Ok, here’s a big question for parents – should your child attend the funeral of a family member, friend, classmate, or neighbor? Maybe we should begin with why we have funerals. Funerals are a ceremony, a ritual that serves important functions. It is an occasion to celebrate the life of a deceased person and acknowledge the reality of his or her death. Funerals are a step in the mourning process.
Let’s be honest. Funerals are difficult for adults and that impacts our feelings about children’s attendance. Whether you should take your child to a funeral depends on the child and the situation. If your child is old enough and wants to go, then being included can be helpful. And depending on who died, it may be important for you to have your child present.
The big issue is preparation. Explain to your child what will happen at the funeral. This includes visitation (if attending) plus before, during, and after the funeral. Talk about the setting, music, flowers, service, casket. Let your child know people will be sad and some may cry, including yourself. If you have spiritual or religious beliefs, share how death is perceived. Depending on your own relationship with the deceased, you may want to have another family member or friend be with your child. Above all, don’t leave a child to experience the events alone.
I found that taking a child to the funeral home ahead of the visitation or service is a good step. Then the child can look and ask questions. This will help both of you find comfort and meaning. Likewise, a trip to the cemetery ahead of time can relieve fears. A funeral and burial is NOT a time for surprises. Don’t assume that once the funeral is over that’s it. Set aside some quiet time to hold your child, talk about the experience, and provide a feeling of safety and comfort.