Yes! Your Child Should Attend the Funeral
One of the most disenfranchised griefs is that of a child. Adults do not treat childrens’ grief as a serious and legitimate concern and in many cases discount their needs. One such discounting is preventing the child from saying a final “goodbye”. Well intentioned adults frequently leave children at home during a funeral. This is even the case when the person who died was a primary caregiver to the child. It is important for a child to attend the funeral of a loved one for the child grief recovery, but a few things need to be considered.
First, the child needs to be told what a funeral is about and what he or she will see. A child should not be taken off guard or surprised to see the body in the coffin. Instead a child should be prepared and helped to understand what a funeral is and what the rituals are for. In-depth answers are not always sufficient but the answers should be in concrete and clear language as to avoid confusion within the mind of the child. A child should be told that at the funeral, he or she has a chance to say “goodbye” and that crying and mourning there is alright. One can also explain the religious significance of the rituals during this time.
Second, if possible, try to include the child in the funeral rituals. If the child would like to read a poem or say a short “goodbye”, it should be made possible. If the child is shy, maybe simply lighting a candle for the deceased can supply an outlet for his or her grief.
Finally, when the child attends the funeral be prepared for a variety of emotions. Whatever emotion, an adult should accept the child’s way of mourning. One thing to remember is that children mourn in doses. With this in mind, do not be surprised to see the child behave quite normal and play with various cousins. If the child’s behavior becomes disturbing or inappropriate, one should tell the child that there are certain ways one must behave. This does not prevent mourning but deals with proper behavior. The child should be told that other people are sad and such behavior is distrupting to others.
If your child is better behaved, be sure to include taking him or her to funerals of other distant relatives. This can teach the child what a funeral is about and how to behave and act. It can also teach the child about death and better prepare the child for the death of a close loved one.
Ultimately, not taking a child to a loved one’s funeral is the worst thing an adult can do. Do not make this mistake because it can greatly harm the grieving process of the child.
(Information for this article was found in “Companioning the Grieving Child” by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C