A grandparent’s death is often the first death that a child experiences and the first funeral they attend. Funerals can be bewildering for children, especially if they don’t know what to expect and don’t know how to act.
One of the kindest things you can do for your child at this difficult time is to make sure that they feel included, and that they are part of things. This short guide explains three simple ways to help a child feel involved with a grandparent’s funeral.
Explain what will happen in advance
A child may not understand what a funeral is — or why we have funerals — if they have not been to one before. They will get the most out of the service if they know in advance what will happen and why they are there, allowing them to feel involved and like they are part of the funeral.
Explain that the funeral is a way to remember their grandparent and say goodbye and that there will be songs, readings, and a eulogy in order to do so.
You should also let them know that they are allowed to laugh if a funny story is told, cry if they need to, or feel very sad even though people may describe the service as a celebration of life. The way that you will explain the funeral really depends on your child’s age, but they will only experience closure during the funeral if they understand why it is happening.
Let them be part of the funeral
This doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should stand up and sing a song or tell a story, although some children might want to do this. Think about your child’s interests and personality, and decide what is appropriate.
For example, if your child’s grandparent loved to hear them sing hymns, it might be nice for them to do so at the funeral. Other children might like to read a poem or prayer at the funeral. Funeral Guide offers a range of common funeral poems, but feel free to choose something more personal to your child.
For children who are shy or likely to be nervous on the day, you could let them write down a story that can be worked into the eulogy, have the funeral director read a poem or other reading on their behalf or record a piece of music in advance to play. If your child does not want to contribute anything or feels too shy, this is also fine, but some children may appreciate being given the option.
Give them an important task to do
By giving your child something to do at or for their grandparent’s funeral, you can also take some weight off your own shoulders, while letting your child feel that they are helping you on this difficult day. Children can help with many tasks on the day of the funeral.
Younger children could carry flowers for the coffin, lay out funeral programmes on the chairs, choose a special piece of jewellery for their grandparent to wear in their coffin or help to pick flowers. Older children and teenagers can take a more active role, helping to choose readings, greet people, serve refreshments or design a programme or memory book.
If you aren’t sure what your child could do, you can ask your funeral director for advice, as they are sure to have experienced this situation before.
The death of a beloved grandparent is undoubtedly difficult for any child, but making them feel involved by giving them tasks to do, explaining in advance what will happen and allowing them to be part of the service will give them the best chance of attaining closure on the day.