to mourn and say goodbye.
Should the child decide they do not want to attend there are many alternative ways to help say goodbye such as
Planting a special plant in memory.
Whatever the decision, speak to your celebrant or funeral director and let them know your children’s concerns as they can help make this a positive experience, under the circumstances.
There are alot of resources available on this sensitive topic. Please let me know if you need any further recommendations.