Should I Bring a Young Child to a Funeral or Memorial Service?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Should I bring a young child to a funeral or memorial service?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Take your cues from the child. A child who is four to nine years old or so, who has formed a relationship with the deceased person, will also be likely to grieve the death. Depending on the specific age, maturity level, and emotional makeup of a particular child, attending a funeral or memorial service may be extremely helpful or unduly frightening.

First explain what's likely to happen at the service, since it will be a novel concept for most children. Then offer the option of deciding whether to attend; it's best not to make it mandatory.

If a child wants to attend the service, be sure to have someone available who's willing to entertain the child in a private part of the facility if he or she becomes anxious or fidgety -- or to take the child home if the services prove to be too unsettling. Help the child with appropriate gestures, such as signing a guest book, saying a prayer, or getting a closer look at the casket.

If a child opts not to attend, arrange for a trusted and sensitive friend or family member to care for him or her while others are at the service. You might suggest other ways the child can say good-bye to the deceased, such as writing a story or drawing a picture.

Whether or not the child attends the service, make special efforts to talk with him or her about feelings and questions about the death and grieving process. Explain that death is a natural part of life, but that it's also natural to feel sad or lonely when someone dies.

Finally, to prepare the child before the service or to help cope with feelings afterward, you might read a book together. Books such as The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, by Leo Buscaglia, sensitively describe death and dying in terms children can grasp.