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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

Should young children be able to attend a funeral?

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

photo credit: - Jordan Whitt

One of the topics to have risen from the Queen's funeral is the question should young children be able to attend a funeral? Personally I don't think it's a straight forward yes or no. I believe children, like us, are all unique; it should be the choice of the individual child as well as yours as the parent.

If you are unsure whether to take your young children along to a funeral here are a few things that might help you decide:

A significant consideration would be whether they can be quiet & or suitably occupied throughout the service, which maybe an hour in total. Explain from personal experience what might happen - a sombre affair, but also a social gathering where people come together with respect and compassion. Many focus on the 'celebration of their life' in the planning of the funeral service.

Talk about the rituals of your particular faith; such as the burial in the ground or the cremation with the ashes, the open or closed casket. There are so many 'funeral' variations according to different cultures, faiths and spiritual beliefs. It is so important that children know in advance, the particularities that they can expect to see or participate in.

Explain what the 'Wake' might consist of. There maybe people smiling and raising their glasses and making a toast in memory of the person who has died. And maybe not. Be aware of just how confusing it could be for children to witness people at the funeral smiling & laughing; because everything leading up to the day of the funeral was largely filled with sadness and possibly tears too.

After sharing all of this - ask them what they would like to do. Would they like to go to the funeral or prefer to stay away? Would they like to contribute to the service; write a poem, do a drawing, bring along a toy? If they do want to attend, then maybe have a plan B; If at all possible sit at the back where you can take them out if at any time it becomes too much for them. Be led by your child, your children.

From my own experience I was desperately sad I didn't attend my granddad's funeral.

I was in my last year of primary, or 1st of secondary school, so 10 or 11years old. My mum and dad thought it was not a good idea; funerals were not considered to be a place for children - but I thought it was unfair and wrong; I remember feeling unbelievably sad. I felt left out, like my feelings didn't matter. I really wanted to say Goodbye. But not having that opportunity to go really hurt.

My parents were only doing what their parents did before them. Naturally so many parents 'parent' this way and it isn't easy 'breaking away' from what we know, from what is familiar. This is the power of 'learnt beliefs', which often get passed on, generation after generation, until we feel that belief doesn't sit well with us anymore. Thankfully attitudes on sadness, grief and emotional wellbeing are changing, and we are beginning to be so much more open with our feelings and less 'guarded' . This is so much healthier.

Did I learn from not being allowed to go to my granddad's funeral? You would have thought so, but I didn't. And I really wish I had.

I'm not sure whether it was learnt beliefs on my part, or whether a friend's offer to have our children overnight seemed more attractive to them (an adventure), but on the day of my dear mother-in-law's funeral our son and daughter, age 10 and 8 respectively, were not by our side. I deeply regret that decision.

I also want to mention here the crucial importance of Emotional Language; We must be careful not to say things such as;

'He/she's gone away' ..This causes confusion, children may ask 'Where? and when are they coming back?'

'They're sleeping' .. Another misleading statement. Questions like 'For how long? when will they wake up?' ( this can also create an immense fear of sleeping)

'We've lost him/her' .. Again concerns over 'Where have they gone? How did they get lost? Can we find them?'

The reality is unquestionable when we use the words; die, death, bereavement. And as heartbreaking as it is, and to have a loved one die is undeniably devastating, we do not want to add confusion or fear to the truth, to the natural emotional process of grief.

There really is no way to circumvent death. And funerals, of whatever faith, religious or not, are part of that process. Children can be far more resilient than we give them credit for - but as adults we often pass on to them our fears, our awkwardness, our unresolved grief and that's not fair, it's definitely not healthy either.

When asked 'should young children be able to attend a funeral'? for me it really comes down to an individual but well informed choice every time.

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