When a child passes away, parents must make difficult decisions. Although it is hard to plan a funeral during such an emotional time, doing so can help families find closure and begin to heal. One of the most important decisions is whether or not to allow a child to attend their sibling’s funeral. The decision is based on an individual assessment of the child’s age and level of emotional maturity. Children can often have a very difficult time understanding death and dying, but it is important to respect their wishes. It is not uncommon for a grieving child to act out in ways that are uncharacteristic for them, and these behaviors should be allowed.
It is vital to explain to the child what will happen before, during and after the ceremony. Let their natural curiosity guide the conversation, and answer their questions in an honest and age appropriate manner. Explain that everyone feels differently about this event, and that it is normal to cry sometimes. You can also discuss the upcoming events, what the room will look like and who will be attending the funeral.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be beneficial for the child to view their sibling before the service. If this is the case, inform the child in advance and give them a chance to say goodbye. Also, if they will be cremated, discuss that with the child as well.
Some families choose to have a small memorial service before or after the funeral. If the child will be present, consider asking them to read a favorite poem or story, write a letter, light a candle or place something special in the casket. This can be a powerful way for children to feel like their feelings matter and that they are part of the celebration of life.
A child’s presence at the funeral or memorial service can be very helpful in helping them to find comfort and closure. If it is the child’s wish to be there, this should always take precedence over the wishes of other adults.
While it is not necessary for a child to attend the funeral, many families choose to include them in the ceremony. This can be as long or short as a traditional funeral for an adult. The choice is truly up to the family and what feels right for them at this difficult time.
Many children have never attended a funeral before and are unfamiliar with the process. It is important to explain to the child what will happen, and that it is ok to ask questions. You can even give them a tour of the funeral home before the ceremony, so that they will know what to expect. If they decide to attend, it is important that the parents are supportive of their decision. If they are not, it is common for children to later regret not going to their sibling’s funeral. It is also essential that the alternative to the funeral is not more exciting or overly stimulating.