Should kids view an open casket?

Should you let kids view an open casket?

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Original Post:

"Friends, My best friend just lost her dad.  I have to be at his wake, I wouldn't have it any other way.  But, is it too early for my 8-year-old to witness the dead in an open casket? Thanks."


Follow Up:

"Thank you all so much for your responses to my question as to whether an eight-year-old would be "old" enough to witness an open casket. I  appreciate all of your thoughts and opinions. All said and done, I decided to leave my daughter on a day-long playdate and go with my husband. My thinking was deduced to "if she can have a happy  day instead of going, then she should."


First I'm very sorry for the loss of your friends dad. IMHO I think eight  is a little too young to see a person in an open casket. It's quite upsetting even for me as a grown adult. I would say going to the funeral is fine at this age. My eight year old went to one this year. Maybe another adult can take your child outside as you pay your respects over the casket. I just thing most young kids have wild imaginations and death is still scary for them to grasp.

On the other hand some kids at 8 aren't spooked by anything. I'm not against funerals for kids at this age just the open casket tradition for me is always been weird. I'd always prefer to remember a loved one from my memories and not how the funeral parlor make them look.

If you decide to take your child I think it is important to explain what  the wake is and what should be expected. And to explain that when someone dies he/she cannot see, hear, feel, think, breathe, etc and that the person has died even though they may look like he/she is asleep or resting. I bet there are good resources online. Years ago I had ( and have lost track of) a great book written by funeral directors and preparation was the key.

When I was 15, I lost my father. I had nightmares for months after viewing the open casket (granted it was my father). I still have problems with an open casket. I think that an open casket is too much for an 8 year old.

Yes!!! It is too early. I still remember having nightmares from just imagining dead people until I was about 12

I agree that it helps to talk about it in advance, if your kid has to go to an open-casket wake. When my mother-in-law died, my kids were about 3 years old. We explained to them that Nanny's body would be in the room; that
it might seem kind of "weird" to see a dead person's body; but that a lot of people like to deal with their sad feelings by looking at the person one last time before, maybe while they are saying a prayer or saying "goodbye" to the person in their mind. We also said that they were free to come up with us to the casket, or not, when we said goodbye to Nanny. They chose to come up with us, and my son even touched her hand. He remarked later that it indeed felt "weird", but he seemed okay with it.

Unfortunately, since my husband came from a huge Irish family with tons of old relatives, my kids have been to far too many wakes and funerals. They certainly learned that death is a part of life, although perhaps earlier than I would have preferred!

I was 8 when I saw my grandfather in his casket. It was shocking to me, but I had been told that i would see him, so I was prepared. I also had cousins to play with at the wake, so it wasn't like I was sitting there concentrating on him. But it did not scar me or give me nightmares, and in many ways it was a good way to say good bye to him.

I wouldn't worry about it too much, as long as you talk to your child about what it will be like and discuss it afterwards too. It is a big event, but it need not be a traumatic one.

I think you should let him. It's never too early for kids to begin to understand death. But be sure to talk to him about it even if you don't think he fully understands.

I remember seeing my father in his casket when I was 4. He had a car accident so his face was a bit stitched up and he was much paler than when alive. Plus he was wearing make up. But that was the last time I saw him and I think it helped me understand a bit if what was going on.

It's probably helpful that it's not someone who your son was close to.

IMO if we protect out kids too much from death, we don't really let them live.

I witnessed a lot of open caskets as a child. The big one being my grandpa  when I was 7. I was very close to him and wish that was not my last memory of him. Two of my other grandparents died later in life and I chose not to view their open casket because I did not want that to be my final memory. The caskets of those I was not as close to did not burn in my memory and I feel fine that I witnessed those. I think at 8 you can talk to your son about it and maybe he has some thoughts on it. Sincere condolences to your friend and his/her family.

I'm sorry for your friend's loss. But to me it seems 8 is too young to see an open casket. I think the funeral is fine if your child would like to be there, and if you think he or she is ready. But I can tell you from personal experience that seeing someone in a casket can be a rather traumatic event. I saw a friend that way about 10 years ago and I will never shake the sight of her looking like that.

Just my two cents...


For whatever it is worth, I experience that at a slightly older age and it haunted me for years. Very creepy for me.

My grandfather died when I was 9 and I saw his open casket. It was okay for me, but I do remember having my dad go up to it with me... slightly scary, but not terrifying. Just my experience (and I was sort of an "afraid" kid--nightmares, etc) in case it helps.

I would say yes. Even the strongest 8 year old may have nightmares/issues after that. If it isn't immediate family, I wouldn't subject your 8 yr old. I wouldn't avoid discussing it of course but I think that image is too soon.

From what i understand it is not too early as long as you are there and you explain to her what she needs to know (any questions she might have...etc.... every child is different in what they want to know) in terms that are age-appropriate (and you know your daughter best) i know of cultures where they are introduced to death at young ages we are squeamish about this but.... please use YOUR judgement but i believe it should be ok so long as you are there...explaining to her....and being the mother that you are but this is only MY opinion.....

Personally my parents would often take me to open casket viewing as a child, and I inturn have taken my children. I think that as long as the parents don't appear screamish or reflect negativity, the children will inturn be very curious, respectful have a very positive reaction to life after death.

My father in law passed away when my daughter was about 18 months old. I had similar doubts. We brought her and she was fine. I am sure she understood nothing. At 8, it is a different story, but I think I would personally do it. Maybe talk to your child about what to expect. Maybe even ask if this is something they feel they can handle. I don't know. Just my thoughts.

I'm so sorry for your family's loss.

My daughter was 20 months old when my mother died. We explained that when you die you can't see or hear or move or talk or feel or... every bodily function we could think of. And that Nana would have stayed with us if she could, but that she couldn't because her body (her heart, specifically) didn't work anymore.

At that age I don't think my daughter really got it, and she never saw nana dead, but now she's four and definitely knows about dying (and is especially interested in the concept of bleeding to death, for some reason, and how much you can bleed and not die). So four is definitely not too young to get it. I would definitely be comfortable taking her to an open-casket wake now, although I wouldn't trust her to sit quietly through a funeral.

I think you might be confusing the matter by making death a travel destination rather than explaining it simply and honestly. If you believe in an afterlife I can see how you'd want to talk about the soul going there, but maybe a simpler explanation that differentiates between the soul and the body is in order. Something along the lines of "When people or animals get very old or very sick their bodies don't work anymore and they die." It might feel like you're being kinder to your son not to talk about death as a permanent loss, but if it leaves him thinking Grandpa went away and doesn't come to see him anymore that must be hurtful and confusing.

If you do take him to the service, I would be sure to explain ahead of time that when people die their bodies are still here, and people put nice clothes and make-up on them so they can see them one last time, etc., so he won't think his grandfather is just sleeping. Or just keep him out of the room with the body.

Good luck.

I'm sorry for your friend's loss. I'm going to disagree with some of the other responses a bit. I believe that there are some places where it just isn't appropriate to bring children. If it was a family member, I would think differently, but I don't think your child needs to go. We are all biased in this regard, but in remembering my father's wake, someone brought their children (who were boys probably a bit older than your child) and they just couldn't handle it. It wasn't their fault, but they just ended up being awkward and goofed around. I think it was just too weird for them to see other people crying and whispering, and the casket, etc.
And while maybe they needed to learn about death, I resented a bit that my father's funeral was being used as their "teachable moment". Obviously, you know your own child, but I also think you could be there for your friend better if you don't have to worry about how your child is feeling the whole time.
Anyway, just my two cents.


Related reading on Park Slope Parents:

Should children go to a funeral?

Explaining Death to Children