Taking a child to a funeral is a very personal decision. There is certainly no right or wrong age to take a child. However the question remains should children go to funerals? According to British Social Attitudes 48% of people think it is inappropriate for a child under 12 to go to a funeral. However I disagree and I want to share the reasons why I have taken Erin to a funeral at a young age.
Mackinnon, of Winston’s Wish, the child bereavement charity, says no one there has ever come across someone who regretted going to a funeral as a child. This is quite fundamental to my beliefs too.
Erin is now seven and has been to four funerals over the years. The first time she was just six months and a baby in my arms. It made no difference to where she was. The second time she was 3 years old and still quite unaware of what was happening. The funeral was a family funeral and it was in London, two hours drive from our home in Gloucestershire. There was no-one to leave her with so she came with us, it was a small funeral with immediate family.
The third time Erin came to a funeral was when she was five years old and I did think carefully about should children go to funerals. It was my nan’s funeral, Erin’s great nan. I decided to bring her and she was fine, she deserved to be their to understand the finality of death.
More recently my grandad died, the children’s darling popa and Erin is now 7. She loved our Popa very much. Over the past two years I have seen him every week and in the month before he died I saw him most days.
Erin too saw him regularly, along with her big brother and sister. They knew that he was very poorly for the last few months, they knew he was dying. I didn’t want it to be a shock, I wanted them prepared that he was going to leave us soon. However, I also decided a few months ago that I didn’t want Erin to see him so weak and frail. I never made a ‘you won’t see him again speech and I never actually told Popa or Erin that they wouldn’t see each again in person. But for the last six or so weeks of his life, Erin didn’t see Popa. She knew he was not going to get better. Although she didn’t see him in person she face timed him on a good day from hospital.
How wonderful that technology gives those precious moments. Popa had started using a iPad the year before at the age of 91! I would often hear Erin chatting to him after school in the months that followed him learning to Facetime. Therefore at one visiting time, when popa was in good spirit we together facetimed Erin at home.
Chloe and Dylan both had the opportunity to visit Popa in the hospital, the chance to say their goodbyes. They knew there were there to say goodbye and they did that with bravery and tears. Again they didn’t see him in the final 10 days as I thought it would be too much for them to see him in pain and frail. However, I knew that they would come to his funeral.
When he died, of course, they were upset. They loved him, they had a great relationship with him. Chloe had had him in her life for 17 years. There are not many that can say they knew their great grandad that well and for that long. They were each given the choice to attend the funeral. They were told they could change their mind at any time and even on the day or on the way. All three wanted to come.
I thought carefully about the poem I would read and even changed a few bits. I wanted Erin to know that this was final. That Popa was dead and we were saying goodbye. She knew there would be tears and she understood that it was fine to cry or even not to cry. There is no set formula to grief after all.
After Popa had died I made sure that I used the language she would understand. There was no talking of passing or moving on. That can lead to confusion and the belief that death is not final. Instead, I used the words dead and died. The funeral was a chance to say goodbye. I know others question should children go to funerals but for us, it was the right decision.
On the day of the funeral, Erin was fine and she held my hand as we walked into the crematorium. There were some tears and she certainly saw me sobbing but I think it is important to express those emotions in front of children. After the service Erin was quite upset for a minute or two. We cuddled as I reassured her that Popa had loved her very much and of course we are sad and going to miss him. Seeing your child hurting and crying is of course hard, but she saw other family members crying and she witnessed that she was not alone in her grief.
By taking Erin to the funeral she understands the finality of death. She had to confront her emotions which I believe is so important for emotional well being. Erin is also very emotionally aware and able to express herself. Personally for Erin had she not attended the funeral I think it would have been harder for her. Had she not been a part of the service she would have felt excluded and that her feelings were not as important as the rest of us including her older siblings. As she is the youngest sibling she has more awareness than many the same age.
Taking a child to a funeral is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong age. I would never base the decision on age alone. Each child is different and it depends on a number of factors I believe. For us, and for Erin it was the right decision and I am glad she had her chance to say goodbye to a man she loved so very much.
I also believe that no child is ever damaged or resentful by going to a funeral of someone they love, but I do believe if they feel excluded or that they were not allowed to attend a funeral that those feelings stay with them.
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