One of the dilemmas facing a parent when faced with a bereavement is should they allow and encourage their children to attend the funeral.
According to a recent survey, almost half of people think it inappropriate for children under 12 to attend funerals. Yet is wasn’t always so. In years gone by, the whole cycle of life was played out at home. Babies were born there and families usually washed and cared for their dead at home. The whole family would file into the room to pay their respects, including children, who also attended the funeral.
Ironically, our efforts to ‘protect’ children may actually cause more harm and distress in the longer term. If you ask a group of people how many went to a funeral when they were primary school age, only a few will have been. Ask them if they remember wanting to go to a funeral but not being allowed to, and the numbers increase significantly.
Of course, no child should ever be forced to attend if they do not want to: but children are by nature curious and imaginative. If they do not have ‘real’ experience of what happens at a funeral, they may well invent their own idea, which is likely to be more macabre than the reality. When trying to decide whether to offer your child the choice to attend, it is worth recognising that they need simple and honest information when someone has died so that they can understand what has happened as much as possible. In years to come they may not remember all the details of the event, but they will remember that it was meaningful, nonthreatening and inclusive.
Funerals are a time when families gather and are often an opportunity to connect with friends and relatives you have not seen in a long time. Feeling connected to and part of something bigger can be really important for all of us at a time of bereavement, no less so for children. It may even be appropriate for them to contribute to the ceremony in some way. I have had children of 10 upwards reading personal tributes in some of the farewell ceremonies I have led, and on other occasions have read words prepared by children of all ages.
So before assuming funerals are not places for children, it is worth considering if you may actually be doing more harm than good.