A child funeral is a special service for the memory of a baby, child, or young person who died before adulthood. It is a time to celebrate and remember the life of your loved one and to say goodbye in a way that feels right for your family. This is different from a traditional funeral service, which includes a visitation, wake, memorial service, or Mass. In a child funeral, you may choose to have an open casket or urn, music and poetry, or a short tribute. Some families also include a short committal or graveside service to complete the ritual.
Children are usually able to handle a funeral at an appropriate age, though it is important to talk with them and decide together what they will do. A good rule of thumb is to consider how your child handles similar situations, like church or family gatherings. It is also important to help them understand the differences between a memorial service and a funeral, as well as the difference between an open or closed casket.
If your child wants to view their sibling’s body, it is a personal decision and you should respect that choice. Explaining that their sibling’s body looks very different than when they were alive, and may be cool to the touch is helpful. You can also explain that touching their sibling’s hand or hair is okay. Some parents feel comfortable having their children view the casket as early as four years old, while others wait until they are older.
Seeing the wide range of emotions from mourners can be challenging for children. They can be confused and upset by some of the actions, such as hugs or kisses from people who are crying. To help ease their concerns, you can prepare a list of activities to keep them busy, such as a coloring sheet or drawing, so they can stay quietly occupied during the service. You can also make sure they know they are allowed to leave if they become overwhelmed.
You can also ask a close friend or family member to be your child’s support person during the service. They can help them if they get tired, overwhelmed, or upset during the service. They can also help remind your child that they are a loved one and they will always be remembered.
Other ways to commemorate your child at the funeral or service are to have a “memorial tree” where guests can write messages and place them in a box, light a unity candle, use luminaries, or read letters and poems. You can also have a special “kids’ corner” at the funeral where your children, their siblings, or friends can play with toys and color. You can also ask members of the local high school band or choir to lend their musical talents for the service. You can even have your child escorted to the cemetery by fire trucks, police cars, a race car, or another vehicle of their choosing.