Funerals and memorial services are a special way to honor a child’s life. Often, they also serve as an opportunity to bring families and friends together for the first time.
A child’s funeral service can be held at a church or cemetery, or it may take place at a private home. Whatever the case, it’s important that you prepare your children in advance to understand and feel comfortable with their participation in the event.
If your child is young, explain that their sibling’s body will be in a casket and explain the different ways it might look: full-length, with the arms folded and eyes closed; or with the head uncovered. Let them know that they can ask questions and that it’s up to them if they would like to see their sibling’s body or not.
They may need more than one opportunity to ask questions or make their feelings known, so give them plenty of time to process what they see. Be prepared to support them as they talk through their feelings with you, as well as with other family members and friends.
It’s not uncommon for children to cry or feel overwhelmed at funeral services. If you notice that your child is struggling, take them outside for a short break. You (or a trusted adult) can sit with them until they calm down, or you can allow them to walk around the funeral home as they need.
You can help your child to think about how they would like to remember their sibling and to express their thoughts and feelings about their loss at the funeral. They may want to share a favorite story or memory, or they may wish to sign a message board, write their name on an urn or decorate a photo board.
Depending on the age of your child, they might want to help you plan and carry out the funeral. They might want to play a part in choosing music or flowers, preparing the food for the family or helping you to prepare the urn or a special gift.
If you have an older child, it’s often easier to give them a role in planning the service. They might even be able to sing or play their own song, or share a favorite story or memory.
Your child may be surprised by what they can contribute to a funeral. They might like to offer a poem or reading, or they might wish to pass the microphone and have other people share memories or stories.
A funeral is a difficult experience for anyone, but it’s especially hard for children. You can find more information about involving children in a funeral on Child Bereavement UK’s website.
The most important thing is to listen to your child and support them in their grief. They are still learning to cope with the death of a loved one, and you need to be there for them during this difficult time.