The final farewell: should children go to funerals?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Whether or not to take your children to a funeral is a very personal decision.

It can be based on a number on a number of factors including their age, ability to sit quietly, their sensitivity, your access to childcare and their closeness to the deceased.

There are no rules, just commonsense and what feels right at the time.

Judythe Barret-Croxford has worked in the funeral industry for over a decade and says there is definitely a place for children at funerals. 

"I have seen children react in many different ways in funerals depending on how close they were to the departed," Ms Barret-Croxford said.

"Leaving them out can make them feel alienated from family and what is happening around them as they are very tuned in to the energy and feelings of other family members."

Although she understands parents who decide to leave young ones at home.

"I don't think there's an age limit. I have had babies in services as well as toddlers, but they can be a bit disruptive," she said.

"Perhaps this is one of the reasons parents don't take very young children to funerals, simply because if they do become disruptive or crying, the parent feels it's necessary to take the child out therefore missing an important part of the service."

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Parents need not be afraid to talk to their children about funerals and death.

"They are more resilient than we think," she said.

Katrina Bart is the author of the children's book explaining death to a child Where Did They Go? 

"I actually feel funerals help children to understand the concept of death that the body dies, and obviously depending on the person's faith, what happens after that," Ms Bart said.

"Children will see that it's OK to cry and miss someone when they attend a funeral. 

"I don't really think any child is too young, it's more would they be able to sit still for the service or would they distract the others there."

It's important parents spend time talking to their children about death and what happens at a funeral so they know what to expect.

"Talking about death is confronting for any adult-to-adult discussion, let alone with children," she said.

"Have an honest discussion with them, but don't make it all too complicated. You just start with saying that 'Aunty XYZ died' then ask if they know what that means, talk about what they think it means and discuss it further.  

"Then just explain that when someone dies the people who love them like to say goodbye and that's what a funeral is, everyone getting together to say goodbye." 

And it's not just farewelling people you love. More families are now having funerals for their pets.

"We especially find that families bring in young children so that they can say a final goodbye to their pet," Pet Angel Funerals founder Tom Jorgensen said. 

"Often there are tears from everyone, including us, but the children find it comforting to say farewell in a nice place."

Having a funeral for a pet helps children navigate the grieving process.

"Every child experiences different emotions, however, we find that when we work with the parents and help explain to the children that their pet is in a better place, they usually experience a sense of calmness and understanding," he said.

"Having the opportunity to spend time with their pet in the remembrance room really seems to help, especially seeing their pet in a very comfortable, warm, and friendly situation - it gives them a level of comfort that the pet is in a good place and at peace. 

"This special time and opportunity to reflect and talk about the pet that has passed away seems to put little minds at rest."