Should young children attend family funerals?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 23, 2009 06:00 AM

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Question: I have 8-year-old twins and a 6-year-old. Their only remaining grandparent is in end stage cancer, with only a few more weeks left. We are Catholic and definitely won't have the kids go to the wake. What is your feeling about kids attending funerals (Mass and burial)? My husband thinks we should really consider it. I think there's no way I'll get through the event without sobbing, and how can they possibly handle it? Thanks.

From: Moxie, Jamaica Plain

Hi Moxie,

There is no black or white / wrong or right answer here, but, like your husband, I would urge you to consider allowing the kids to attend.

Not that many years ago, children were kept from funerals and burials. The theory was that it was more than they could handle emotionally. That’s been debunked, though, as researchers and clinicians came to realize that those children felt they had been excluded from the family and cut off from their own grieving process.

These days, grief experts say that children do just fine being part of these sad events as long as:

* They know what to expect beforehand. For instance, tell them that some people may be very sad and crying, but that there may also be times when people will be laughing and telling funny stories about the person who died. Explain the seeming discrepancy by telling them that this is a time to remember all the wonderful things about the person, including the happy times.

* They are given choices. Do they want to attend or not? Do they want to write or read something for the service? To put something in the casket? No child of any age should be forced to attend or to participate.

* They have someone with them at all times, someone they know well who will be at their side to interpret what’s happening and to comfort them as needed. This person should not be a parent or anyone else who may be overcome with grief.

* They know they can leave at any time without feeling guilty.

For more reading, here's a column I've written about the issue.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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28 comments so far...
  1. Following the point outlined by Barbara will work. My father in law passed away when our daughter was 9 and in the 3rd grade. We did almost exactly what Barbara outlined. My daughter decided to attend the funeral and she handled the day just fine. Looking back, she is glad she attended. She did not attend the wake, like the writer states.

    Posted by Joanne June 23, 09 07:07 AM
  1. My kids are ages 3 - 11 and have attended a handful of wakes, funerals and shivas for older, deceased relatives from the time they were born - we are a Catholic (and Jewish) family and yes, this includes open-casket wakes (due to scheduling we are more likely to go to wakes than funerals). They understand that death is a natural part of life and that the end of a life is celebrated but we are also sad to say goodbye to our loved ones. I feel sorry for kids who are shielded from wakes and funerals, etc. and don't attend their first one until teen years or later, especially if the first one ends up being a young person or a very close relative. I hope that by having been through this with great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc. that as the time comes to say goodbye to those a little closer to them (grandparents, etc.) that the rituals of death will be less shocking.

    I think that as long as Barbara's list of caveats is considered, including children in wakes and funerals is a nice way to ease them into one of life's unpleasant rituals. I also want to add that the rest of the family has always seemed genuinely pleased to see the kids present...it helps to lift some of the grief and bring some joy, especially to the older relatives who don't get to see the kids often. Sadly, were it not for wakes and funerals there are many relatives my kids would rarely, if ever, see.

    Posted by Jen June 23, 09 11:34 AM
  1. When my dad died, my nephews were 7 and 10 and my sister gave them the option of attending the wake and funeral. The younger one is quite curious and came to both. He did stay away from the casket for sometime but eventually went over and touched my dad and placed my dad's hammer in his casket. Both travelled to the funeral and stayed with their other grandparents in the back of the church so that the parents were free to grieve and so were they. After the mass, they attended the internment and cried with the rest of us. They stood close to my mom up front. Children need to grieve also. This allowed them the opportunity to do so at their own pace. On an additional point, Hospice offered some followup for the all the family members but had a special group for young children.

    Posted by Maureen June 23, 09 12:07 PM
  1. In many non-Anglo cultures, it is normal for kids to participate in the wake, funeral and burial activities. My daughter participated at the age of 3 in the funeral activities for her great-grandmother, and suffered no ill consequences.

    Posted by HollyP June 23, 09 12:45 PM
  1. My children attended the wake and funeral for their uncle at those ages. They went through our concern while he was sick with us and our grieving also. Death is a part of life and a family's traditions are something they need to become familiar with. My 7 year old asked every question that you really don't want to answer but we did. A couple of years later their grandmother passed away and they were poised and as at ease with everything they experienced as one can be. My kids were incredibly empathetic to us when my husband's brother passed away and when my mother did. They were very attentive to how we were feeling. Letting children see you sob, then cope, then have a bad day, then feel joy is how they learn to cope with life themselves. They are an integral part of the family. This was their grandmother and letting go of her and allowing them to grieve with you will help them. They will help you too.

    Posted by Nancy June 23, 09 12:57 PM
  1. I never remember NOT going to funerals. Everyone went in our family - children and babies too. My cousins and I have fond memories of playing charades in the basement of the funeral home during my grandmother's wake. Because we are a large, scattered family, wakes and weddings were the only time we saw some of the cousins. Sure, people cried - it's a sad occasion. Kids won't melt if they see someone cry. But it was also a time of "Remember Grandma's awesome cheesecake?" "Remember when Grandma first learned to drive and completely disregarded the speed limit?"

    My son attended his first funeral when he was 8 months old. I was singing for the funeral of a friend's brother, and had no babysitter. He slept in the baby sling the whole time. More recently, my now 8 and 7 year old kids went to the funeral for the son of one of my husband's coworkers. They were the only kids there. But we explained the groundrules (No questions, give the grieving mom a hug, shake hands when introduced, no talking during the service_ and they were good as gold. the coworker was very touched to see them there, and everyone commented on their good behavior.

    When I was 9, my 12 year old cousin died. I was at summer camp, and the funeral happened when I was away. I was very angry at my parents for not bringing me home for the funeral so that I could say goodbye to him. Kids need that chance for closure


    Posted by BMS June 23, 09 01:44 PM
  1. I will never subject my children (and I have 3 myself) to wittnessing a wake, particularly with an open casket. It's documented that children (and yes even some adults) can not fully understand and are not emotionally prepared to deal with death and dying. I strongly disagree with those whom assume that just because they themselves are emotionally prepared to handle these rituals subject innocent children to operate in the same manner.

    Posted by unXld June 23, 09 02:35 PM
  1. I think this (bringing kids to funerals) works best for families that already have open and honest communication with their kids and can prepare their children for what they are seeing and experiencing. I also think parents need to judge their own children and what they can handle. Some three year olds are more rambunctious than others and may be disruptive.

    Posted by suz June 23, 09 02:44 PM
  1. My grandfather died when I was 10. He lived with us and we were very close. My parents did not allow me to attend the wake or funeral. I wished I had. I really needed some concrete way to say good-bye and still carry that burden. I think the ritual is important for everyone. Even if the idea of death is rudimentary in a child's mind, the loss is very clear.

    Posted by forevergreiving June 23, 09 02:50 PM
  1. unXId, I have to respectfully disagree.

    In my family, death was discussed honestly as a part of life. It helped that we have a religious tradition that believes in an afterlife, but even without that, facing death squarely instead of dancing around it worked well for my family. Our family has not been without tragedies. My poor aunt buried her son at age 12, buried both of her parents in the 2 years following that, and later lost her husband to suicide. But she did not curl up and die herself. She grieved, and still does, but also can laugh and live, with the support of her family. We all shared in her grief - and that meant going to the funeral, showing we cared about the deceased too, telling her our memories of them. Because it was always 'what you did', it was not traumatic. I remember seeing my Grandmother in her coffin at age 4. I thought she looked peaceful - and it comforted me.

    My husband's family was big into 'sheltering the children' and denial. Consequently, they all go completely to pieces any time there is a death in the family. Even if the relative is extremely old and has a peaceful passing - it is an unbearable tragedy for them and they have a very hard time coping. They also seem to spend much longer processing their grief - depression going on for years, unable to talk about the person at all without weeping (even when discussing happy times). This is not healthy.

    Posted by BMS June 23, 09 04:40 PM
  1. unXld...how do you prepare for death and dying other than experiencing the whole process, including rituals of saying good-bye? How does keeping your children "innocent" to (ignorant of) the facts of life (we all die someday) help them? If you introduce the subject as a normal thing, which it is, early on and include them in the grieving process then they won't become those adults who have hang ups with death.

    My best friend died the weekend we graduated from college and I was shocked at how many of our peers had never been to a wake. How awful to confront this for the first time via the tragic death of a peer and not the natural, somewhat comfortable death of an aging relative.

    Posted by Jen June 23, 09 04:52 PM
  1. Speaking from personal experience......when I was 8 years old my 4 year old brother died in a home accident. I was not allowed to attend the wake or the funeral.
    I know that my family was trying to protect me, but over 50 years later the thought of not being able to see him one more time brings tears to my eyes. I feel like I have never had the opportunity for any closure in his loss.
    When my own children were young we gave them the choice of attending wakes and funerals. They always chose to go and they all handled the process in their own way, but they were glad to have attended

    process di

    Posted by RaggedScooper June 23, 09 05:31 PM
  1. I went to my first wake when I was about 6. It was a friend of my Grammy's who would watch me if I was at her house while grammy went to church on sunday, and we would play cards. I remember thinking that she would "reach out and touch" me! however looking back I am glad I went, it did not "scar" me for life. My mom DID ask me if I wanted to go and explained what would happen. I think at 6 and 8 they kids should be allowed to decide what they want

    Posted by Rain Star June 23, 09 05:31 PM
  1. When I was 9 years old in 1970, the only grandparent I ever knew, my paternal grandmother died. I was not at the funeral (long story) but I wanted to attend. My relatives had the opportunity to say goodbye, and I was denied the same. It is important to allow children to particpate in the process of saying goodbye, especially a grandparent.

    Posted by factsNOTfiction June 23, 09 06:16 PM
  1. I brought my children to their grandmother's funeral service but not a wake. I spoke during the service and cried. They cried. We're a family and we got through it together. My daughter was 4 at the time, and shortly afterward was coloring. My son, 9 at the time, was moved more deeply, but he also had a longer relationship with his grandmother. In the end, they have the closure that the ceremony brought. Their dad was their for them, while I supported my father. We decided to to this because my husband was not allowed to attend his own grandfather's funeral as a boy and wishes it were different. Make your own assessment of your children and do what you think is right.

    Posted by Eliza June 23, 09 07:16 PM
  1. Growing up my mother always believed that she should "protect us" from the funerals and wakes of relatives. To this day, I strongly believe that this was a huge mistake. Learning how to participate in rituals associated with the passing of relatives, friends and acquaintances is an important part of socialization for a child. It took a long time before I felt comfortable attending funerals or wakes. Finally, when I was wondering if I should go to a friend's parents funeral, because I didn't know them very well...a good friend pulled me aside and said "you go to funerals for the living not the dead". It finally all made sense to me. Now, I never miss this opportunity to share with friends.

    Posted by geegee June 23, 09 07:51 PM
  1. This is a very moving topic. I attended my father's funeral when I was four and a half years old. I remember it to this day and I must be very honest - I am so happy that I have that memory. I remember asking my mother or some other relative why my daddy was sleeping in the big treasure chest. Although I could not process what was happening I also knew that something had indeed happened to my dad and that he would not come back. It was concrete. It was to be the first of several funerals that I would attend as a child and growing up. It was quite normal and accepted and not morbid that children would attend funerals. We knew our friends and relatives in life and we would celebrate and mourn them in death. We experienced the reminiscences and the crying and learned a lot about respect - it was all normal and not denied - and it should be that way. Children are already way too sheltered.

    Posted by Carolyn June 23, 09 10:19 PM
  1. I was introduced to death very young. My grandmother was waked in the house and I still remember going to say goodnight to her before I went to bed. I was about 4 years old. I also attended the funeral My other grandmother took me and my sister. We lived on a farm and death was a normal, every day occurence. I feel every child should be introduced to death, albeit gently and caring.

    Posted by matilda33339 June 23, 09 10:55 PM
  1. At 6 and 8 the children should likely attend (after explaining what will go on). It's important for them to grieve and say goodbye, too. Likely at this point they have already known someone who has died, or at the very least one of their friends has likely lost someone.

    Death is the end of life, everyone experiences it eventually. Your kids are part of the family and should be there with everyone. In the case of the ailing grandmother they can likely also have the bonus of saying good by to her while she's still here, and you have time to prepare them for her passing. Funerals for people who are old and have had a full life generally are much easier to accept than those who go far too young and suddenly.

    Posted by K June 24, 09 08:23 AM
  1. My brother died at the age of 16 and my two youngest sisters (6 and 8) were not allowed to attend the funeral. This was well over 25 years ago, and they still carry sadness and anger that they were not allowed to attend. Death is part of life and learning to grieve and also to celebrate the life of a loved one is a crucial part of it. I agree with the original writer and others who have urged you to reconsider and give them the option of attending.

    Posted by bostongirl255 June 24, 09 09:00 AM
  1. As a 12 year old, the first wake and funeral I attended were of my 12 year old friend that died a horrible, violent death. It was a terrible experience that I still carry with me, but I wonder how much more terrible it was because I had been sheltered from the "process" until that point. Several years ago, my husband's grandfather died at the age of 92. We made the decision to bring our then 7 year old daughter out of state with us to attend the wake and funeral. This was someone that she knew and cared about, but wasn't terribly close to because of distance, and it was not a "tragic" death. We explained to her what was going to happen and she was given the option of participating as much or as little as she wanted. At the wake, I spent most of the time with her in another room, but she eventually asked to go into the room where the open casket was. She now has experienced the "process." She was able to see the grief at the loss and the joy of the remembrance. I hope that she never has to go through anything like I went through. I hope that this early experience will help her cope with the inevitable deaths that she will deal with in the future.

    Posted by finny June 24, 09 09:09 AM
  1. Hi, I originally posted this question to Barbara Melz. Thanks to all of you for your input. We will definitely follow her advice. It's such a wrenching situation with the current illness, that it's hard to even think about the aftermath. But we'll all get through it, together.

    Posted by Moxie June 24, 09 09:36 AM
  1. UNXID - I personally agree with you 100% . I NEVER exposed my children to funerals. First of all there is a big difference between having a child experience the RITUAL of a funeral and helping your child to understand and learn about 'loss' and 'death' ! Why would a kind and loving parent intentionally want a child exposed to the PAIN, SORROW and GRIEF shown at most traditional funerals?? And, why, would "seeing their loved one, one last time" as a DEAD HARD CORPSE, laying in a box, getting ready to be buried 6 foot under, REALLY be the lasting memory you'd want your child to have of that person?

    Posted by Annie August 18, 09 06:05 PM
  1. Annie, I understand your reaction, but why all the capitals? I've gone to funerals since I was about 6 1/2 months old, and I feel that going to funerals helps you accept the loss. It helps you remember the good memories associated with that family member, and also is a chance to connect with other relatives- ones you haven't seen in a long time, for instance. Also, in response to your last sentence, (at least in my case) a child doesn't think of their relative as all of the things you described.
    They see a person who they've known all their life, who's simply going to rest.

    Posted by A September 8, 11 10:18 PM
  1. There's no such thing as closure when you're talking about the death of a loved one. There's coping, there's living with it, there's moving on with life but closure is a false concept. As far as wakes versus funerals, I think, like many of the issues so vehemently argued in the public square these days, it's entirely up to the individual family and there is no right or wrong that applies to all.

    Posted by CD May 8, 12 06:25 PM
  1. Recently my husband's 93 year old grandmother died. My children were very close to her. We let our 7 year old decided if he wanted to go to any or all of the services. We carefully talked to him about what to expect before he made his decision. Since he decided to go, his 5 year old brother also wanted to go. My mother visited during the services to help out. The boys made it through the wake and the services the next day just fine. I think it brought great comfort to their grandfather (the deceased son) that they were there.

    Posted by JMV June 11, 13 07:33 AM
  1. I agree that every child and every family is different. However, having attended the wake and funeral of my grandfather when I was a 6 year old first grader, and then attending numerous family and friend wakes and funerals since, I think that children can handle it. I think that some adults can't, and they project that to children, which continues the cycle. If everyone is included, the family can mourn together in appropriate ways. Sheltering children from death may seem like a kindness, but it is a disservice. I have a friend who hadn't attended a funeral until he was well into his 30s, that makes it much harder. I was able to understand the rituals, the environment and the emotions from an early age.

    Posted by Shannon McDonough June 11, 13 08:21 AM
  1. At 4 yrs old I was taken to funeral with parents for great grandmother. i was to small to see much, so my Dad lifted me uo to see, To this day. I am 66 yrs and still have awful memories of that. Please don't leave these kids with the pic of Dead person in a casket, leave them with a happy person they knew, please.

    Posted by jujub October 7, 13 11:37 PM
 
28 comments so far...
  1. Following the point outlined by Barbara will work. My father in law passed away when our daughter was 9 and in the 3rd grade. We did almost exactly what Barbara outlined. My daughter decided to attend the funeral and she handled the day just fine. Looking back, she is glad she attended. She did not attend the wake, like the writer states.

    Posted by Joanne June 23, 09 07:07 AM
  1. My kids are ages 3 - 11 and have attended a handful of wakes, funerals and shivas for older, deceased relatives from the time they were born - we are a Catholic (and Jewish) family and yes, this includes open-casket wakes (due to scheduling we are more likely to go to wakes than funerals). They understand that death is a natural part of life and that the end of a life is celebrated but we are also sad to say goodbye to our loved ones. I feel sorry for kids who are shielded from wakes and funerals, etc. and don't attend their first one until teen years or later, especially if the first one ends up being a young person or a very close relative. I hope that by having been through this with great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc. that as the time comes to say goodbye to those a little closer to them (grandparents, etc.) that the rituals of death will be less shocking.

    I think that as long as Barbara's list of caveats is considered, including children in wakes and funerals is a nice way to ease them into one of life's unpleasant rituals. I also want to add that the rest of the family has always seemed genuinely pleased to see the kids present...it helps to lift some of the grief and bring some joy, especially to the older relatives who don't get to see the kids often. Sadly, were it not for wakes and funerals there are many relatives my kids would rarely, if ever, see.

    Posted by Jen June 23, 09 11:34 AM
  1. When my dad died, my nephews were 7 and 10 and my sister gave them the option of attending the wake and funeral. The younger one is quite curious and came to both. He did stay away from the casket for sometime but eventually went over and touched my dad and placed my dad's hammer in his casket. Both travelled to the funeral and stayed with their other grandparents in the back of the church so that the parents were free to grieve and so were they. After the mass, they attended the internment and cried with the rest of us. They stood close to my mom up front. Children need to grieve also. This allowed them the opportunity to do so at their own pace. On an additional point, Hospice offered some followup for the all the family members but had a special group for young children.

    Posted by Maureen June 23, 09 12:07 PM
  1. In many non-Anglo cultures, it is normal for kids to participate in the wake, funeral and burial activities. My daughter participated at the age of 3 in the funeral activities for her great-grandmother, and suffered no ill consequences.

    Posted by HollyP June 23, 09 12:45 PM
  1. My children attended the wake and funeral for their uncle at those ages. They went through our concern while he was sick with us and our grieving also. Death is a part of life and a family's traditions are something they need to become familiar with. My 7 year old asked every question that you really don't want to answer but we did. A couple of years later their grandmother passed away and they were poised and as at ease with everything they experienced as one can be. My kids were incredibly empathetic to us when my husband's brother passed away and when my mother did. They were very attentive to how we were feeling. Letting children see you sob, then cope, then have a bad day, then feel joy is how they learn to cope with life themselves. They are an integral part of the family. This was their grandmother and letting go of her and allowing them to grieve with you will help them. They will help you too.

    Posted by Nancy June 23, 09 12:57 PM
  1. I never remember NOT going to funerals. Everyone went in our family - children and babies too. My cousins and I have fond memories of playing charades in the basement of the funeral home during my grandmother's wake. Because we are a large, scattered family, wakes and weddings were the only time we saw some of the cousins. Sure, people cried - it's a sad occasion. Kids won't melt if they see someone cry. But it was also a time of "Remember Grandma's awesome cheesecake?" "Remember when Grandma first learned to drive and completely disregarded the speed limit?"

    My son attended his first funeral when he was 8 months old. I was singing for the funeral of a friend's brother, and had no babysitter. He slept in the baby sling the whole time. More recently, my now 8 and 7 year old kids went to the funeral for the son of one of my husband's coworkers. They were the only kids there. But we explained the groundrules (No questions, give the grieving mom a hug, shake hands when introduced, no talking during the service_ and they were good as gold. the coworker was very touched to see them there, and everyone commented on their good behavior.

    When I was 9, my 12 year old cousin died. I was at summer camp, and the funeral happened when I was away. I was very angry at my parents for not bringing me home for the funeral so that I could say goodbye to him. Kids need that chance for closure


    Posted by BMS June 23, 09 01:44 PM
  1. I will never subject my children (and I have 3 myself) to wittnessing a wake, particularly with an open casket. It's documented that children (and yes even some adults) can not fully understand and are not emotionally prepared to deal with death and dying. I strongly disagree with those whom assume that just because they themselves are emotionally prepared to handle these rituals subject innocent children to operate in the same manner.

    Posted by unXld June 23, 09 02:35 PM
  1. I think this (bringing kids to funerals) works best for families that already have open and honest communication with their kids and can prepare their children for what they are seeing and experiencing. I also think parents need to judge their own children and what they can handle. Some three year olds are more rambunctious than others and may be disruptive.

    Posted by suz June 23, 09 02:44 PM
  1. My grandfather died when I was 10. He lived with us and we were very close. My parents did not allow me to attend the wake or funeral. I wished I had. I really needed some concrete way to say good-bye and still carry that burden. I think the ritual is important for everyone. Even if the idea of death is rudimentary in a child's mind, the loss is very clear.

    Posted by forevergreiving June 23, 09 02:50 PM
  1. unXId, I have to respectfully disagree.

    In my family, death was discussed honestly as a part of life. It helped that we have a religious tradition that believes in an afterlife, but even without that, facing death squarely instead of dancing around it worked well for my family. Our family has not been without tragedies. My poor aunt buried her son at age 12, buried both of her parents in the 2 years following that, and later lost her husband to suicide. But she did not curl up and die herself. She grieved, and still does, but also can laugh and live, with the support of her family. We all shared in her grief - and that meant going to the funeral, showing we cared about the deceased too, telling her our memories of them. Because it was always 'what you did', it was not traumatic. I remember seeing my Grandmother in her coffin at age 4. I thought she looked peaceful - and it comforted me.

    My husband's family was big into 'sheltering the children' and denial. Consequently, they all go completely to pieces any time there is a death in the family. Even if the relative is extremely old and has a peaceful passing - it is an unbearable tragedy for them and they have a very hard time coping. They also seem to spend much longer processing their grief - depression going on for years, unable to talk about the person at all without weeping (even when discussing happy times). This is not healthy.

    Posted by BMS June 23, 09 04:40 PM
  1. unXld...how do you prepare for death and dying other than experiencing the whole process, including rituals of saying good-bye? How does keeping your children "innocent" to (ignorant of) the facts of life (we all die someday) help them? If you introduce the subject as a normal thing, which it is, early on and include them in the grieving process then they won't become those adults who have hang ups with death.

    My best friend died the weekend we graduated from college and I was shocked at how many of our peers had never been to a wake. How awful to confront this for the first time via the tragic death of a peer and not the natural, somewhat comfortable death of an aging relative.

    Posted by Jen June 23, 09 04:52 PM
  1. Speaking from personal experience......when I was 8 years old my 4 year old brother died in a home accident. I was not allowed to attend the wake or the funeral.
    I know that my family was trying to protect me, but over 50 years later the thought of not being able to see him one more time brings tears to my eyes. I feel like I have never had the opportunity for any closure in his loss.
    When my own children were young we gave them the choice of attending wakes and funerals. They always chose to go and they all handled the process in their own way, but they were glad to have attended

    process di

    Posted by RaggedScooper June 23, 09 05:31 PM
  1. I went to my first wake when I was about 6. It was a friend of my Grammy's who would watch me if I was at her house while grammy went to church on sunday, and we would play cards. I remember thinking that she would "reach out and touch" me! however looking back I am glad I went, it did not "scar" me for life. My mom DID ask me if I wanted to go and explained what would happen. I think at 6 and 8 they kids should be allowed to decide what they want

    Posted by Rain Star June 23, 09 05:31 PM
  1. When I was 9 years old in 1970, the only grandparent I ever knew, my paternal grandmother died. I was not at the funeral (long story) but I wanted to attend. My relatives had the opportunity to say goodbye, and I was denied the same. It is important to allow children to particpate in the process of saying goodbye, especially a grandparent.

    Posted by factsNOTfiction June 23, 09 06:16 PM
  1. I brought my children to their grandmother's funeral service but not a wake. I spoke during the service and cried. They cried. We're a family and we got through it together. My daughter was 4 at the time, and shortly afterward was coloring. My son, 9 at the time, was moved more deeply, but he also had a longer relationship with his grandmother. In the end, they have the closure that the ceremony brought. Their dad was their for them, while I supported my father. We decided to to this because my husband was not allowed to attend his own grandfather's funeral as a boy and wishes it were different. Make your own assessment of your children and do what you think is right.

    Posted by Eliza June 23, 09 07:16 PM
  1. Growing up my mother always believed that she should "protect us" from the funerals and wakes of relatives. To this day, I strongly believe that this was a huge mistake. Learning how to participate in rituals associated with the passing of relatives, friends and acquaintances is an important part of socialization for a child. It took a long time before I felt comfortable attending funerals or wakes. Finally, when I was wondering if I should go to a friend's parents funeral, because I didn't know them very well...a good friend pulled me aside and said "you go to funerals for the living not the dead". It finally all made sense to me. Now, I never miss this opportunity to share with friends.

    Posted by geegee June 23, 09 07:51 PM
  1. This is a very moving topic. I attended my father's funeral when I was four and a half years old. I remember it to this day and I must be very honest - I am so happy that I have that memory. I remember asking my mother or some other relative why my daddy was sleeping in the big treasure chest. Although I could not process what was happening I also knew that something had indeed happened to my dad and that he would not come back. It was concrete. It was to be the first of several funerals that I would attend as a child and growing up. It was quite normal and accepted and not morbid that children would attend funerals. We knew our friends and relatives in life and we would celebrate and mourn them in death. We experienced the reminiscences and the crying and learned a lot about respect - it was all normal and not denied - and it should be that way. Children are already way too sheltered.

    Posted by Carolyn June 23, 09 10:19 PM
  1. I was introduced to death very young. My grandmother was waked in the house and I still remember going to say goodnight to her before I went to bed. I was about 4 years old. I also attended the funeral My other grandmother took me and my sister. We lived on a farm and death was a normal, every day occurence. I feel every child should be introduced to death, albeit gently and caring.

    Posted by matilda33339 June 23, 09 10:55 PM
  1. At 6 and 8 the children should likely attend (after explaining what will go on). It's important for them to grieve and say goodbye, too. Likely at this point they have already known someone who has died, or at the very least one of their friends has likely lost someone.

    Death is the end of life, everyone experiences it eventually. Your kids are part of the family and should be there with everyone. In the case of the ailing grandmother they can likely also have the bonus of saying good by to her while she's still here, and you have time to prepare them for her passing. Funerals for people who are old and have had a full life generally are much easier to accept than those who go far too young and suddenly.

    Posted by K June 24, 09 08:23 AM
  1. My brother died at the age of 16 and my two youngest sisters (6 and 8) were not allowed to attend the funeral. This was well over 25 years ago, and they still carry sadness and anger that they were not allowed to attend. Death is part of life and learning to grieve and also to celebrate the life of a loved one is a crucial part of it. I agree with the original writer and others who have urged you to reconsider and give them the option of attending.

    Posted by bostongirl255 June 24, 09 09:00 AM
  1. As a 12 year old, the first wake and funeral I attended were of my 12 year old friend that died a horrible, violent death. It was a terrible experience that I still carry with me, but I wonder how much more terrible it was because I had been sheltered from the "process" until that point. Several years ago, my husband's grandfather died at the age of 92. We made the decision to bring our then 7 year old daughter out of state with us to attend the wake and funeral. This was someone that she knew and cared about, but wasn't terribly close to because of distance, and it was not a "tragic" death. We explained to her what was going to happen and she was given the option of participating as much or as little as she wanted. At the wake, I spent most of the time with her in another room, but she eventually asked to go into the room where the open casket was. She now has experienced the "process." She was able to see the grief at the loss and the joy of the remembrance. I hope that she never has to go through anything like I went through. I hope that this early experience will help her cope with the inevitable deaths that she will deal with in the future.

    Posted by finny June 24, 09 09:09 AM
  1. Hi, I originally posted this question to Barbara Melz. Thanks to all of you for your input. We will definitely follow her advice. It's such a wrenching situation with the current illness, that it's hard to even think about the aftermath. But we'll all get through it, together.

    Posted by Moxie June 24, 09 09:36 AM
  1. UNXID - I personally agree with you 100% . I NEVER exposed my children to funerals. First of all there is a big difference between having a child experience the RITUAL of a funeral and helping your child to understand and learn about 'loss' and 'death' ! Why would a kind and loving parent intentionally want a child exposed to the PAIN, SORROW and GRIEF shown at most traditional funerals?? And, why, would "seeing their loved one, one last time" as a DEAD HARD CORPSE, laying in a box, getting ready to be buried 6 foot under, REALLY be the lasting memory you'd want your child to have of that person?

    Posted by Annie August 18, 09 06:05 PM
  1. Annie, I understand your reaction, but why all the capitals? I've gone to funerals since I was about 6 1/2 months old, and I feel that going to funerals helps you accept the loss. It helps you remember the good memories associated with that family member, and also is a chance to connect with other relatives- ones you haven't seen in a long time, for instance. Also, in response to your last sentence, (at least in my case) a child doesn't think of their relative as all of the things you described.
    They see a person who they've known all their life, who's simply going to rest.

    Posted by A September 8, 11 10:18 PM
  1. There's no such thing as closure when you're talking about the death of a loved one. There's coping, there's living with it, there's moving on with life but closure is a false concept. As far as wakes versus funerals, I think, like many of the issues so vehemently argued in the public square these days, it's entirely up to the individual family and there is no right or wrong that applies to all.

    Posted by CD May 8, 12 06:25 PM
  1. Recently my husband's 93 year old grandmother died. My children were very close to her. We let our 7 year old decided if he wanted to go to any or all of the services. We carefully talked to him about what to expect before he made his decision. Since he decided to go, his 5 year old brother also wanted to go. My mother visited during the services to help out. The boys made it through the wake and the services the next day just fine. I think it brought great comfort to their grandfather (the deceased son) that they were there.

    Posted by JMV June 11, 13 07:33 AM
  1. I agree that every child and every family is different. However, having attended the wake and funeral of my grandfather when I was a 6 year old first grader, and then attending numerous family and friend wakes and funerals since, I think that children can handle it. I think that some adults can't, and they project that to children, which continues the cycle. If everyone is included, the family can mourn together in appropriate ways. Sheltering children from death may seem like a kindness, but it is a disservice. I have a friend who hadn't attended a funeral until he was well into his 30s, that makes it much harder. I was able to understand the rituals, the environment and the emotions from an early age.

    Posted by Shannon McDonough June 11, 13 08:21 AM
  1. At 4 yrs old I was taken to funeral with parents for great grandmother. i was to small to see much, so my Dad lifted me uo to see, To this day. I am 66 yrs and still have awful memories of that. Please don't leave these kids with the pic of Dead person in a casket, leave them with a happy person they knew, please.

    Posted by jujub October 7, 13 11:37 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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