When a loved one dies in a child’s life, parents and caregivers often question whether or not kids should attend the funeral. There are many different variables that go into the equation when answering this question. There is no right or wrong answer to this question and it depends on each family’s situation when making this decision. However, there are certain factors to consider and different ways that you can help prepare the child for the funeral, if you choose to have him or her attend.
Funerals can be very helpful in the grief process; to help us acknowledge what has happened. A funeral is a type of ritual that is important to the grief process. It allows for adults and children to be able to make sense of the death by having a ceremony that increases our awareness and understanding of the death and its finality (Long, 1997). Funerals help us to mark the transition from life to death and can be a very significant event for the child as they begin their grief journey.
Some people wonder at what age it is appropriate for a child to attend a funeral. Although this is something to consider, what is more important to consider is allowing the child, whatever their age, to have the choice of whether or not they would like to attend. Do not prevent them from attending the funeral if they want to attend and do not force them to attend a funeral if they do not want to attend. A child, whatever their age, always appreciates being given choices and their participation and attendance at a funeral should not be any different. However, before a child can make that choice for himself/herself, it is important to provide them with answers to any questions they may have.
If the child chooses to attend the funeral, there are several things you can do in advance to prepare him or her for the experience. Explain to the child what they may see. Who will be there? Will lots of people be there? Will there be a casket and will that casket be open? Explain that he or she may see people crying, people singing, people praying or people being in silence. Describe the sequence of events that may take place during the funeral service. If possible, bring the child to meet with the pastor, the rabbi or the funeral director ahead of time and ask any questions he or she may have and then validate his/her questions and answer them honestly. Empower the child and let him/her know they have not been forgotten in this process. Another great tip is to have a friend of the family or more distant family member be the support person for the child(ren). Someone who is more removed from the death, if possible. This will allow the child to have someone to explain anything to them or take them out of the service if need be. Have this person be someone who can truly be there for the child and who is not as close to the death but someone the child is comfortable with.
If you need support in this process, call Tu Nidito. We have many resources to support this difficult time, 520-322-9155.
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Long, Thomas. (1997). The American funeral today: trends and issues. The Director, 69 (10), 10-16.