KIDS AND FUNERALS
After a death of a loved one, adults are often faced with the decision of whether to include children in death rituals such as funerals or memorial services. As a general guideline, the most helpful thing we as adults can do for our children is to let them participate as fully and completely in the grieving process as possible. To “protect” a child by keeping them from attending the wake, funeral and burial (or equivalent) only closes them off from the process of grieving and healing.
The funeral ritual not only allows us to embrace and honor the life that was lived but provides us an opportunity to support each other as we go forward. By joining family members in this ritual, children are given a chance to receive grief support from others and the opportunity to say goodbye in their own way. The funeral and the time around it serve as an event everyone will refer to later as the point at which life became different.
Encourage, but don’t force:
Children should be encouraged to take part in funeral services but never forced to attend. When guided and informed of the process, most children want to attend. Children are not born with a fear of death; rather, it is often our reactions that give them this fear.
Children feel like their feelings matter when they are allowed to take part in the rituals. Some children have taken part in the services by sharing a favorite memory, reading a special poem, lighting a candle or placing a momento or photo in the casket.
Even if children do not wish to participate, you may suggest writing a note, coloring a picture or including a photograph with the deceased as a way of making a connection or saying something they may wish they had said or done before the person died. Allowing children to contribute helps them express their grief in a positive way.
Unless a child has already attended a funeral, most don’t know what to expect. It is helpful to give as many specifics regarding what will happen before, during and after the ceremony, as the child is interested in hearing. Allow the child’s questions to be your guide.
It might be helpful to describe how the room will look and who will be there. If the body will be viewed, let the child know this and explain the casket and what the body will look like. It is helpful to reassure children that death means the body is no longer working and thus can not feel any pain.
It may also be helpful to prepare children for the wide variety of emotions people may be expressing at the services. Some may be crying and others may be laughing as they share special stories and memories. The wide variety of expressions of grief are all a normal part of the grieving process.
Speak candidly with your funeral director as he/she has had much experience and may offer other opportunities such as visiting the funeral home before the service to feel more comfortable and learn more of what happens. Many funeral directors will allow for a special viewing for children. This private time allows children to voice their many questions and express their grief in their own way.
Although funerals are a time of great sadness, children need to know that the ritual is also a time to honor the person who died and a time for people to come together to comfort and support each other. It is also a time to say goodbye and to acknowledge that the person that we loved cannot come back. This might be an opportunity to explain what spiritual significance the ritual has for you and your family.
Children need a time to say goodbye. They need loving adults around them to allow them to cry, to be angry and especially to remember. Grieving children especially need to know that they are not alone.
How children grieve a death and participate in the rituals of their culture determines how they will face future losses and sorrows. Allow children to do as much as they are comfortable doing. You may be surprised how well a child may cope given support and understanding and how much their presence may actually help grieving adults.