Child Attending Parent's Funeral: How to Handle This?
My daughter has lost her father today and your website has helped me to tell her the devastating news.
Could you please advise me on what to do regarding a child going to the funeral of a parent?
Whether or not a child attends a parent's funeral will likely depend on the age of the child as well as that particular child's personality and temperament. However, it is not generally helpful for a parent to make the decision without consulting their child, so asking your daughter about how much involvement she would like to have in the funeral is a good idea.
To begin, talk with your daughter about what happens at a funeral. Discuss where the funeral will take place, who will be there, the different parts of the service and why it is important to you to have the funeral. Make it clear that a funeral has a 'script' so to speak, and that for the most part she would be expected to follow it. Explain that her father will be in a casket and that he will not be able to move, speak or otherwise acknowledge her. If there is to be an open casket, discuss with her what she can expect when she sees her father. Also make it clear what the burial will entail, and that you will both ultimately have to leave the cemetery without her father.
It can be hard for children to know how to act at a funeral, particularly if they are not used to open displays of grief. Talk with your daughter about how she will feel if she cries, and how she will feel if she sees others cry. You may even want to role play with her simple ways she can answer people if they ask her questions or want to talk about her father.
Use this discussion too as an opportunity also to discuss what the two of you can do together to honour her father, whether it is at the funeral, burial or a later memorial service. If she has a concrete idea of what she can do to say goodbye to her father then your daughter might be more comfortable with the idea of going to the funeral or staying home but having her own ceremony at a later date.
If your daughter does decide to go to the funeral, ask a friend or relative to help you keep an eye on her so that you don't have the sole responsibility for it. You might also consider hiring a familiar babysitter to come along to tend to your daughter's needs. Similarly, if your daughter decides to stay home then try to have someone well known to her stay with her. Most of all, make it clear to your daughter that you support whatever she thinks is best. Make her feel comfortable and confident in her decision, and remember that a funeral is just one event. You and your daughter will have many opportunities to remember her father so don't put undue emphasis on the funeral itself.