Preparing Children for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Preparing Children for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Give a detailed explanation of what happens before and during a funeral. Deciding whether a young person will attend a funeral will depend on age, the individual family and the young person’s desires. Be sensitive to reactions in discussing the funeral. There may be fear, even panic in anticipating the event. Some families allow the child or teen to decide whether to attend. If they do not attend, plan carefully who will be with them during the funeral. Later, discuss the funeral with them and bring them back into the family circle after the funeral.

For children who have never attended a funeral, describe what happens so that they can understand. Talk about what will happen at the funeral, what the funeral home will look like and how people will behave. Ask if there are any questions and answers those questions calmly and accurately. Before the funeral or visitation, arrange for an adult —someone who is not emotionally involved with the death —to be available to take charge of the child if he or she decides not to attend at the last minute. They may have more questions or need to take a break. Some children cannot last through an entire visitation or funeral.

Ideas for including young people in funeral planning

There are many ways to include the whole family in planning the funeral and making it meaningful:

Memory Table – have them gather things to remind them of the person, something the person loved, something with sentimental value. Bring these to the funeral home to place on a memory table with labels that explain the significance.

Collage – make a picture collage of the loved one and the family. Use photos, magazine pictures or other items to represent their life.

Letter, Memories in the Casket – place notes, letters and sentimental items in the casket. (Note:  if children place a toy or stuffed animal, make sure they know that it will be buried and they will not get it back.)

Sense Memories – think of what the person was known for. In memories of the person, what do you see, hear, smell or taste when you think of them? Use those memories as a way to participate in the funeral. Example:  Uncle Joe always had cinnamon candy, so let children pass out his favorite candy to those attending the funeral.

Music – be  creative and pick what is meaningful to your family. Let the children help you decide. Some young people may wish to sing or play an instrument.

Written Memories – have  children draw a special border design on paper and have it photocopied. Then let them hand it out at the funeral for people to write memories or messages to the deceased. These can be given to the family or placed in the casket.

List of Favorite Things – ask young people to list favorite things about the person who died or write a poem, letter, note or memory to read at the service or have an adult read.

Memorial Activities at Graveside:

Decorating the Grave – flowers, symbolic objects, notes and messages.

Remembering at the Grave – reading and storytelling. Making a family circle.

For Later Visits – placing stones, changing decorations.

Special Day Visits – birthdays, anniversaries, anniversary of death.

Letting Go Activities:

Balloons—Release balloons, perhaps with messages

Bubbles—Use to blow away difficult feelings. Can symbolize messages of love and caring

Butterflies—Release to fly free.

Fire—Lighting and blowing out candles. Burning messages to let go of difficult feelings.

Incense—Choose a scent to symbolize messages or feeling.