Taking Children to a Funeral: What Are the Rules?
We have recently lost my father-in-law after a very short period of illness. It’s been a very emotional time and I don’t think I was prepared for the strength of the girls’ emotions when we told them that granddad had died. I say “died” because I am a firm believer in telling my girls the truth without sugar coating it; saying someone has gone away or is lost can bring up just as many questions as it answers. I lost my own father at the age of 21 and still vividly remember the nightmare I had where my dad came back from being away for 5 years. It wasn’t real but I remember the anger I felt. I don’t want that for the girls.
Inevitably there was a funeral to plan. I know what we wanted to happen; we wanted the girls to go but what were the “rules” as it were? It turns out that everyone has an opinion on whether young children should go to funerals; it’s a hot topic on Mumsnet and Netmums forums. Children shouldn’t go, they should go, they shouldn’t go if they’re such and such age, they should wear school uniform, they should wear black, they shouldn’t wear black – the opinions went on. What I learnt from trawling the internet is that the main thing is to be ruled by your children, I tried to put down the most practical advice I found.
Ask your child if they want to attend the funeral. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to go. Everyone’s reaction to grief is different and it doesn’t make it any less valid. Bebe initially did not want to go to the funeral she was worried about missing school and not sure what would happen.
Talk to your child about what a funeral is and why we have them. If you find this too difficult as a parent (if your own grief is a bit too much at that point), try contacting your child’s school or pre-school for help. Bebe’s school were amazing and I know that her class teacher took some time to talk to her about everything.
Explain what happens at a funeral. There are certain things in a funeral that are going to be emotional and have the potential to be traumatic; think the moment at a crematorium when the curtains close around the coffin.
Make sure there is an adult with your child who can take them out if they need to leave. At my father-in-law’s funeral, I needed to support my husband. My mum came to the funeral to help look after the girls. Himself’s good friend and Bebe’s godfather was also there.
Be prepared for emotional. Whilst Lala was relatively chilled at the funeral, Bebe did find it a bit upsetting; she’s 6 years old and saw her granddad several times a month all that time. I’ll be honest and say I found it very hard to see both my husband and eldest daughter upset but grief is a natural process and there is no shame in tears.
Having our girls at the funeral was good for them, for us and good for the rest of the family. They provided that reminder that life goes on. They were well behaved inside the crematorium and then let loose a bit outside which stopped us from dwelling too much on the emotional. They also helped encourage people to tuck into the buffet mummy had put together, by starting on it as soon as they got through the front door. And no they didn’t wear black, they actually wore the outfits they will be wearing to a wedding later in the month. Why? Because they wanted to.
Further advice and information on explaining death and funerals to children can be found at the following: