Preparing your child for a funeral
Funerals are an emotional and distressing time for everyone. But when children are involved in the process, it's important to make sure they understand both death itself and the process of grieving represented by a funeral - at a level appropriate to their age.
How a child will understand and deal with death depends on their developmental level. But regardless of their concept of death, there are a few of important things to remember when discussing the topic with your child:
- Explain the biological event of death. The organs of the body stop working and the rest of the body cannot function. Explain the difference between being sick and having a fatal condition.
- Avoid euphemisms, as these will frequently lead to confusion. Saying the person is "no longer with us" or "resting in peace" may indicate that the person will come back or is simply asleep.
- If cremation is to occur, explain that the body of the deceased cannot feel pain.
There are many books available to explain the concept of death to children, but the very best resource they can have is a supportive, knowledgeable adult to turn to when they have questions or need to express their grief. Always be open to their questions, no matter how inconsequential they may seem.
What to Do
Funerals are an important part of the grieving process. A child's participation in the funeral event will likely provide more opportunities for healing than protecting him or her from the experience.
You can work toward acceptable funeral behavior by adequately preparing your child for what will happen - describe the funeral event, including the wide range of emotions (from laughing to crying) that may be present. Involving the willing child in the event will help too, from presenting a small eulogy to simply lighting a candle to honor the deceased.
The purpose of a funeral is to allow the bereaved to begin healing. Accurate knowledge of death and an ability to understand and accept the wide range of feelings that accompany grief will go a long way in getting your child through this difficult time, while teaching them to honor the life of the deceased.