Children and Funerals: How to explain what to expect

For adults who have suffered a loss, attendance at the funeral is pretty clear-cut. If you were close to the person who has died, your presence is almost mandatory. Even if you were only passing acquaintances, it’s a good idea to go to the funeral if your close friend or family member was close to the person. For children, however, the choice is not as well-defined.

Many people worry about taking children to funerals, worrying that they are too young to understand what has happened, or that it will be frightening for them. Some may raise the question, “How young is too young to attend a funeral?” The truth is, even very young children can attend the funeral of a loved one who has passed away, as long as they are adequately prepared.

  • Be honest. Speak to your children in simple terms, explaining death in a way that they can easily understand. Avoid euphemisms like “sleeping” or “gone to a better place”, because this can cause confusion. Instead, explain to your child that when a person dies, the body stops working and shuts down. You might explain that the person is no longer in his or her body, and the body is empty, like an eggshell with no egg or a house after people have moved out.

  • Describe the process. Tell your child what happens at a funeral. Explain what they can expect to see and hear, and how the service will proceed. Try to be as thorough as possible, explaining how a body is handled after death, what is involved in a wake or viewing, what will happen at the funeral, and how the graveside service will proceed. You might even be able to tell your child who will be there, and how long the funeral will probably last. This is a good time for your children to decide whether or not they want to attend the funeral, and it’s important that you allow them to make that choice.

  • Explain the purpose. Why do we have a funeral? Explain to your children that people who loved the person who died are going to come to the funeral to remember that person and to support each other. Tell them some of the phrases they’re likely to hear, like “I’m sorry for your loss” and practice appropriate responses.

  • Allow them to be involved. In big and small ways, children can participate in a funeral. Their involvement can be as simple as drawing a picture to leave with the flowers or placing a flower on the casket, or it can be more significant, like singing a song or reading a passage of scripture. Letting children be a part of what is going on can help them deal with the loss and begin to heal.

Committed to Care, Concern, Cooperation and Service, the Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society has been helping Greater Cincinnati families plan their final arrangements since 1843. If you’d like to learn more about planning a Catholic funeral, we can help. Stop by to meet us and see what we have to offer, or visit our website for more information.

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