I grew up in an era and family culture where children were pretty much intended to be seen but not heard in formal situations, unless invited. It was also common for them to be left out of attendance at family funeral services. I was 12 when both of my father’s parents died within a year of each other. What I remember is being left without a real explanation of what had happened, excluded from the conversations about their deaths (and the shared memories of their lives) and left completely out of the funeral services. My slightly older sister and I stayed at home, confused.

My parents, who were very loving and caring people, clearly considered us as simply being too young to understand or participate at a meaningful level. Still today, the question arises as to whether children should attend funeral or memorialization services.

The overwhelming opinion now is “yes, they should” at all ages.

Children are not exempt from the reality of death. From a motionless, belly-up insect in the garden to a fallen baby bird in the front yard, to a dear, aged family pet, kids learn to see death as a normal, natural aspect of life in this world. They feel normal feelings and have normal questions in response to these experiences. They receive explanations and comfort from the adults around them, as appropriate for their age. That normalness (I looked it up, it is a word), along with the same, age-appropriate explanations and care should be extended to times of human bereavement. Apart from any specific cultural or religious restriction that may influence family decisions, attendance at the memorial event should be part of the inclusion. Actual participation from even young children can be both appropriate and very meaningful. A funeral director can give helpful guidance in this regard.

Sometimes this question raises discomfort and uncertainties we adults have regarding how to explain death related matters to children. In which case the problem is ours, not the kids.’

For more guidance for adults engaging children with issues of death and grief, check out …

NOTE: Stay tuned for upcoming information on the 6 week “When Children Grieve” program we hope to offer later this year at Martin Brothers.