The third, concluding post on children, death, grief and funerals is about children and funerals. Please read the first post about talking to children about death and the second, about children in grief as well. Guest writer is the priest Katarina Tingström.
Bringing children to the funeral
There was a time in Sweden when children were not allowed to attend funerals. It was thought to be harmful to the children. Instead of being allowed to see what happened, the children were left out to their own fantasies about what a funeral is. These fantasies were often worse than reality and there are adults who are still avoiding funerals because of this.
The funeral helps us to understand and move on
The funeral is a ritual, whether religious or bourgeois, which will help the survivors to process and deal with what has happened. We have rites to help them understand what is happening. It does the rite by focusing and defining the event.
At a funeral, we gather around the coffin or urn and focus on the deceased. The deceased will not come back to us and we may gather to say goodbye.
We who have gathered have all been affected by the death and it has affected our lives. The new thing that happens at the same time at the farewell is that the life that comes after the funeral is without the deceased. And we all agree that it is so. So we can redefine life which is now a life without the deceased. The rite helps us to move on.
After a funeral of an older man, a little girl comes to me. She crosses her arms and looks up at me. So she says: “Listen to the priest. It was my grandfather who died and in order to be happy again you have to be sad first. "
When I listen to her, I understand that there has been a wise adult sitting next to her in the church and explaining why the other guests were sad. To enable one to feel joy in life again when the grandfather has died, one must say hello and be sorry first. Tears must be out in order for there to be room for joy again. It helps us understand the funeral.
Should children be allowed to attend the funeral?
One of the most common questions I get is whether children should attend the funeral of a relative. My answer is that I like it but that you have to prepare the child before and help it when you are there.
I understand that as a parent you ask this question and especially if you do not have much experience of funerals yourself. You might find it uncomfortable to go to the funeral and you want to protect your child from feeling the same discomfort.
Children do not suffer from seeing a coffin or an urn or seeing other people sad, as long as there is some adult there who can explain to the child what is happening. Therefore, it may be wise to involve another adult who can sit at the funeral, if you yourself feel that you will be so sad that you can not take care of your child at the same time. I know occasions when parents asked someone from the preschool staff or someone from the acquaintance circle to come along and sit with the child. It has gone really well.
The funeral will afterwards be a part of the family's history and even if the child does not remember being involved, it is important for the child to be part of the story of the funeral when told. So later in life, when the questions come about, for example, grandfather's death and burial, you as a parent can tell that the child was also present, that it was at the coffin and said goodbye to grandfather and sent with a toy animal. The child is included in the story and not excluded and excluded.
Preparing a child for a funeral
Tell the child what happened and that the family should go to the funeral. Explain what it will look like, whether it is in a church or elsewhere, that there will be a chest in the room and who is in it. Describe what a coffin looks like.
Tell us why you want a funeral and why it is important to go there. It can be good to prepare the child for many to be sad and why they are. Sometimes the child himself becomes sad and then you can tell that it is not dangerous to be sad at a funeral but it is a good opportunity to be sad during.
If you do not know how the funeral will go, you can contact the funeral home or the person who performs the funeral before and ask them to tell you so that you can prepare the child. You can also go to the site of the funeral a few days before and see what it looks like with the child.
Children can be encouraged to draw drawings before the funeral, which can then be left on / near the coffin.
It may be good to bring some activity for the child that you can use during the act. A book to look in, a box of raisins to chew on or anything else that can catch the child's attention when it gets boring. Don't forget the stuffed animal, a great friend to take with you at funerals.
A good book to read is All small animals dieA good book to read before is "All Dead Little Animals" by Ulf Nilsson, who is a book about three children who will do the world's best funerals.
Children quickly notice if their parents are stressed or worried and when they notice something is going on, their reactions can become defiant and resistant. Sometimes when the child comes to the funeral it can indicate that it does not want to be there but wants to go home. Many times it is not about the funeral itself but more about the child's care for the parent. The child has noticed that the parent is stressed and worried and wants to keep the family from the uncomfortable situation and therefore the child thinks it is best to go home. For a child, there are normal reactions to an abnormal situation for the child, as it has no previous experience of burials. Then you can remind the child and himself why it is good to stop and say hello.
pat the coffin!
You can ask to come to the funeral a little earlier and go in and look at the coffin and what it looks like in the room, before the others arrive. I usually meet families with children outside the church and then we go together to the coffin and I explain and tell them what they see and what will happen. They get to pat the coffin and I show that there is nothing dangerous about the coffin in the room. If you have drawn drawings that you have taken, the child can leave them at the coffin.
By sitting with your child and explaining and telling what happens during the funeral, the child receives the support it needs to be able to attend. And because the child is present and sees what happens, the child is not left out to his own fantasies about what a funeral is.
After the funeral
After the funeral, it is important to praise the child for being there and asking if it was something that was strange or that the child has concerns. You can use yourself as an example and say that you were sad but happy that you got to say goodbye to the one who has died.
The steps up to the sky
Sometimes the child's thoughts may not come to mind. Once, a little girl was angry with me and she told me that after the funeral. She felt fooled because she thought the funeral was the time when she would see little brother go up to heaven, but there had been no ascension in the church. Now she was really angry. We solved it by drawing a drawing for me at the memorial, a picture where little brother went up to heaven. I don't forget what she drew; a long, long ladder that went all the way to heaven and her little brother climbing the ladder. Down the field stood three figures; mom, dad and big sister. When she got to draw and explained to me how it went, she was satisfied and could play with the other children who were there.
Drawing drawings or playing funeral afterwards are also good ways for the child to process his or her experience of the funeral.