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

7 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...

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

Expert Answers

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.

Community Answers

Jackie at habitudes answered...

 It depends on the type of service and the individual child.  I'd say no infants.  We once brought our baby to a memorial and thought his binky would keep him quiet.  Instead, he started sucking furiously on it, making loud squeaking noises. I'd say leave the small children at home.  Even older children (and adults!) can be traumatized if there's an open casket. That's not done much anymore, but better to see if you can find out beforehand, just in case.

Amarillo2355 answered...

I was 41/2 when my brother almost 9 passed away (52 years ago).....there were 5 other children older than I and all of us were there...I don't remember it being explained to me and it was an open coffin; I remember playing fish in the front row with an older cousin and then being alone and deciding that Tommy might play with me so I went up to the coffin to wake him up!!! 3 arms grabbed mine and thats how I learned that Tommy Was going to heaven!!! I decided that the ropes in back of the casket were going to take him sort of like on a train ride to heaven! I can't tell you how much I thought of this in my grieving...I didn't get to go to the cemetary and I don't know if that was good or bad ..Later in life I always wished that I could see where he was placed but when I look back on it and write this a healing comes over me and I think that maybe that would've been harder to imagine why someone going UP to heaven might be put in the ground! lol... Anyways we moved too much to ever have me visit the cemetary and I know that Tommy is not there but ironically, my 93 year old mom is in hospice care at home with me and she will be buried with Tommy! I will take her remains up there (across country).....Completion of some sort for me in many many ways.
Everyone has to decide what is best for their family and be able to feel strongly enough about it that they can live with it later when a child or teen question why thiings were done a certain way! So pray and do what you think is best!! I do believe that some explaining to a child is necessary....the loss and amount of people just made this too much for my mom. I learned to forgive my strife and extended grief ......Blessings your way!

Skogsmulla32 answered...

Yes I agree, and would want to add my impression that the younger generation nowadays hardly seem to have any concept of what death or dying really means. So very few do have a functioning relationship with the nearest ancestors, which is sad enough in itself, but not many of the grand- or greatgrand-children are at the bedside during the struggling of the elderly in their last hours. Of course are infants far too small, they will hardly even remember anything of such events.But I am convinced that death, as an important and indivisible part of all life and living, will be less scaring for all, if more people, young as old, attended at the bedside of the soon deceasing relative or friend. It would become easier to talk about what really happens when having been near at the loved ones side at the very last moments. It surely gives so much more understanding of difficult things, also when the dying person is very suffering and the present people can help with seemingly small things, the possibility to enlighten the struggle might be for both a real blessing. And not the least, the experience surely will give so much relieve to know for yourself one doesnot have to be alone when dying. But everything around death/the dying/the funeral/the time for mourning gets so much easier to coop with when the Gospel has been taught, understood, accepted and lived. Which of course ought be a matter of life-time choice, for that will be the only garantee enabling the understanding the values of all things. May He who gave His Life to save all of us, bless you with understanding. In the Name of The Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Granny2grandsons answered...

First of all - can anyone tell me how to do 100% Helpful?

When my Mother passed away, it was only two weeks after my 5 year old Grandson had visited his "G-Granny". We were told 3-4 months, it was only 18 days!

All of Mom's children lived out of state - I was the closest - 850 miles! My brother and I took care of our Mother and then had to call our loved ones about her passing. My daughter had to bring my 5 yr. old Grandson and he had to stay with us and attend the services. We had talked to him before and he handled his visit with his G-Granny just as if nothing was going on.

The "Adults" needed my Grandson more then we realized! Before the visitation, we arrived early (as they have you do). When we walked into the room, my Grandson said, "Is that G-Granny's bucket?" It was a closed casket service. He called the casket a "bucket"! It made the adults smile and laugh! From the mouths of babes!! He was so glad to meet all the people - letting them all know that was his "G-Granny in that bucket"! It seemed to help all of the adults!

He sat still during the services and listened to everyone. At the end when we stood up to walk behind my Mother, he stopped and turned around to face everyone standing. While standing on the pew, he told everyone there - "She was my G-Granny and loved me very much and I loved her very much and will miss her a lot"! Then he got down and walked with us outside of the chapel. I guess he had heard and listened to all the people saying nice things about my Mother that he just had to do his "speech"! I was very proud! Everyone had smiles!

When we got to the gravesite - my Grandson insisted on being one of the pall barriers!! So I decided both he and I would hold on to one of the side handles. One of my cousins came up and asked me if he "Could have the honor". So I told my Grandson to come with me, he saw another handle where my Mother's head was placed in the casket and together, we held that handle! The determination of a 5 year old!

It was time to leave and my Grandson was extremely worried about leaving G-Granny there all alone. Then I showed him one of the Counselors from the funeral home standing near my Mother's casket. I told him that she was there to make sure everything was going to be done right and bury G-Granny's "bucket" (that's what he called the casket) and place the flowers on the ground after G-Granny is buried. Then we could go back in a couple of hours if we want to go. We went out to lunch at a restaurant and when we finished, my Grandson asked, "has it been enough time so we can go see G-Granny and make sure all the flowers are there"? There were 5 Adults and we all said "Yes" at the same time to my Grandson. When the waiter brought us our check - my Grandson told him, "We are going to see my G-Granny and make sure they put all the flowers on the ground and did everything right". Then he told the waiter, "Thank you for bring the check so we can go right now". The waiter (a young man in his early 20's) told my Grandson, "I think your G-Granny knew how much time you needed to wait and thank you for coming to have lunch with us"! My Grandson replied, "Your welcomed - we got to go now - have a nice day"! The adults - we just looked at each other shaking our heads with slight smiles.

Later that evening, my brother, husband, me, and other family members were sitting on the back patio at Mom's house while my daughter was giving my Grandson his bath in G-Granny's bathroom. My brother said, "I don't know how we would have made it through today with your Grandson" (he called him by his name). "Here we were so worried about how he was going to react - do you all realize that he was the one that kept us all together!?" I will never forget it!! I believe because he had so much information and knew what was going to happen and what we were doing beforehand, put him at ease and he was himself! He just didn't realize how much he helped the adults!!!!!

Paula a. answered...

My daughter was about 6 years old when my grandmother died. She was concerned about Nanny being in a box, and how would she breathe when the coffin was buried.

I explained to her that when a person is born God gives the body something special.. a soul. It was what made Nanny the person she loved.

When a person dies the soul goes home to God. The body left behind is like a candy wrapper. The 'good part' and the part that made the person special isn't inside anymore. But we treat the 'wrapper' with respect instead of just throwing it away. So we bury the body in a special place with a marker for when she might want to go sit and remember her Nanny.

Sounds awfully simplistic, but it worked well for my daughter.

Granny2grandsons answered...

Dear Paula A

What a wonderful way to explain to a child!! Everything said was so easy to understand - I hope a lot of the adults read your story and remember it!!

To me, it is just a perfect way of explaining life and death! Quick thinking on your part!! Great job!!!!!

Sending hugs & prayers!!