“How can I help my children deal with grief? Should they go to and participate in the funeral?”
The most important thing you can do to help children though the funeral process is to talk to them. Children need honest, clear and gentle answers to their questions, and an opportunity to express their emotions. Allow your child to ask questions and don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know the answers. Answers to religious questions may come from clergy, and technical questions can be addressed by your funeral director.
It’s a good idea to prepare children before the funeral so they know what to expect. As much as we want to protect our children from all pain and sorrow, we cannot protect them from knowing about death and loss. Participating in the funeral service at a level that is comfortable and appropriate to their age can be a great way for children to deal with their grief and acknowledge their loss.
Participating in the service
Children have their own comfort zones where funerals are concerned, and it is important for parents and others to respect that. Here is a guide to finding the right level of funeral service participation for your child.
Participation can take many forms, from simply being present to presenting the eulogy. It can be public, like serving as a pall bearer or lighting a candle, or private, like placing a picture or memento into the casket. What type or level of participation is appropriate depends upon the age, talents and inclination of your child. Bereaved children feel like their feelings “matter” when they can share a favorite memory or read a special poem as part of the funeral service. Many children feel more included when they are invited to help plan the funeral service. Encourage, explain, but never force.
Infants, toddlers, and very young children who have no understanding of death have no need to attend the funeral services, except for the convenience and comfort of the parents. However, children of this age are welcome at visitations and funeral services, and their presence helps to remind us of new beginnings. Keep your visit short or arrange for child care at the funeral home.
Ask if the funeral home has a children’s room. At Fiske, Murphy & Mack Funeral Home, we have a Children’s Room where your children can stay with a relative or friend during visiting hours or the service. Here they can play games or watch TV or a movie.
Preschoolers are old enough to understand the basics of death and can participate in some meaningful way, as they feel comfortable. For example, they might draw a picture or write a letter to their loved one or place a flower on the casket at the gravesite.
Elementary school children may be ready to participate in the church service by reading a lesson or poem, walking along with adult pallbearers, or preparing artwork or photos for a visitation. Guide participation if there is an interest. If there is a reluctance or fear, allow the child to opt out. Their participation is for their own benefit, not a requirement to ‘prove’ their regard for the deceased. Some children in this age group may benefit from having a close friend, or cousin accompany them to provide moral support during visitation and service times.
Middle school and high school age children already have difficult times in their transitions to adulthood. Dealing with the death of a loved one adds another level of complication to their world. Teens may feel embarrassed by participating in services, and have difficulty getting along with other family members. Nonetheless, the added maturity of the teen years means that interested kids may derive a great level of satisfaction and healing from actively participating in services.
Musical performances, casket bearing, and the sharing of remembrances become real possibilities in this age group. It is important to remember, in dealing with adolescents, that they are not yet adults. A death can turn their whole world upside down, and may be a time when adolescents prefer to grieve and receive comfort from adults, rather than participate in the service.
All children, like adults, will respond in different ways. If you’d like more information about talking to children about death, call us at 575-0575 or email [email protected]