Seen and heard: should young children attend funerals?

Charles Cowling

sad-child-portrait

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Some say death is too sanitised these days, with few people dying at home where all the family can say goodbye, and with professionals now taking over the duties of preparing the body for the funeral.

Has this social development made us over-protective of children, just as they’re now sometimes even shielded from losing in a sports match or failing an exam? Or is it prudent to exclude under-10s from funerals lest they become traumatised, or distract attending adults by being loud and needy?

For the nays’ side the debate, young mother and widow Rachel West says, ‘It’s hard to imagine what my daughters [aged four and six] would have gained from attending their dad’s funeral, but very easy to imagine the potential damage. I was in absolute pieces that day, and needed to be. That alone would have caused them immeasurable distress. I have remained strong in their presence at all other times, which I believe benefits them in these early years.’

On the ayes’ side, experts say attendance can be therapeutic for little ones as long as they’re well prepared. They advise giving child-friendly explanations about death beforehand: it’s one thing to say grandpa has gone to rest in a peaceful place and won’t be coming back, and another to find safe words to explain he’s in that box and is about to be buried or burnt.  

Ann Rowland of Child Bereavement UK also says children need to be forewarned about the possibility of adults crying and be given permission to cry, too. She also recommends an adult is on standby to take them out if they get bored or can’t handle being there.

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Jonathan
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Jonathan

It strikes me that what nobody’s saying here is that there are funerals and funerals. There are some horrendous dirges that even Count Dracula should be shielded from; and there are supportive, healing events that it would be a dereliction of parental duty to deprive a child of. Death is normal, and if the grown ups disappear to some mysterious thing you’re banned from and not allowed to know anything about, after a family member has already vanished with no rational explanation, you’ll grow up feeling guilty, furtive and frightened of death. And hopeless at arranging a funeral for someone… Read more »

Kitty
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Kitty

Funerals are (should be?) occasions when there is a lot of support for the grief-stricken. Children will see tears but will also see people hugging each other and giving each other comfort. Children will see adults in tears and grieving whether they go to the funeral or not.

Lucy
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When I was 12 years old, my uncle died. I was desperate to go to his funeral but my parents wouldn’t let me. My other set of Grandparents came and picked me and my siblings up and took us to the beach. When we got back, my parents took us to his grave to lay some flowers. To this day I am still pretty angry that I wasn’t allowed to go. Now eight years ago my Great Grandmother died and we all went to her funeral. I was a funeral director by then and my brother and sister who were… Read more »

james showers
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I feel that funerals are an important family occasion, and that children need to be invited to participate. If they are old enough to say no, go with that. In either case, be prepared to explain some uncomfortable questions – where has she gone/ is she coming back/can she breathe in there; and give fair warning that some grown ups may dab their eyes at times because they are sad. Give them a job to do ….. make a picture, light a candle, blow one out, pick a damp posy of greenery and put it on the coffin to start… Read more »

tim clark
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tim clark

Surely the key thing here is the effect on the child of seeing a usually calm parent deeply distressed? Ann Rowland’s comment seems particularly useful.