Should Children Attend Funeral Services?

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Question: by Kathy B. , Preston, Idaho

I am one of four children and our mother is getting very close to the end, so we have been planning her funeral. I have been debating with two of my sisters regarding the grandchildren and should they attend the funeral? We are very split on the subject, so looking for advice. The grandchildren range from age 1 to 14.

This is one of those questions that Funeral Professionals get asked quite often, and truth is, it is not a yes or no question. Over the past 25 years, I have seen a lot of scenarios regarding children attending funerals of family members, some were very pleasant and others were obviously traumatic for the kids. How a child processes the funeral and death as a whole is not just about the kids, it’s about the parent(s) and how the parent(s) are processing the death. Of course, the age of the child is also a factor in this question as well as the relationship to the deceased. As a general rule, if the child is under the age of three, it is best to leave them at home with a babysitter. Research has shown that memories are not maintained prior to that and true memories really don’t crystalize until much older. Under the age of three, you will spend more time chasing or quieting a toddler, than allowing yourself and other family members to work through part of the grief process. Keep in mind as adults we process things much differently than a child does, so we often think that the child needs to say goodbye, but that is us as adults thinking, the young child doesn’t understand the concept of what is happening anyway. So if at all possible, leave your young child with a sitter.

As the child ages and as a general guideline, children should be allowed to attend a funeral and burial if they want to. Let me put that in bold caps IF THEY WANT TO. It is also a great idea to allow the children to be involved in funeral planning, especially if it is for a parent or a sibling. Bringing family members together to plan funeral rituals gives the child a chance to receive grief support from others and say goodbye in their own way to the person who has died. On the flip side, if the child expresses discomfort or resistance with attending, they should never be forced as this can lead to very adverse effects in the grieving process. Bottom line, the key is to listen to the child. Answer their questions, even if your not sure you have the right answers.

I have been told the stories of so many adults who won’t attend or can’t attend a funeral because of a traumatic experience as a child. Most of the time these adults were made to attend a funeral of someone close, a grandparent, parent, or sibling because the adults thought they needed to be there. In many cases, these children (now adults) were told they needed to kiss grandma goodbye or touch her and tell her that you love her because you will never see her again. Now we have adults who don’t know how to have a healthy understanding of the grieving process because they were forced into an uncomfortable situation that they really didn’t understand. Please don’t ever force a child to be more involved with the funeral process than they want to be. Follow their lead, watch for the body signs, interest, and of course resistance. We need to give our children the space to make decisions for themselves, including kissing granny goodbye.

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