The death of a child is wrenching, whether from accident, illness, or other causes. It’s out of order in the cycle of life and death. The young are not supposed to die before the old.
Grief counselor Joan Guntzelman, who has years of experience working with grieving families, notes, “With any child’s death, there’s a huge sense of sadness and often guilt and responsibility on the part of the parents, a feeling of ‘I failed’ or ‘I didn’t do it right.’ It may take a long time for a parent to come to self-forgiveness for the death or illness of a child.” Marriages can have problems after the death of a child, because men and women often grieve differently.
When a child dies, while the same paperwork and disposition choices need to be made as for an adult, you don’t want the funeral to look or sound like one for an old person. The accoutrements of childhood, such as favorite toys, stories, poetry, music, or flowers, can be displayed and utilized at the event.
Plan the service with input from the children who will be there. You’ll want to let the funeral director and your clergy person know about any special plans you have and find out if they are willing to be involved. Think about what kind of service would be most personal and meaningful to you and your family.
The family might consider holding a funeral service geared to children, separate from an “adult” funeral. Contact the parents of the children to be invited and let them know what you are planning.
A counselor or other caring adult can talk with the kids and help them share their stories about the deceased, process their grief and generate understanding. One helpful strategy is to provide crayons and paper for the children to make artistic expressions of their feelings after a funeral, whether for an adult or a child.
“As long as they understand first where they’re going and the parents talk to them according to their age level about what’s happened here, children are fine going to funerals,” says Guntzelman. “Kids can take almost anything as long as they have closeness, warmth and support while they’re doing it.”