A child funeral is a service held to celebrate and commemorate a life that has been lost, especially when the person was an infant. No matter what you choose to call the ceremony – whether it be a funeral, memorial service, wake or celebration of life – it can be a very difficult event to attend, particularly for children. This article aims to help parents, relatives and friends understand what a child funeral is and how they can support a bereaved family.
When planning a child funeral it is important to consider the child’s age, understanding and comfort level. A bespoke funeral can be tailored to the child’s wishes and can include a range of activities. Children may want to help plan the service, write their own messages for the person or decorate a casket or other ceremonial item. They may also want to be involved in the ceremony itself or have their own special teddy, doll or toy placed in the coffin or urn.
It is important to remember that children are children first and their grief will be expressed in a variety of ways. They will need space to play and outward signs of distress will come and go. It is also important to ensure that they are aware that other people may be grieving differently and it’s okay for them to cry and laugh.
If you have a young child, it’s a good idea to appoint one of their older siblings as their ‘funeral buddy’. This person will be able to take them out of the service or distract them if they become restless or overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to talk to your child about the role before the day and discuss how they will know when it is time for their buddy to leave.
Talking to your child about the funeral ahead of time can make it easier for them to cope with the experience. It’s a good idea to explain that the body they knew won’t be present and it can’t move, eat or speak anymore. If the funeral is going to be a closed casket, explain that their sibling won’t be able to see them either but they can still be close to them in other ways – for example in a photograph or a video presentation. If the funeral is a cremation you can talk about how their sibling won’t feel cold, pain or fear anymore.
If you would like your child to have a say during the service, ask them if they have any music or readings that they would like to share. If they are old enough, ask them to create a tribute for their brother or sister. It’s a good idea to practise any speeches with them in advance so they are prepared. If they are unable to take part, it’s often more helpful for them if someone else reads their tribute to avoid the need for repetition.