Many years ago, when I was a teenager, my Mum and I used to visit a mum who had a brain tumour and was dying. She had four beautiful little girls, all under the age of eight. The husband wanted the Mum to die at home, and she did. I remember Suzie, aged 5, being very upset at the funeral, because she thought her Mum was going to appear again so she could say goodbye. And she didn’t.
It’s often difficult for parents to know at what age it is appropriate for children to go to funerals. Death can be a scary subject, and it’s hard to know at what time a child is ready to hear about death and dying.
Funerals are a good way to say goodbye to people. However it’s important that children understand that the spirit of the person who died has gone away. And just their body is left behind. And that the grave or where the ashes are scattered becomes a place where that person can be remembered. And you can say things to them that you didn’t manage to say when they were alive.
If a child hears about a funeral, and knows that they are not allowed to go, what does it say to them? That death is scary. That there is a big thing that they’re not allowed to be part of? That they should be worried. Although we don’t know what happens after death, not being allowed to find out more can be more scary than going to a funeral.
Death is a completely natural process. It’s one of the absolute certainties when there is life. Everyone is going to die. I have four children, and over the years they have attended a few funerals. And visited quite a few graveyards. We have always talked to our children about what hymns they would like at their funeral, and how they would like their graves to look. (A white marble headstone with aqua or pink stones is the running theme at the moment!)
It is fine to let your 7 year old go to the funeral. Let them know exactly what will happen. Talk to them about why we have funerals, and how what is important is to think of the person when they were alive and hold their special memory in their heart. If at all possible, help them make a card and get them to write what they loved the most about the person who died, and any message they want to send. Let them know that people may cry at the funeral, because they are sad that they can’t be with them anymore. And that’s normal and natural. And also that it’s ok to speak about the person who died and remember them. The more open you can be about death, the better for your child.
All children go through a stage, during childhood, when they worry about death. One of the biggest fears is that their parents will die. Don’t try to protect them from the reality of death. However you can assure them that you don’t think you’ll die anytime soon. Eventually there will be talk of a death at school, or a pet will die. Answer their questions as honestly as you can and let them know that we don’t know for certain where the person’s spirit goes. However you can fill them in with your own thoughts, and ask them what they think happens. Then you can say that after you both die you can see who was right!
11:42AM 03 Feb 2014 Reply
This is a very important post and one I think most parents will have an opinion on. I honestly think it's ok too but you should take into account your own child. Some would probably be unnecessarily upset but for others, it's an opportunity to 'close the door' and understand what has happened. Each to their own, I guess.
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