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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― Fred Rogers

Should a child attend a funeral?

The funeral will have a long term impact on the child, whether he attends or not. Attending without preparation, information and support can leave a child scared and confused. Not attending can isolate a child and often leads to regret or resentment later. I have met hundreds of adults who still feel angry over not being able to attend a funeral for a loved one, as a child.
Grief experts have found that giving children information and letting them decide in what capacity they feel comfortable participating is best.
It is best not pressuring them into making a decision based on the parents' needs.  The most helpful thing an adult can do is offer choices.

Give the child clear explanations of what will happen at the funeral:

  • Who will be at the funeral services?
  • What is going to happen?
  • Where will the service take place?
  • When will the funeral happen?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is expected of the child?

What about viewing the body? ( A list of important facts the child may want to know before choosing to view the body.) 

The body:

  • is an open or a partially open casket
  • is cool in temperature
  • does not move
  • can not talk, see you or feel anything
  • will not come back to life
  • may have markings, etc. from injury or illness
  • will look and feel different than the person did before death
  • may have a different smell

 

What are the options for involving children and teens in the memorial service?
  • Attending or not attending the service
  • Selecting the casket
  • Deciding whether or not to view the body
  • Choosing special objects to put into the casket
  • Choosing which clothes the deceased will wear
  • Choosing the grave marker and what will be written on it
  • Picking out the urn for cremated remains
  • Choosing the location to spread the ashes
  • Selecting the funeral site
  • Selecting flowers, music, and readings for the service
  • Participating in the service
  • Closing the casket for the last time or being involved in the process

After the memorial service/funeral
  • Would you like to sleep at home or somewhere else tonight?
  • What of the person's possessions, if any, would you like to keep?
  • When do you think you will be ready to return to school? (talk to school counselor, nurse, teacher, and ask child what his concerns are).
  • Do you want to see the cremated remains? (they do not look like ashes, but crushed up bone pieces).
  • Would you like to see the death certificate or the obituary?
  • Would you like to participate in a support group like Good Grief? (he/she will be with other young people (ages 3-18 ) who have also lost a parent or sibling. www.good-grief.org   908-522-1999)
  • How would you like to memorialize the person on the anniversary or special occasions?

Funerals do not have to be scary. Children get to see how many people loved their loved one as well as see how we support each other at times of loss. It gives us a chance to say goodbye to our loved one and the way things used to be. This is extremely important for healing. However if one cannot attend there are still ways to say goodbye.

Helpful books:

Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Children Cope When a Special Person Dies  by Janis Silverman

The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends: by Helen Fitzgerald

The Grief Recovery Book: by John James and Russell Friedman  Excellent resource for adults grieving any type of loss. Involves saying goodbye.

lisa@griefspeaks.com
(973) 985-4503