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Children at funerals

Children at funeral with lit candles

This post is also available in: Svenska

The third, concluding post about children, death, grief and funerals is about children and funerals. Feel free to read the first post about talking to children about death and, the second about children experiencing grief. Our guest author is the priest Katarina Tingström.

Talking to children about death

Children in grief – how children grieve and how you as an adult can help

Bringing children to funerals

There was a time in Sweden when children were not allowed to attend funerals. It was thought that it was harmful to the child. Instead of being allowed to see what was happening, children were left to use their imagination. These fantasies were often more worse than reality, and there are adults who still avoid funerals because of this.

Funerals help us understand and move on

A funeral is a rite, whether religious or civil, which help the survivors process and deal with what has happened. We have rites to help us understand what is happening. By focusing and defining the event, it helps us understand 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 have gathered to say goodbye.

We, who have gathered, have all been affected by the death and it has affected our lives The new realisation that occurs at the time of parting, is that life will continue after the funeral without the deceased. And we all agree that it is so. So we have to redefine life which is now a life without the deceased. The rite helps us to move on.

After a funeral of an elderly man, a little girl comes to me. She stands with her arms crossed and looks up at me. So she says: “Listen, 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 a wise adult has sat next to her in the church and explained why the other guests were sad. To enable one to feel joy in life again when grandfather has died, one must say goodbye and be sad first. The tears must be shed 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 be allowed to attend the funeral of a relative. My answer is, yes. But you need to prepare the child before the funeral and help them when you are there.

I understand that as a parent may ask yourself this question, especially if you don’t have much experiences with funerals. You may find it uncomfortable to go to a funeral and you will want to protect your child from feeling the same discomfort.

Children are not harmed by seeing a coffin or an urn or seeing other people sad, as long as there is an adult there who can explain to the child what is happening. It may therefore be wise to engage another adult who can attend the funeral if you feel that you will be so sad that you cannot take care of your child at the same time. I know some parents have asked preschool staff or someone from their circle of acquaintances to come and sit with the child. It has gone really well.

The funeral will afterwards be part of the family’s story and even if the child does not remember being there, it is important for the child to be part of the story. So later in life, when the questions come about, for example, grandfather’s death and funeral, you as a parent can tell the child that they were also present at the coffin and said goodbye to grandfather. The child is included in the story and not left outside.

Prepare a child for a funeral

Tell the child what has happened and that the family will go to the funeral. Explain what it will look like, whether it is in a church or elsewhere, and that there will be a coffin in the room and who is in it. Describe what a coffin looks like.

Tell them why you want a funeral and why it is important to go there. It can be good to prepare the child for the fact that many will be sad and why they will be sad. Sometimes the child gets sad themselves and then you can tell that it is not dangerous to be sad at a funeral, but that it is a good opportunity to be sad at the funeral.

If you do not know how the funeral will take place, you can contact the funeral home or the person who performs the funeral beforehand and ask them to explain it so that you can prepare the child. You can also go to the place of the funeral with the child, a few days before and see what it looks like.

You can encourage children to draw drawings before the funeral which you can then leave on / by the coffin.

It can be good to bring some light distractions for the child. A book to look at, a box of raisins to chew on or something else that can catch the child’s attention when it gets boring. Do not forget the stuffed animal. It’s a great friend to bring to funerals.

A good book to read before is “All dead little animals ”By Ulf Nilsson. The book is about three children who will make the world’s best funerals.

All Dead Little Animals as Audiobook at Nextory

Buy All Dead Small Animals at Bokus

Funeral day

Children quickly notice if their parents are stressed or anxious. When they notice that something is going on, they can react by becoming defiant and resistant. Sometimes when the child arrives at the funeral place, they may say that they do not want to be at the funeral, and instead want 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 anxious and wants to keep the family away from the unpleasant situation. Therefore, the child thinks it is best to go home. For a child, these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation as they have had no previous experience of funerals. Then you can remind the child and yourself why it is good to stop and say goodbye.

Touch the coffin!

You can ask to come a little earlier to the funeral and go in and look at the coffin and what it looks like in the room, before the others come. I usually meet families with children outside the church and then we go together to the coffin. I explain what they see and what will happen. There, they are allowed to touch the coffin. I show them that there is nothing dangerous about the coffin in the room. If you have drawn drawings that you have brought with you, the child can leave them at / on the coffin.

By sitting with your child and explaining to them what happens during the funeral, the child gets the support they need to be able to participate. And by having the child see what is happening, the child is not left out. They won’t have to rely on their own imagination about what a funeral is.

After the funeral

After the funeral, it is important to praise the child for being there. Ask if there was anything that was strange or that the child is wondering about. You can use yourself as an example. Explain that you were sad but happy that you got to be involved and say goodbye to the person who has died.

The steps up to heaven

Sometimes the child may have thoughts that you have not thought about yourself. Once a little girl was angry with me and she told me that after the funeral. She felt cheated 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 having her draw a drawing for me at the memorial service; a picture where little brother went up to heaven. I do not forget what she drew. A long, long ladder that went all the way up to the sky and her little brother who climbed the ladder. Down in the field stood three figures; mom, dad and big sister. When she got to draw and explained to me how it worked, she was happy and could play with the other children who were there.

Play after the funeral!

Getting to draw drawings or play at a funeral afterwards is also a good way for the child to process their experiences of the funeral.

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