Taking your child to a funeral for the first time can be difficult, but it can also be a great way for them to say goodbye to a loved one. This article explains four simple things you should do before the funeral, from explaining what will happen to find them a useful task to do.
1. Think carefully about whether they should attend
There’s no right or wrong answer as to whether any specific child should attend a funeral, as it all depends on their level of maturity, closeness to the deceased, and attitude towards death. Think carefully about whether your child will be able to cope with the funeral, and whether attending would be a meaningful experience for them. If your child is older, it might be a good idea to give them the choice of whether to attend or not, as long as you’re willing to respect their decision either way.
In making the decision, your child might have a lot of questions. Take care to answer them sensitively, and ensure that they know a funeral is simply an opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one, tell stories about them, and participate in any spiritual traditions you might have. It’s also a good idea to ensure they fully understand death, and what it means to be dead.
2. Make sure they know what will happen
A child’s first funeral can be confusing and strange, and knowing in advance what will happen will be reassuring and useful. If you’re planning the funeral, you’ll be able to explain exactly what will happen—who will speak, what readings and songs will happen, where the casket will be placed, who will attend, and anything else you think is relevant. If you’re not planning a funeral, you can give your child just a general overview of how funerals typically go.
You might also want to explain other aspects of death and funerals—for example, what cremation is (Grief Healing has some good tips on explaining cremation to kids) and what will be done with your loved one’s ashes. All of this will help your child to process the funeral properly and have a meaningful experience.
3. Give them a task to do
If you’re planning the funeral, give your child a small job or task to help them to feel engaged and involved, as well as provide a distraction from their sadness. For a confident child, this could be reading your loved one’s favourite poem or making a small speech, while other children might want to hand out orders of service or simply take a special flower or a drawing to place on the casket.
If another relative is planning the funeral, it’s still a nice idea to ask if your child can do something, even if it’s just choosing some flowers to display during the service.
4. Help them deal with their feelings during the funeral
Funerals can bring up a lot of strange feelings, so be sure to let your child know that it’s okay to laugh, cry, or experience a mix of emotions. Make sure that you show your own emotions rather than suppressing them, as it can make your child feel more comfortable with your own feelings.
However, you may want to have a backup plan in the event your child feels overwhelmed by their emotions. Bereavement Advice suggests having a friend at the funeral who didn’t know your loved one as well, so they can take your child outside if necessary. Speak to them in advance and let them know if you need them to step in.