For children who have died, especially those who were stillborn or died before they were able to fully take part in life, a child funeral is an opportunity to say goodbye. Many families choose to hold this ceremony at the funeral home with a priest or celebrant who will provide religious comfort and support. Some choose to have this ceremony at the grave site or another meaningful location. In either case, it is important that the parents and other siblings of the deceased attend in order to pay their respects.
This is a very sensitive time for all family members, including infants, babies, toddlers and preschoolers. They are in the process of understanding what death is and that it is a permanent and natural part of life. It is a good idea to talk with them about what will happen at the service and give them some options on whether or not they want to attend. If they do decide to attend, they may have questions or concerns that need answering before the day of the funeral.
Depending on the child’s age, they may be able to participate in some of the service’s activities. This can include passing out flowers at the cemetery or crematorium for guests to place; writing messages on a message board or matted picture frame; lighting candles at a memorial table; making a memory box; or other meaningful and appropriate tasks.
If a child becomes overwhelmingly upset at the funeral, it is important to be prepared to leave them alone for a short while so they can calm down. Reassure them that it is normal to be sad and emotional, and that they can re-join the ceremony when they are ready. In this event, you might want to scout the funeral location ahead of time to see if there is a room or spot that can serve as a safe haven until your child is ready to return to the ceremony.
It is also important to reassure them that their sibling’s body will be present at the ceremony. If your family chooses a closed casket, be sure to describe it in detail and explain that their sibling is wearing a full outfit (including shoes) with their eyes closed and arms folded. Explain that they can’t feel cold, pain or fear and that the funeral is a respectful place to bid farewell.
It is also helpful to explain that there are ways to remember and say goodbye other than attending the funeral. Some children at this age enjoy bringing a flower or small gift to the grave or memorial site, visiting a special place, or simply lighting a candle with close family and friends. In this way, they can pay their respects without attending the service itself.