Should children go to a funeral?

Should children go to a funeral of a loved one?

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One parent writes:

“We are unfortunately thinking ahead to what seems a not too distant moment. Wanting the benefit of your collective wisdom on the question of whether or not our kids should attend their grandfather's funeral. Our boys are 4 and 7 right now, and my father in law who has been ill for really all their lives, has recently had some changes that have us thinking about getting our ducks in a row before we are faced with making a decision in the midst of an emotional moment. Thanks in advance for your collective wisdom.”

Responses:

 

Kids bring a refreshing perspective on the natural cycle of life:

“Our kids 5 and 3 attended their grandmother's funeral and either the church or the cemetery...not sure which one...handed out these WONDERFUL pamphlets that guide parents through the death process for children helping you know how to answer certain questions and what you can expect from different ages. Maybe you can find them or something similar for your service.  Also, so many of the adults were so happy to see the kids and interact with them...their presence is so uplifting and reminds us of the natural cycle of life...the experience is so different for them than for us… trust their strength and resilience...you will probably end up learning something from them and even leaning a bit on their emotional wisdom!!”

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“I think that is a great idea to take the kids and also discuss "death" with the kids, as a natural occurrence. Our culture is not comfortable with the ending of life discussions. When my older child was 3, he lost his newly born sibling. We had a funeral, a celebration and the baby became a star in the sky...My children are a bit older now, but they have attended many funerals, and the experience have enrich their life.”

 

Share the family sadness with your children:

“I take the view that children belong at a loved one's funeral.  It's fine for them to share in the family's sadness, and it's appropriate for them to see that a loved one's death makes their parents sad.  One of our sweet family memories is of my mother's burial.  When we were at the grave site, we each threw some flowers into the grave, including the children.  Then our small family group went to a local restaurant for lunch.  Our younger son carried a few of the remaining flowers in his hands.  We arrived and met the hostess, and she knelt down and asked our 3-year-old where he'd gotten the lovely flowers. . . and he said, in a clear voice and with such innocence and wide eyes, "I got them when we buried Grandma!"  The poor hostess just didn't know what to say."

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“I went to my grandfather's funeral when I was 5, and I remember it much like [how the previous poster] describes - running around with my cousins, entranced by a table of cookies. At one point my dad took my hand and walked me up to the casket, which was open. I was a little sad, and a little baffled, but certainly not traumatized (and I should say that this grandfather lived out of state so I didn't really know him very well). I agree that it's OK for kids to be sad and to see that their parents are sad; part of loving someone is being sad when they die.”

 

The experience of a funeral can enrich your child’s life:

“I think that is a great idea to take the kids and also discuss "death" with the kids, as a natural occurrence. Our culture is not comfortable with the ending of life discussions. When my older child was 3, he lost his newly born sibling. We had a funeral, a celebration and the baby became a star in the sky...My children are a bit older now, but they have attended many funerals, and the experience have enrich their life.”

 

Funerals do bring families closer and can be a place for the celebration of life, not just the loss:

“I am in favor of children attending funerals of close loved ones. But of course it depends on the situation, the type of funeral, and the age of the children.
We have buried two great-grandmas only, so far, and our family is so large that the children had their area in the funeral home, I actually think they had a great time all together. It was of comfort for everyone to have them there, and in our particular case, made the funerals basically a celebration of life for these 2 amazing women who were our moms, grandmas and great grandmas.
None of them showed signs of not wanting to be there. But age groups and the number of children should be taken into consideration, they could make drawings, or craft paper flowers...if someone is willing to coordinate them.
Sorry you are at this stage in life, it's always hard even if we know it's unavoidable.”

 

Use a cycle to bring up the unavoidable topic of explaining death – and break the topic’s taboo:

“Last year, when my son was that age (3), my uncle died. He went with us to his house when he was sick, and then to the wake, funeral, memorial service when he died. My son began talking about death all day every day. His pre-school director told me that it's a normal time for kids to start to understand death and to fear it. Alexi asked many questions, "Is he all bones yet?" "What happened to his skin?" "Will we ever see him again?" Some of the questions were disturbing, but I let him ask them, and I attempted to answer each one as best I could.
Death is a taboo subject because most of us fear it on one level, and yet we want to comfort our children so that they don't worry about it. I have thought long and hard about death ever since my mother died more than ten years ago. At this point in my life, I feel very comfortable with the fact that there are things we just do not know and may never understand. So I tell my son my version of the truth. "My son, it's all a great mystery and a no one really knows. Some people, like your Grandma, believe in Heaven. I believe that life and death are part of the life cycle. All living things die (animals, flowers, etc)." I ask him what he thinks. I tell him that we, too, will die, but that he will probably live a long time, like my uncle did. I have also used his fear as a way to tell him that life is precious and that we need to care about ourselves and others while we LIVE.
Although I don't hush him up, I also don't let him go on and on. I do remind him that we are still living, so we don't need to think about dying all the time.
Now at 4 1/2 he said a funny thing the other day. "Mom, don't worry. When you and [dad] die, I will take care of the house..."

 

Balance whether you will be overwhelmed with family obligations and how much you will need to do:

“Having just gone through this a few weeks ago, one thing I considered when deciding whether to take my 7 yo to my mom's funeral was what was best for me. I had to travel back home to Illinois so not having to deal with getting all his stuff ready was kind of freeing. I considered that people would love to see him, he's an affirmation that life goes on and my mom's legacy, etc but I also felt that that was about other people and not about my son. He saw me sad at home and we have talked about my mom being dead so he has had opportunities to process a bit. That said, he wanted to come he said! I decided though in the end that I wanted to have adult time with my siblings and not have to worry about when we ate and were we out too late, etc. It was a really sweet time with my siblings and cousins that we rarely get. My sister and I stayed up til 2 AM most nights and had brandy on my mom's favorite porch. Anyway, it’s a tough call but just wanted to throw that in ...that sometimes it’s nice to have grown up time to deal with the loss.

And P.S. an open casket can be a little tough especially if the person doesn't look so good (I mean who really does when they are dead? But my mom looked really awful and I hated seeing her like that). I remember seeing my deceased grandma when I was 21 and that was an image that haunted me for a long time. Sometimes it’s nice to just have the living image.”

Further Reading and Resources:

Heidi Hoover (one of our PSP Advisory Board members) wrote a great article on Explaining Death to Children
A list of recommended books on death 

Other articles about death:

Should Children View an Open Casket?

Reaching the End

Fears of Death and a 4 year old

How to talk about School Shootings

How to talk about Death of a Pet

 

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