Should my child attend the funeral?

Published: May 28, 2021

As a caregiver you may worry that your child is too young to care about, or to understand, what happens during a funeral, or why we have them. You may wonder if your child will remember your loved one. Perhaps you believe that funerals are only intended for adults and are too sad or traumatizing for children. Or, like many, you simply do not want your child to see you cry.

Bu it is important to understand that your child will feel the death of a loved one intensely, and that he or she may feel forgotten if left out of such an important family event. Your child may feel resentful if he or she did not get to say goodbye. Exclusion from the memorialization process may lead your child to create fear-based fantasies far scarier than what actually takes place. He or she will also miss out on receiving comfort and support that connects friends and family during a funeral.

So the answer is YES, it is appropriate for youth to attend a funeral.

Saying goodbye to a loved one who died is never easy, but experts agree that children should be given the choice to attend the funeral and participate in the memorialization process, in ways that feel meaningful and important to them.

DISCUSSING DEATH AND FUNERALS

Sharing the experience with children helps them better understand the concepts of death, memorialization and ritual, but it is crucial to understand and support young people, on their unique levels, as they go through the experience. Your child's reaction to death and the funeral experience will vary depending on age, the nature of the relationship with the deceased, and his or her maturity level and ability to manage complex emotions.

Young children may be confused about where the deceased person has gone, and when he or she is coming back. Teens may be concerned about their ability to control their emotions, or how to interact with loved ones of the deceased who are upset. Others may worry because they simply do not know what to expect, or what to do, during a funeral or visitation.

Sooner is often better when telling your child about the death of a loved one. Children will likely remember how they were told, so take into account your intimate knowledge of your child's demeanor as you consider how and when to begin the conversation. For example, would starting the conversation in the daytime, in a familiar place, give your child the appropriate time and space to process the information, as opposed to hearing the news at bedtime?

Adult role modeling helps children navigate their own way forward . Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, the more open and honest you are about these natural life events, the more normalized and less scary these experiences become.

Direct, open and honest conversations will help your child make informed choices, and prepare him or her for the funeral service itself. Using simple, clear and concrete language is key when discussing terms your child may find confusing or scary.

DEATH

Keep explanations honest and clear, and avoid euphemisms, such as "lost;' "asleep" or "passed away;' which may confuse children. Simply explain that when someone dies, their body has stopped working, and will not start working again. Clarify that a person who has died can no longer breathe, think or talk, nor feel pain, fear, cold, etc.

FUNERALS

A funeral (sometimes referred to as a memorial, or celebration of life) is a ritual that helps families and friends express their deepest thoughts and feelings about the person who died. Explain that you will be having a funeral just for your loved one, and that everyone will be together to share memories, express how much the person was loved and to say a very special goodbye.

TRADITIONS, BELIEFS AND CUSTOMS

As appropriate, incorporate your family traditions, religious/ spiritual customs and cultural beliefs into your discussion. Consider addressing any of your loved one's traditions, beliefs and customs that might be new, different or unfamiliar to your child.

 
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