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

7 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
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 Answers

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.

Community Answers

Theoracle answered...

I suggest children be allowed at the wake not the funeral itself if you feel you must have them as spectators; many will only remember the dead body in the box if they are too young to comprehend the total concept.

Jade1961 answered...

I have to agree with Jonathan Rosenfeld. I was very young when an Auntie of mine passed away. My parents felt that being at the funeral and understanding death, I was an above average intelligence, would be a wonderful way for me to understand what happens when we die. They explained to me all about the soul being the person I loved and that, that had gone on to heaven. Of course depending on your religious beliefs or lack there of you can modify it depending upon your child's ability to comprehend. But, your comment/question does not involve a funeral. You are talking about a memorial that will Celebrate her Grandpa's life. This is a wonderful way to help her through her own grief that will occur when she realizes that Grandpa is no longer around. It also gives you the opportunity to allow her to understand life & death according to your beliefs. Of course children can become fussy if they are in a strange environment for extended periods of time, so the idea of a familiar babysitter being there to take your little one out for a walk or just out of the room for a bit. I wish you the best and you have my sympathies on the loss of your father. God Bless you.

Redbeard answered...

We recently held a memorial service for my father - other family members brought a 2 year old and a 10 year old. They were welcome and well-behaved. The mother of the 2 year old told me in advance that she would step outside if the two-year old became noisy.

As long as someone is available to take a noisy child outside of the service, I recommend bringing the child to the service.

Anni hamocker answered...

Just held my Mom's memorial, took the great-grandbabies beause she adored them ages 8 months 3 & 4. They will have questions, but answer them on their level and you will be thankful they had the experience of closure. Good luck and God Bless.


Ca-claire answered...

My parents made the choice when their parents passed away to keep us away from the services. We lost the last grandparent when I was 14 (am now 52). It made it difficult to realize that they were gone for a long time, plus I was left out of the loop for hearing about their lives from other people's perspectives. As a result, it took me a long time to understand why people wore black to funerals (my parent's never did), and it was only after my husband passed away 8/2009, that I realized how devastating it was to lose someone close to you - I had always just focused on how the deceased was happy in 'heaven' now - forgetting about those left behind. Now I really understand the concept of wearing black (usually one of my pieces of clothing is now black - symbolizes how some of the vibrant color went out of my life when he passed), and how lonely those left behind can be.

My advice would be to take all family members to a funeral or a memorial. If the casket is open, the children can be left in their seats, rather than going up to 'view' the body.

Thank you for bringing up this subject.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I went to my mother funeral when I was two. To me this was a very traumatic event. This is the only memory that I have of my mother. I don’t remember seeing her in the coffin. But I remember being in the church setting closer to the back of the church. Seeing my grandparent’s morn and my father being escorted by two officers. I also remember my grandparents telling my uncle that is sister kicked the bucket. I think they said that so that my younger sister and I wouldn’t understand. I told them this a few years back and they couldn’t believe that I remembered