When your child makes the decision to attend a funeral, help
prepare him or her for the event by explaining what he or she will see and
feel, and what others may be doing. Even the smallest details shared in advance
will help your child feel more comfortable with his or her decision.
When children and teens choose not to attend a
If your child chooses not to attend a funeral, let him or
her know what will be happening instead. Will your child stay with a friend or
family member? Will there be a babysitter? Will an overnight stay be involved?
Explain who and what the youth might
Will your child see relatives and friends, or know many
people? Will other children be in attendance? Show photographs to remind him or
her of familiar faces, if possible.
As appropriate, show photographs of items and places your
child might see. Consider a visit to the funeral home, cemetery or other venue
prior to the funeral.
Talk about emotions and how people
might be feeling
Talk about sadness and grief to help prepare your child for
how he or she might feel during the funeral. Explain that people may be
mourning, which is showing an outward expression of grief through an emotion
such as crying, while others may be laughing and smiling as they share favorite
Let your child know that people grieve differently, and that
it is completely normal for emotions to change throughout the day.
Point out the personal touches
Help your child recall memories that might help him or her
recognize any personal touches that honor your loved one. For example, will
attendees be encouraged to wear your loved one’s favorite color? Will mementos
or beloved possessions be on display? Will the deceased be wearing a familiar
article of clothing?
Explain the order of the day
Let your child know what to expect, and where the event or
events will be held. Is there a visitation at the funeral home, a funeral
service at a church, a cemetery interment? Will a meal follow? Is the funeral
taking place at someone’s home or at another venue?
Explain that during a visitation, people may be waiting in a
receiving line to greet you and your family (or the loved one’s family) or
standing/sitting and talking. Is the visitation prior to the ceremony? The day
Discuss the ceremony location, and who and what will be
involved. Is the location a familiar place of worship? Who is the officiant or
celebrant? Are there pallbearers, and what do they do? Will there be music?
Readings? Sitting or standing?
Will there be a procession to the cemetery? Who will be
going? Will your child see a hearse? Will you be scattering your loved one’s
Give children choices and control
Make certain your child feels empowered throughout the day,
and support his or her decisions. Assure your child that, at any point, he or
she can change his or her mind about attending and participating in the
Practice roles as necessary until your child feels
comfortable, and don’t force a hug, handshake or participation. Avoid phrases
such as, “Grandma would have wanted you to read a poem,” or “You’ll hurt Uncle
John’s feelings if you don’t say hello to everyone.” Reassure your child that
opting out is perfectly okay; have a plan in place to cover a participatory
Consider assigning a known and trusted “point person” who
will not mind leaving the funeral with your child, if it becomes necessary. Let
your child help select this caregiver in advance of the funeral, if
Be sure to let your child know in advance what he or she can
expect to see, and when. If your loved one’s body is present, give your child
control over how close he or she would like to get to the deceased. Let your
child decide how long to stay in the room, and whether he or she would like to
view or touch your loved one.
Continue to allow your child to make decisions after the
funeral. Would he or she like to choose a favorite dish or restaurant for
dinner? Did your loved one have a cherished possession that your child may keep
as a memento? Is a sleepover with friends or family an option?
Normalize the experience
Your child will be looking to you for support and guidance,
and will likely notice if you are uncomfortable in your grief or during the
funeral. Make sure your body language and tone mirror your words of assurance
and normalcy. Remind your child that crying is okay for both children and
adults. Say, “It’s okay to be nervous or sad or scared today. We’re going to
feel a lot of different emotions. I’m glad we’re here together to say our
special goodbyes. It’s very important, and it will help us feel much better.”
Encourage your child to ask questions, and share what’s on
his or her mind. It will not be uncommon for your child to ask the same
questions again and again. Some questions may be direct and pointed, and it’s
okay to not be able (or ready) to answer them.
Consider saying, “I’m glad you asked that question. I don’t
know the answer either. Let’s find someone who might be able to answer it for
us,” or “It’s hard for me to answer that right now. Can we please talk about
that at a different time soon?”