When a friend or family member passes away, it can be difficult to explain the issue to your children. This also poses the question—should your children attend the funeral? A funeral is a chance to come together and celebrate the life of the friend or family member, and also to say goodbye. Children should not necessarily be excluded from these proceedings, and they can certainly benefit from the chance to say goodbye. But still, there are a few things to consider when wondering if your child should attend a funeral.
The Age of Your Children
The age of your children plays a big part. Older children will broadly understand the concept of death, but younger children might not. How you choose to explain the concept to younger children is entirely up to you, and it depends on how you wish to instill the idea of an afterlife (or lack thereof) in your children.
Very young children might not understand the concept of death, and indeed they might find it to be unsettling (which is perfectly understandable). If you make the judgement call that your child should not attend the funeral, then there are other ways for them to participate. You might wish to take photos of the funeral service, to show them that the event was a way for those who knew the deceased to come together and remember their loved one (perhaps excluding photos that might show the casket). They might also want to draw a picture for the deceased (especially if they were a beloved family member) that you could bring to the service. You might even wish for the picture to be placed in the casket if they were a close family member.
Things to Talk About
If you choose to bring your older children to the funeral, it can be helpful to talk to them about what they can expect. So what sort of things should you cover?
Explain the role of funeral directors (managing and overseeing the process) and the priest or celebrant. This can also cover the schedule of the funeral.
Talk about how the casket will be present, and that yes, this will contain a body. This can be a disconcerting idea for children (especially if it's an open casket) and so they should not be surprised by its presence.
Discuss the idea that while the occasion is a celebration of the deceased's life, it will be mixed with sadness at the idea that the person is now gone, so it's perfectly acceptable to be upset. You should also explain to them that they might see you being upset (which can be troubling for children to experience).
If the deceased has opted for cremation, you might wish to touch upon this process, and why some people choose to do this.
Bringing your children to a funeral can be a tough decision, but if you feel it's appropriate, it's important to prepare your children beforehand.