Monday, August 12, 2013

Including Children in Rituals of Grief and Mourning: Special Situations

[Reviewed and updated July 3, 2021]

Previously we've discussed how to explain to your children that a loved one has died, and offered some preparation tips on what to expect at a funeral or memorial service. Of course things don't always go smoothly at a time like this, and when certain situations arise, you may appreciate some additional guidance.

What if your child is reluctant or unwilling to go with you?
It’s been said that families who love together grieve together. Encourage your children to go to the funeral or memorial service. Explain that you are a family, and this is an important family event. Let them know that you expect them to go with you. Say that it is important to you to have them there with you. Ask them to attend for your sake.

If a child absolutely refuses to go, don’t force the issue. Instead, you can:

· Make sure the child isn’t made to feel guilty for not attending.

· Take pictures and make them available whenever the child wants to see them.

· Make a video or tape recording of the proceedings.

· Write an account of the service: who was there, what happened, who said what.

· Tell the child you are available to talk about it whenever s/he is ready.

What if you are the one who doesn’t want to go?
It’s understandable that you may want to avoid altogether looking at the person who died and at what has happened, that you may be afraid of how you are feeling, or that you may fear “falling apart” in front of others. In that case it may help to think of the funeral or memorial service as an opportunity for remembering and celebrating your loved one’s life rather than her death. Think of your presence as a gift to the individual who died and to everyone else who attends. And take five minutes to listen to the segment from NPR's This I Believe series: Always Go to the Funeral.

What if you are too upset yourself to be there for your children?
Tell the children exactly how you’re feeling.  Explain that they can count on someone else to be there for them in addition to yourself.  Plan ahead of time to:

· Ask a family member or close friend who knows your children to sit with you and care for your children at times, as needed.

· Ask if someone at the funeral home can stay near the children and answer their questions.

· Assign someone to sit in back or near the end of your row, so they can leave the service unobtrusively and step outside with your children if they become too restless.

What if others criticize your decision to include your children in the service?
As a parent, it is your job to teach your children how to cope with the realities of life. Keep in mind that you are the one who knows your children best, and it is you who must deal with their feelings later on.

To shut your children out of such a rich and valuable life lesson is to deprive them of an opportunity to grow. Letting them participate in the family rituals of grief and mourning shapes how they will cope with future losses and ultimately with their own mortality as well.

No doubt there will be some friends and family members who’ll say they cannot bear to see your little ones suffer; they may tell you your children are too young, they won’t understand, they’ll be afraid or they’ll be a disturbance. Usually people feel this way because it is they themselves who are so upset.

Know that protecting children from death is a mistake. It is up to all of us to remove the dark shroud of fear from death, and help our children see it as a sad but natural part of living.

What if your child's behavior is disturbing others?
Children experience grief in small doses, and moving in and out of grief is natural for them. Let your children know that crying, laughing and playing are okay, and that you respect their need to be children at this sad and difficult time. Explain to the older children that there are acceptable ways to behave at funerals and that you expect them to be considerate of the feelings of other mourners.  If your child is too young to understand that concept, activate the plan you’ve already put in place, and ask the person you’ve assigned to remove your child from the situation.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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