For adults and children alike, funerals are an important part of the journey through grief. At such a busy and emotional time, it can be hard to think of what is best for children. However, it is very important to include them in death rituals. It makes them feel included and, most importantly, ensures they get an opportunity to say goodbye in an appropriate way. Don’t assume children know what happens at a funeral service. Our advice is:
In advance of the funeral:
- A child needs the chance to say goodbye.
- Include the child in some (or all) of the funeral.
- Explain what a funeral is, what happens, who will be there, what a coffin is, and how people at the service might be react.
- If children are old enough to understand about burial or cremation, they should be told what will happen to the body. The book What Happened to Daddy’s Body?by Elke Barber, may be helpful to read with your child.
- If the child is old enough, make them part of the decision to attend the funeral or not: listen to their worries or fears about attending, and answer their questions
honestly. Don’t force the child, simply give them the choice to be included.
- Talk about how they might expect to feel, explaining that they may be sad or confused. Give them the facts about what will happen. Sometimes, children can feel
overwhelmed and may become very quiet or behave as if nothing is happening.
Just before the funeral:
- Can the child to go to the funeral home or church before everyone else to get quiet time with the deceased? This helps you explain what is happening, and helps them understand what has happened to the body and to talk to the person who has died. Let them deliver a message or memento to the deceased. Allow enough time for this, remembering that children need to ask questions, and may ask the same questions over and over.
During the removal or funeral:
- If a child is old enough to be in the funeral home, it can help to ask an adult they are close to, such as a family friend, to stay with them while you meet people.
- Reassure the child that they do not have to stay for the whole ceremony; they can decide when they want to leave.
- If an older child is taking part in the ceremony (for example doing a reading or a
prayer), it is a good idea to have an adult they know well standing close by for support.
- Make sure the child knows they are taking part by choice, and they can change their mind at any time, even at the last minute.
Funerals can help children to:
- Be part of the family saying goodbye together.
- Respect the person who has died.
- Feel the love and support of others who care about them.
- Realise how popular the deceased person was, which can be very comforting.
- Learn new things about the deceased from other people’s stories, which can be helpful in grieving.
- Understand what has happened to the person.
- Learn that it’s ok to be sad when someone dies, and it’s ok to cry.
- Ease the return to school, if teachers or fellow pupils are at the funeral.
- Feel cared for by others.