Funerals are often a painful experience for everyone, but they can also be particularly difficult for children. Especially for infants and stillborn babies, they may not understand what is going on, which can make them feel uncomfortable or fearful.
The decision to attend a child funeral is different for every family, so it is important to give your child a choice and make sure they are well informed of what is involved. If possible, explain in age-appropriate language what will happen at the service and then encourage them to ask questions and voice their concerns.
Help them make plans for what they might like to do, such as lighting a candle or making a card for their baby brother or sister. This will help them feel more included in the funeral and can lead to memories that last a lifetime.
Choose a theme that will help the child connect with their loved one and can be incorporated throughout the service. It might be a favorite color, a picture or even a song.
Show them the location and times of all the activities that will be happening during the funeral (visitation, ceremony and burial). Be sure to include them in the planning process so they are able to be a part of all aspects of the service.
Be there to support your child if they want to leave the service early or need a break. A favourite toy or a cuddle can soothe them and a small snack will be useful should they become hungry.
Provide a comfortable space for kids to sit and play during the service. Bring crayons and art supplies for them to draw, play or write a card.
During the service, you may want to have balloons inflated at the entrance or released during the ceremony. These can be distributed by a friend or a member of the family and are a good way to mark the occasion of the service.
You can also ask for a ‘committal’ at the end of the funeral where you are able to have your child’s coffin hidden from view or removed before it is taken to the cemetery. You might also have your child’s ashes scattered in the garden of rest or collected to be scatterd elsewhere at another time.
Your role as a parent is critical during this time of loss and grief, so be there for your child. Talk to them about their feelings and show them that it is ok to cry or laugh, or to not feel any emotions at all.
Use your own experiences to help them learn how to cope with their own emotions, even if they are very young. They may not have had much experience with death or the grief that accompanies it, so it is important to be available as a role model for them so they can learn how to deal with their own feelings.
Have someone from the funeral home or hospice present to be a ‘buddy’ for the child so they can feel included and not left alone. They can be there to answer any questions or offer some structured activities if they get bored.