The Forgotten Mourners – By Wendy Clarkson
How to involve children with a funeral. How to help children deal with a funeral and how to include them in the day in a family friendly funeral..
Honesty Is The Best Policy With Children
As a parent, we all want to protect our children from pain and grief. In this day and
age we are very fortunate that most of us discuss everything with our children to
give them an honest understanding of life. I believe that death is no exception.
The Experience As A Green Funeral Director
Over sixteen years of being a green funeral director, helping families plan a personal
and special farewell to a loved one, very often children are involved. It is quite
natural and understandable for adults to get caught up in their own grief and
practicalities of their own needs, following bereavement. Almost as an after-
thought, the question can arise, ‘Shall we let the children come? Maybe they
shouldn’t be there?’ Adults I have met often remember as children or teenagers not
being allowed to go to a funeral, and feeling left out and excluded.
From Babies To Teens How To Make Them Feel Included
In my own experience, I agree that very young children or babies, who would not
understand, could perhaps go to a friend for the day, as they can be a distraction for
parents or siblings. Children naturally have enquiring minds, and I believe that
questions asked should be answered truthfully and honestly, to avoid them creating
their own fears and fantasies. Teenagers may be going through a difficult time,
coping with hormonal changes. Even so, to give them a sense of involvement with
the family is very important.
How Children Can Be Involved With The Funeral
There are so many ways in which children can be involved in a funeral, especially if
the deceased person is a close relative. An older child may read a poem or
something they have written. It is lovely when a musical instrument is played at the
graveside; giving them something to focus on. The simple gesture of tying a hand
written message on the coffin, laying or handing out flowers can be helpful. The
importance of being the person in charge of making sure a memory book is handed
round to people after a funeral.
Family Involvement In The Funeral Is Important
As I encourage family involvement anyway, children may come with parents the
night before the funeral and help to make a floral tribute and decorate the coffin.
This helps in two ways, togetherness with the family and also being close to the
coffin so on funeral day there are no shocks. I often meet a family with children the
day before and walk and talk them through exactly what will happen, answering the
many questions asked!!
There may be Grandma’s ashes or a pre-birth sibling to inter. Why buy an off the
shelf container, when the children could decorate a box of their choice in their own
way, with pictures and stickers. So personal and something they will always
remember, that they were involved.
Some Real Life Examples of Children Taking Part In Funerals
I remember three young children who had chosen Mummy’s grave, but their
concern was about leaving her in ‘a hole in the ground’. After discussion, it was
decided that the whole family would help to fill the grave. Ten large shovels and
three small ones were on hand, and so it happened just like that, initially placing
fresh hay and flowers on her coffin. The children however, only did two shovels full
each, were satisfied, and then wanted to know if they could go off and play!!
Specialising in woodland burials, I do feel that the whole experience is far less
formal. This can also be replicated for a cremation. Whether I lead the ceremony or
the family takes control, it is more laid back and personal, which can only mean an
easier situation for children and parents alike to cope with.
One of many lovely goodbyes recently was to a special Uncle. An abundance of
Sweet William (his name sake) was gathered from various gardens. Close friends
played the recorder and guitar and sang unaccompanied. At the end of the
ceremony the children, family and friends sprinkled hay and flowers, which gave
them all a feeling of togetherness; sadness, but fulfilment. The children were
delighted to hand out their home made decorated biscuits with faces. They called
them their feeling faces, showing happy and sad. Emotions they had talked about
There are many good publications about children and bereavement. My favourite is
called ‘Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine’ described as ‘an activity book to help when
someone has died’.
(Biscuit Feeling Faces recipe included!)
A little gift I give to families with children and the feedback is always good, for the
A Funeral Is One Of The Most Important Events In Our Lives
A funeral is one of the most important events you may have to arrange. There is
such a thing as ‘A Good Funeral’
It’s so important to talk, and with guidance and openness we can all ensure that
children don’t become the forgotten mourners.
Wendy Clarkson is a celebrant and retired ‘one woman band’ green funeral director.