Bringing Children to Funerals

Aug 2, 2010 | 1 comment

What if there’s a funeral and we have children? Should we bring them?

According to grief counselor Joan Guntzelman, bringing children to funerals is perfectly fine, with some preparation on the part of the parents. Using teachable moments, such as the death of a pet, seeing an animal dead on the side of the road, or observing a plant that has died, can be a good way of showing a child that death is a part of life and it happens to all living things. Guntzelman suggests parents can say to the child “it’s hard, because the plant, animal or person will be missed.”

“It’s always a good idea for parents to explain death to kids in ways that they can comprehend,” says Guntzelman. “Be careful about explaining death in terms of God taking a person away, because developmentally, that’s a concept many little ones have not mastered yet, or of saying things like, ‘Grandpa’s sleeping now.’ When you try to get them to go to sleep, they may react with anxiety or even terror.”

It’s okay for an adult to express sadness to a child over the loss of a loved one. Kids learn mostly by identification and imitation, so when they see an adult grieving, they absorb how it’s done. It’s important for grown-ups as well.

“Nobody expects you to do this with a big smile on your face,” says Guntzelman. “The way we humans incorporate loss into our lives is the process of grieving. It’s fine to cry. It’s part of the way we express our relationship with this person.”

“Never force a child to kiss a corpse. If they want to kiss Grandpa, or touch his hand, or put one of their toys in the casket, that’s fine,” says Guntzelman. “Kids’ memories are more images and experiences rather than what people say to them.”

A Good Goodbye