Should I bring my four-year-old to my father's funeral?

A fellow caregiver asked...

We're having a memorial service for my father, who died recently. My daughter adored her grandpa, and I was assuming that she would come to the service, along with some of her older cousins. I'd like her to learn more about Grandpa and to celebrate his life with others. My mother agreed at first, until an elderly aunt complained that if young children attend, they'll likely disrupt the service and ruin it for everyone else. Is it a mistake to bring a young child to a memorial service?

Expert Answer

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

In general, I think it's a good idea for your daughter to attend the service. Participating in a celebration of your father's life will help her accept and grieve the loss, and as you point out, it will give her a fuller picture of who your father was.

At the same time, I think it's important to respect the other mourners by making sure that your daughter and any other children attending the ceremony aren't excessively noisy or disruptive.

You know better than anyone your daughter's temperament and how she’s likely to react. It's fine if she asks occasional questions or quietly plays with a toy during the service, of course. On the other hand, if she's likely to whine the entire time, run up and down the aisle, or pick a fight with her cousins, that's a different matter, and you should probably consider other options.

One idea would be to assign a relative or friend to take responsibility for your daughter during the service. That way, you can be confident that she's taken care of if you get up to speak or need to participate in the service in some way. Whether it's your partner, a close friend, or a babysitter, your daughter's designated caretaker can lead her out of the service if she begins to act up or grow restless -- and you won't have to miss out or be distracted during the event.

This isn't a time to break in a new babysitter. Your daughter may be upset or scared, so she should be with someone she's comfortable with in case you aren't available. If a number of small children will be attending the service, you may want to hire a nanny or childcare provider and set aside a room where parents can leave their children for some or all of the memorial service.