This is a hard topic to broach and in no way am I an expert. However in the past month we have had two relatives pass away and one of the questions we had to ask ourselves was “should we take our kids to the funeral”.
My husband’s grandmother passed away in late January. We had taken the time to slowly introduce this possibility to our kids and took them to visit with her knowingly for the last time in December. Before our last visit with her we told them that she was sick and explained to them what might happen while we were there. We also informed them that because she was sick, it would likely be the last time they were able to spend time with her.
I do not think they understood that at the time because they had never encountered death before.
However in late January she did pass away. They cried and expressed their sadness to us when we told them and we made plans for them to have a babysitter in the town we were traveling to for the funeral during the visitation and funeral. The unthinkable happened and we weren’t able to make it to the visitation or funeral because of an ice storm. The kids played at home, enjoying the ice covered ground outside totally oblivious to the funeral and mourning of their family members. We did make it to visit with our family there at the very end of the wake, once the ice had melted from the afternoon heat.
They enjoyed time with our family but there still wasn’t a noticeable closure for them. We stayed at the house of their great-grandmother that had passed and there was many questions about where she was and where her belongings were going. But there seemed to be a missing puzzle piece for them. There was endless questions over the following weeks and a lot of behavioral issues that might have stemmed from the fact that they just were missing that piece.
Fast forward one month to another relative passing away. This time we once again had to travel to the same town and once again stayed at my husband’s grandmother’s house. The difference was that we couldn’t find a babysitter so our kids went with us to the visitation and the funeral home.
I was worried about the kids being at a funeral home and then the funeral but there was also a noticeable change in the kids. Being there around people that were mourning but also sharing memories seemed to be that missing piece. There was still questions but they were less and it was obvious through their questions that they understood more after attending the visitation and funeral.
Also after that funeral we did visit the grave of my husband’s grandmother where the mourning for our two older children finally did happen. They finally found that missing puzzle piece of grief that they needed to experience.
I think as adults we sometimes forget how perceptive kids and visual learners that kids are. They need to be able to see and touch a tangible closure rather than just a discussion if we can help them do so. When they see our sadness and learn about death they need to be able to have an avenue to help them deal with it just as we as adults are allowed to have.
So should kids go to funerals?
- Personally I think that if they knew that person and had a meaningful relationship with them than yes, they should go if the parents feel like the kids are emotionally able to handle it.
- If it’s just a coworker or an old high school buddy that your kids have never met or never had a relationship with, then it would be best to leave them at home for the sake of the other mourners.
- During times spent at the funeral keep an open eye out for any cues that it may be overwhelming to them.
- During the viewing seek out another area of the funeral home where the kids can wait without having to be near the coffin. There might be a parlor area where other family is already gathered. We did not let our children in the room for the viewing but did wait until his wife was in a different area to let them spend time with her.
- Explain to the kids beforehand that this is to be a somber time and clearly explain to them any unacceptable behaviors. We knew that our kids would see their grandparents at the funeral home and explained to them that running to them and jumping in their arms wouldn’t be appropriate and asked them to please calmly walk to them and give them hugs.
- Sit in the back for the funeral service. We know some people at the funeral might have questioned why we sat in the very back of the room during the funeral but it was for the kids. If they became overwhelmed, too loud, or even had to use the restroom we wanted to be able to quickly and respectfully leave without disturbing others. Our oldest two 8 & 7 listened politely but we did let our 4 year old play on a muted cell phone which no one else could see because of the fact that we did sit on the back row.
I’m not sure if this will help anyone but having two deaths so close together when our kids did not have time to age or mature in between really helped me see how attending the funeral did help them with understanding and closure.
At first I did not want my kids to attend the funeral but since we couldn’t find a babysitter they did attend with us and in the end, I think it was the best thing for them at that time.