Attending the funeral

If you are prepared to let your child make the choice of whether to attend the funeral, some things may help them decide:

  1.  Talk to them about what is involved.
  2. Let them know that they can change their minds at any time.
  3. Check that they are happy with the choice they have made – but not too often, because children want to please and may say what they think you want them to say.
  4. Have someone with whom the child feels secure to act as their supporter for the funeral.  This may be an aunt or uncle or one of your best friends.  This allows you to be fully present at the funeral for your own sake.
  5. Give them clear and detailed information about what will happen.
  6. Reassure them that it is all of the body of the person who has died that is being buried or cremated.  Some younger children are confused and wonder what happens to the head, arms and legs.
  7. Give reassurance that the person who has died can no longer feel anything, so they will not feel the flames nor will they be scared at being buried.
  8. Offer clear and detailed explanations of what to expect from people at the funeral.  Some children can be shocked that people seem to have a party after someone has died: others are upset when people say ‘How lovely to see you’.  Explain that his done not mean that these people are happy that the person has died – they are just the sort of things adults say.  Seeing adults in deep distress may alarm children but preparation before hand will help them understand that this is a reasonable response to the huge thing that has occured.
  9. Create opportunities for the child to be involved.  This may be planning the funeral service, saying or reading something about the person who has died.  It may be choosing a particular piece of music.  They may wish for something special to be put in the coffin, for example, a picture or something linked to a memory.

Alternative ‘goodbyes’

If it will not be possible or appropriate for your children to attend the funeral, there are other positive ways in which they can be involved.  Or if the funeral happened a  while ago and your children have regrets that they did not attend, it is never too late to have a memorial or other ceremony that includes them to  say ‘goodbye’.

You could consider linking this to an important date – for example the date of their death, or of the funeral. Children and young people who did not attend the funeral may appreciate some of the following ideas, they can also be used for marking the anniversary of the person’s death.

  • Visit the grave (if there is one – or other special place, for example where the ashes were scattered).
  • Visit a place with special memories (for example, where you had your best holiday ever).
  • Create a special place of their own choosing (for example, in the garden of a new house).
  • Visit a place that you went to regularly (for example, the park or the swimming pool) and everyday rather than a once in a life time place.

Some of these ideas may make the occasion special:

  •  Hold a small ceremony with specially chosen music, poems and tributes.
  • Bring a picnic of the dead person’s favourite food to share.
  • Prepare something to leave in a ‘special place’ – flowers, a laminated poem, a toy.
  • Release helium filled balloons to which messages are attached on labels.  You could say: ‘If you come back for five minutes, I would ….. or ‘I remember when ….. or ‘My wish for the future is…..’
  • Light a candle and share memories with each other.
  • Start a collection of memories from family and friends of the person who has died.