Sharing the experience with children helps them better
understand the concepts of death, memorialization and ritual, but it is crucial
to understand and support young people, on their unique levels, as they go
through the experience. Your child’s reaction to death and the funeral
experience will vary depending on age, the nature of the relationship with the
deceased, and his or her maturity level and ability to manage complex emotions.
Young children may be confused about where the deceased
person has gone, and when he or she is coming back. Teens may be concerned
about their ability to control their emotions, or how to interact with loved
ones of the deceased who are upset. Others may worry because they simply do not
know what to expect, or what to do, during a funeral or visitation.
Sooner is often better when telling your child about the
death of a loved one. Children will likely remember how they were told, so take
into account your intimate knowledge of your child’s demeanor as you consider
how and when to begin the conversation. For example, would starting the
conversation in the daytime, in a familiar place, give your child the
appropriate time and space to process the information, as opposed to hearing
the news at bedtime?
Adult role modeling helps children navigate their own way
forward. Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, the more open and honest
you are about these natural life events, the more normalized and less scary
these experiences become.
Direct, open and honest conversations will help your child
make informed choices, and prepare him or her for the funeral service itself.
Using simple, clear and concrete language is key when discussing terms your
child may find confusing or scary.
Keep explanations honest and clear, and avoid euphemisms,
such as “lost,” “asleep” or “passed away,” which may confuse children.
Simply explain that when someone dies, their body has
stopped working, and will not start working again. Clarify that a person who
has died can no longer breathe, think or talk, nor feel pain, fear, cold, etc.
A funeral (sometimes referred to as a memorial, or
celebration of life) is a ritual that helps families and friends express their
deepest thoughts and feelings about the person who died.
Explain that you will be having a funeral just for your
loved one, and that everyone will be together to share memories, express how
much the person was loved and to say a very special goodbye.
Traditions, beliefs and customs
As appropriate, incorporate your family traditions,
religious/spiritual customs and cultural beliefs into your discussion. Consider addressing any of your loved one’s traditions,
beliefs and customs that might be new, different or unfamiliar to your child.
Explain that, at the end of the funeral, the casket will be
placed in a special car, called a hearse, and taken to the cemetery. There will
be a very deep hole called a grave. The casket will be lowered into the grave
and covered with earth.
Eventually, grass will grow on top of it, and soon a grave
marker will be put there to mark the place, so that people can remember where
the casket was put into the ground.
Let your child know that he or she will be able to visit the
cemetery to think about and remember your loved one.
Tell your child that cremation doesn’t hurt because a person
who has died can’t feel pain. Use simple, clear and honest language, avoiding
words like “fire” or “burn.”
Explain that the person’s body is placed in a special box,
and then taken to a place called a crematory. Inside the crematory, it gets
very, very hot, which changes the person’s body into particles like tan and
gray sand, called cremated remains.
The cremated remains are then placed in a special container,
often called an urn. Discuss that your family (or the family of the deceased)
might decide to keep the urn in a meaningful place, bury the cremated remains in
a cemetery, or scatter them outdoors at a place that was important to your
loved one or the family.
Learn More on the Remembering A Life Blog
Five Tips for Talking to Children About Death