A Child’s View of a Funeral
As a child, I remember attending the funeral mass at church for my grandmother. Even though I was only 5 years old, I look back on it with great detail. I recall sitting on the hard wooden pew, listening to the priest speak for what felt like a whole day. Fidgeting with the beautiful holy card and hoping we could leave soon. Feeling small and uncertain as I was carried through the wave of familiar and unfamiliar faces crying, yet I myself, had no tears.
I am surprised today that the one memory I thought would be the most vivid, yet I can’t recall at all, was seeing my grandmother for the last time at church lying in her casket. Perhaps on some level, I chose not to remember? It’s hard to know. That was almost forty years ago.
It’s natural that as parents we want to protect our child from anything that’s painful, so why would we want to expose them to death? When asked, I always remind the families I serve that having a child attend a funeral is a very personal choice, and one that takes some thoughtful consideration. Sometimes things backfire if you force a child to attend, or, alternatively, deny a child who may feel ready from attending. However, I believe it is best to encourage the child to attend services for closure but never to push them.
Should a child attend a funeral?
There are no set rules when it comes to knowing whether a child should attend a funeral or not, but there are helpful guidelines to follow when making the decision. A few things a parent may want to think about when deciding whether to bring a child to a funeral may be:
- The age of the child
- The child’s personality
- The relationship of the child to the decedent
- The circumstances surrounding the death
In my personal experience, the most important thing you can do is to communicate with your child. Children are curious creatures and have lots of questions. I believe it helps the child feel more secure about their uncertainties if a majority of their questions are answered ahead of time. Communicating provides a pathway to open a meaningful conversation around the death of a loved one. The more you talk, the better you will be able to assist your child as to whether they feel ready or comfortable to attend the funeral services.
As your child asks questions, make sure to answer them appropriately without more detail than needed. Your conversation should guide them just as if you were walking with them through the doors of the funeral home for the first time. Allow them to know what to expect and don’t be afraid to use concrete words like funeral home, casket, cemetery, or grave. Your child will most likely be hearing these words all around them, and it helps to provide a more familiar place for your child if he or she understands the actual meaning ahead of time.
Depending on the circumstances, a parent may find himself or herself unable to be emotionally present with a child during a visitation or funeral. Questions and emotions are certain to come up for your child during the funeral and should be addressed. It is important, if the parent may be emotionally unavailable for a child during this time, to ask a less emotional family member or friend to be there to support the child. I recall it wasn’t the funeral of my grandmother that was the hardest part for me as a child as much as it was watching my mother cry. The feeling that the person who usually takes care of you now needs to be taken care of can be hard for a child to witness alone, so make certain your child’s needs are met as well.
Beyond making the decision about your child attending funeral services, there are many ways to help your child find closure and feel like they were apart of the ceremony. Creative outlets, just like having conversations with your child, can help the child work through his or her feelings. We encourage our families to have their children draw pictures or write a special note or poem for the loved one. If the child attends the service, they feel empowered by personally contributing this memento to the deceased. If they have chosen not to attend, this memento can be just as powerful a contribution and be brought on their behalf.
In the end, the decision of whether a child should attend funeral services or not is a choice to be made together both parent and child. Together, you should feel comfortable and secure in your decision and remember that you and your child will have less regret in the future if the decision was talked about openly.
About the Author
Elizabeth Gramer, along side her husband Paul, licensed funeral director, own and operate, Gramer Funeral Home and Gramer Funeral Home, Diener Chapel in Michigan. www.gramerfuneralhome.com. She is the mother of two, Samantha, 10, and Abigail, 5.