Many families wonder if it is appropriate for children to attend a loved one's funeral. Every family is unique and every loss comes with its own set of circumstances that surround the death therefore, I believe it to be an individual family decision. Below are a few ways to support children before and during a funeral...
1.) Children cope better when they are prepared. Adults can help children prepare by explaining things they may see. For example: people may be crying or may be wearing black, people may tell nice stories about the person who died, etc. It is helpful for children to be prepared for the funeral, especially if seeing the body. For example, one can say: when someone dies their body stops working, their heart stops beating, their lungs stop working and they do not need to eat or drink. One can explain that the body is a shell and when someone dies their whole body is buried in something called a casket because you do not need your body anymore. For young children 2-5 years old it is important to explain that this will be the the last time they see the person who died because children at this stage of development do not understand the finality of death. This may need to be repeated to young children several times as they may ask when they will see the person who died. Then you can explain that their soul goes to Heaven if they have given their life to Jesus. I love the C.S. Lewis quote, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
2.) If children attend a funeral, many families have found it helpful to have an adult that is removed from the situation that can attend to the needs of the children at the funeral. For example, to take a break from the funeral to draw, play, have a snack or take a walk outside.
3.) Keep in mind that funerals only happen once, so children and teens have one chance to attend a loved one’s funeral to say goodbye and to be with the entire family. Some children may want to attend and some may not. Either decision is okay. In my experience, I have heard children say they wish they would have been allowed to attend their loved one’s funeral.
Again, every situation is different and what may work for one family may not for another family. Praying for wisdom and guidance for families currently in a situation where children have experienced the death of a loved one and may be attending a funeral. May the Lord's presence and comfort be with you.