General Question

shrubbery's avatar

Is it appropriate for small children to attend funerals?

Asked by shrubbery (9791 points ) October 9th, 2008

Ok, I’m not starting an argument about when is the right time for children to learn about death or what they should be exposed to but I am asking specifically about funerals.

Wakes I understand, they are for family and friends to catch up over food and drink and celebrate the deceased person’s life and legacy, not to mourn them as you would at a funeral, and children can run around and play together.

However, funerals are far more formal, they are sad and are the final goodbye to the deceased. There are speeches and prayers, so my question is: is it appropriate to take small children to a funeral if they are going to get fidgety or cry and laugh and scream or whinge?

I guess it all depends on the age and maturity of the child, but say a child who isn’t old enough to know what a funeral is, and expects their mummy to respond to every want? Should the parent have organised a babysitter?

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38 Answers

Lovelocke's avatar

A funeral isn’t an age exclusive happening. That said, as long as you can control your childs behavior, then it should be fine. Everyone there will be mourning, and so, the last thing they want is to have to smile and ignore an illmannered youth as well.

aidje's avatar

Absolutely. Avoiding the ceremony isn’t going to protect the child from the hard reality of death. Attending the funeral is an important step in dealing with death, and it may be all the more important for someone who has never dealt with death before.

As for behavior, a funeral is a communal experience. Children are part of the community. If certain parts of the community are excluded, it takes away from that very important event. Aside from the effect on the child, what about the effect on the other mourners? Who knows; the sight of a small child—even a misbehaving one—may be a great encouragement to an adult who is at the funeral, given that the cycle of life and death will certainly be on their mind.

edit: I’m assuming that people are able to use discernment when judging levels of misbehavior. Out-of-hand is out-of-hand, and that always calls for unusual action, such as extraction from the ceremony.

But what if it’s a case such as with an autistic child who speaks out at inappropriate times? Should they always be excluded? Certainly not, I would say, for the reasons given above regarding community and the nature of the ceremony (it being for the living rather than for the dead).

JackAdams's avatar

I would never, under any circumstances/conditions, take a child (whom I thought was not yet “sophisticated enough”) to any funeral, and certainly not to a viewing.

I speak from a little bit of experience on this, and I already mentioned this in another thread, if memory serves, so please forgive me if I am repeating this story, here.

In the summer of 1955, I was 5 years old and living in Burlington, Iowa. My Aunt Rose was visiting from another state, and staying with us in the guest bedroom.

Sometime during the night at our place, she died in her sleep, and was only in her 40s, as I recall.

My mother and her husband tried their best to keep that a secret from me, but somehow, at age 5, I figured out what had happened, and what was going on, and to this day, I wish I had not.

That realization, many years later, is still a traumatic thing with me, and I wish my mother had been more diligent about sheltering me from the entire event, so that I would never have learned about it.

I was able to put two and two together, because at age 5 I was taken to the viewing at the funeral home, and that was a mistake on the part of my mother.

Although I behaved myself and didn’t come unglued or create any kind of scene, my first vision of a dead person whom I knew, on display in a funeral parlor, was very unsettling for me, and I have had a “problem” viewing deceased friends and relatives, ever since.

Had I been my own mother, I would have said to me, “Aunt Rose left late last night to go back to her home, and she wanted us to tell you good-bye for her.”

cyndyh's avatar

I would bring my kids and sit near the back or exit so we could duck out if we needed to. I would have someone else sit with them for a minute if I was going to go up to view the body. They are a part of the community, but seeing the body may be too confusing and traumatic right away. But if they’re there and know that something different happened that day it can help you explain things to them later on.

EmpressPixie's avatar

I think it depends on who the deceased is to the child. My cousin’s second child died as an infant. Her first child, who was quite young at the time, attended the funeral. Why? Because she didn’t want to be away from him and because he deserved a chance to say goodbye to his brother. He had doted on his brother, spent most of his time palling around with his brother, and certainly would have noticed a missing brother.

However, if it’s your great-aunt ruby, if you are young and don’t really know her, there is no reason to go to the funeral. Your presence might disturb others and frankly it isn’t something you need to know about or deal with.

marissa's avatar

I’ll tell you my personal opinion based on my personal experience. When my father died. I didn’t take my young children to the funeral, we didn’t have a sitter, so my husband missed my father’s funeral (and yes, he was very close to my father) to stay with our children. We knew the purpose of me being there was to be supportive of my mother, pay respect to my father and thank/acknowledge those that attended the funeral. If my children had been there, my attention would have had to be given to them (yes, I love and adore my children) and I would not have been as available to my mother and others. Also, due to their age they would have fidgetted, made noise and distracted from the funeral service, not because they weren’t well behaved, but because they were too young to understand the solemn (and quiet) nature of the service. However, others actually brought children even younger than my own. One was actually permitted to crawl up the aisle almost to the casket before someone scooped the child up. One of the individuals that brought a whole procession of their children (4 to be exact), didn’t even know my father, had never met him, but knew one of my siblings. I appreciate that they wanted to extend their sympathies, but they could have done so either without their children at my father’s funeral or at another time with their children. My point in all this rambling is this. Unless the child is directly related (say the child of the deceased) or is specifically requested (say a grandparent wants a child their and it’s okay with the parents), I think it is best and most respectful to error on the side of caution and not bring them (I am of course, referring to young children, not those old enough to understand the nature of the situation and that may have their own personal reasons for wanting to attend). Even if you ask if you can bring your children and the family says ‘yes’ they may be doing so just to be polite.

krose1223's avatar

I’m gonna have to second the whole it depends on whose funeral. For example if it’s immediate family, brother, sister, father, mother, I think they should be there. I think all the family would understand, and anyone else just doesn’t matter. Anything past that I think children should be left at home. They won’t understand why everyone is sad, and it might be traumatic on them. I don’t like viewings and I usually don’t look at the body… I wouldn’t expect my son to do it either.

Lovelocke's avatar

We have one austistic and one retarded child in the family. They are adults now, but “back then” I remember that they would get louder than usual. Their parents would take them outside to calm them… and if that wasn’t happening they’d all go home.

What I said in my first post is pretty concrete. You have to behave a certain way at a funeral… It’s the most dignified event that everyone attends, especially the deceased.

gailcalled's avatar

My sister still remembers her fury at being left behind when our grandmother died. She was maybe 13.

When I had several tragic deaths occur in my family, I hardly behaved in a dignfied manner; neither did most of the other really close relatives. We ranged from 18 to 84.

Lots of good answers to what is a complicated question. I went to a funeral and gravesite burial two weeks ago for a 42 yr old who died unexpectly of an embolism. His 11 year old nephew was there; his mother and he slippped in and out a lot.

Lovelocke's avatar

Well, crying and such falls into respect for the deceased. Showing up drunk and cursing them is not. Picking fights with cousins is not. Having your children become bored and play tag throughout the funeral parlor, at times through other people’s gatherings is not.

I find it unbelievable that inappropriate behavior should have to be defined. No wonder we get so many in and out “I got pregnant, I’m 15 but my mom gets paid 20 and hour should I keep it?” questions.

gailcalled's avatar

@Love; Sadly I have been to far too many funerals; I have never seen drunk and cursing, fights, rampaging children, quarreling cousins or any other behavior that is beyond the pale. I have seen terrible and uncontrollable grief, including my own.

fireside's avatar

If the parent has helped to build a respectful attitude in the child, regardless of age, then it is okay for the child to attend. I think it is a good part of learning about the cycles of life.

But if the child is not able to be respectful and calm, then they should not be there.

Judi's avatar

I think that if a death is in a family children should learn that death is a part of life. @jack respectfully, maybe your 5 year old fear was intensified by the very act of trying to hide the truth from you! Your mother was obviously horrified and her inability to be calm and reassuring and honest with you could create a sense of terror that would last a lifetime. Maybe if your mother had been honest, in control, loving and reassuring you wouldn’t have the issues surrounding death that followed you into adulthood.
Regarding funerals, I think that the children should be consulted. My children lost their father and their uncle at a very young age. As adults, they would all tell you that the funeral provided them a sense of closure. I Did ask if they wanted to go. I also did not send them to the viewing. That may have been a mistake because one of my daughters wanted to go.
I hope that my funeral is a celebration of life. No crying allowed, just talk about how wonderful I am/ was :-)

gailcalled's avatar

Judi; Usually you do both. Celebration and Sadness. Dancing and singing and keening and renting of garments.

Judi's avatar

I’d rather own my garments (lol)

Lovelocke's avatar

Naturally, I’m a pretty funny guy. The day I die, I want everyone’s emotions to go crazy. By the time the funeral comes, I generally want people to be joking around about the stuff I did with my life. “Yeah, it’s so wierd: The guy could get himself into anything… he once wrangled a company to sending him to Dubai for a week to teach people how to make movies, and he only made a single movie in his career up to that point!”

and so on.

On the last day, before they lower the lid, I want them to wheel in a TV set or a projector or something and play a 5 minute or so video of me speaking… nonsensically, of course. I’ll speak on my expectations of Heaven, and how Jesus had better not have sold out and cut his wicked badass hair. I’ll speak on the times I tried to kill myself in my life and condemn anyone from trying to do so… because death will eventually come naturally, and best of all, for free. Last but not least, I’ll tell everyone “Don’t worry, I’ll be inside each and every one of you. You can’t tell because they only have the coffin open so much, but I had my body cremated from the waist-down and funneled into the air conditioning system… you’ve literally been breathing in essence of Adrian Santiago. Some of you have little bits of my toes, some of you have my legs, my knees, my buttcheeks… a few of you, oh hell, a LOT of you will have my wiener inside your lungs. Enjoy that. I love you all! See you in hell!”

gailcalled's avatar

If you’re Jewish, the rabbi meets with the family before the service. He or she says the appropriate prayer and pins a small piece of black grosgrain ribbon on everyone. Then it is torn in half to symbolize the renting. The keening is allowed unsymbolically.

Judi's avatar

My vision of “renting” was more a Biblical vision of a person sitting in torn up sacloth and ashes. I didn’t know how it translated in modern day. Thanks for the explaination.

gailcalled's avatar

Judi: Check out “the swinging chicken” or Kapparot: Our rabbi talked about this last night (Yom Kippur eve.)

Among some orthodox Jews, there is a custom (rare today) called Kapporot. This involves swinging a chicken over one’s head to atone for one’s sins, a rooster for a male and a hen for a female. A prayer is recited: “This is my substitute, this is my pardon, this is my atonement, this rooster goes to death and I shall enter a long, happy and peaceful life.” The bird is then ritually slaughtered and given to the poor.

Although this practice is not widely accepted among the rabbis, its very existence shows a certain consciousness of the necessity of a substitutionary blood atonement. A remnant of this practice substitutes a charitable gift of money, tied in a handkerchief, in place of a chicken. This is known as “tzedakah” (righteousness).

Judi's avatar

galicalled;
Thanks! That is so interesting. As a Christian I have studied Jewish history only from a Biblical perspective, and of course have only been taught from a Christian perspective. My attitude is different than a lot of Christians because I have a real respect and curiosity for Jewish culture. When trying to explain it to people who wonder why I have a Menorah under my Christmas tree I say “as a Christian I feel like an adopted child might feel. I know the father loves me, but how cool would it me to have been born into the family. Usually they look at me like I’m crazy, but my passion for Israel and her children is strong. When I went to Israel I had an overwhelming desire to drop to my knees and kiss the ground when I stepped off the plane. I chose not to embarrass my husband, but I really felt like I was home.

pplufthesun's avatar

Children become zombies after reading long-winded responses.

susanc's avatar

@pp: what?

girlofscience's avatar

I am very confused about shrubbery saying that wakes are OK for children to attend, but funerals are not?! If anything, I would think the exact opposite!!

Wakes are the most unnerving… The body is on display, and I’ve never been to a single wake that “celebrates.” People are always sobbing and staring at the dead body. If there even is some kind of a “celebration” of the person’s life, it happens the following day after the funeral.

The funeral is simply a mass. Why couldn’t a child attend that if he/she can attend mass? The casket is closed, and it’s just a regular old mass.

I am totally baffled by shrubbery thinking wakes are OK for children to attend but funerals are not!

cyndyh's avatar

A wake is like a pot luck family reunion with one less drunk. :^>

People are singing and talking and moving around at them, so it’s not a big deal if small kids fidget. They are celebrations with stories about the dead person. I think your experience is just really different, girl.

gailcalled's avatar

The few wakes I have been to have had open caskets; as an adult, I found it very upsetting. Family and close friends were weeping. People who came to pay their respects did just that and then left.

No food or drink that I can remember. And never any young children.

girlofscience's avatar

@cyndyh: What?! I have been to many wakes, and never once has there been singing at them. It’s certainly no pot luck.

Gail has the same concept of a wake as I do. I don’t know what everyone else is talking about.

cyndyh's avatar

That’s what I’m saying. Your experience is just different than mine. I guess gail’s is, too.

shrubbery's avatar

I’m really sorry, I must have used the word Wake in the wrong context. I meant a family get together after the funeral at someone’s house.

aidje's avatar

There are different kinds of wakes. It’s a cultural thing.

Kayak8's avatar

@aidie I agree with the cultural differences in wakes.

As for funerals, if the child has the age-appropriate experience of acknowledging the loss, attendance at the funeral can be a helpful step in processing grief if, developmentally, the kid is ready for that.

For very small children, I think the rules for weddings apply equally to funerals—if they are old enough to behave, allow them to attend, otherwise, find a babysitter.

It also helps to know ahead of time if the funeral tradition will involve an open or closed casket or if the deceased cremated remains will be at the service. If a child can’t understand what these things are (but is curious like I was), you can scare them from going anywhere near the burn-barrel if they think they will end up like Aunt Edna in the pretty vase.

I should also add that, if age appropriate, a child is allowed to see the body and wishes to touch it, they need to know it is going to feel hard and cold like a statue (another confusing lesson if an adult doesn’t provide guidance).

earthangel's avatar

my son past and his children and nephew and niece went to his funeral.
we are a very close family and surely it helped the healing for his nephew who was his side kick.
There are usally two rooms or more ,the children can sit in another room.
if they are mature enough and need closer and choose to view there close loved one .
We as adults must not only give them the choice, but prepare them for that choice.
if it is someone not close to the child i see no harm in not including them.

avvooooooo's avatar

I think it all depends on who the deceased was in relation to the child and if they might need a sense of closure. If they’re old enough to remember the person later in life and its someone they were reasonably close to (not like a teacher, but like a grandparent), I think its important for kids to have the same kind of closure that a funeral gives to adults. That’s what the ceremony is all about, a chance to say goodbye. If the events of the day are explained to the child, I dare say its far less traumatic for children to attend the event than to be left sitting home not knowing what’s going on.

On the other hand, I do not think that viewings where the deceased is on display, nor open casket funerals, are always the best environment for children no mater who died. I think that seeing dead people is something that can really bother a lot of kids and that needs to be taken into consideration when taking about taking a child to anything having to do with a dead person.

I remember my maternal grandmother dying when I was 8. I was allowed to go to the funeral, but I remember that I felt like I was being abandoned by my parents as well as my grandmother when I wasn’t allowed to go to the graveside. Its a very confusing time or a child and anything that helps them to understand what’s going on and to have the closure that everyone needs is what’s best for any child. When my paternal grandfather died when I was four, however, I don’t remember being left out of anything or feeling abandoned. The age and maturity level, as well as the closeness to the deceased and the type of services going on, determine what involvement children should have in the funerary customs.

sakura's avatar

on the subject of wakes not sure where each of you hail from but here in the UK when my uncle died just recently family could go and see him in the morgue and funeral home, then we had the funeral service itself follwed by prayers at the grave side, then we all went to the local parish centre and had drinks and food and talked about my uncle, passed around a rememberance book so we could all write our memories of him down.. it was a much less sombre affair than the funeral as we were celebrating the life he had

On the subject in hand children at funerals, I agree with what some have already said, if they are directly related to the family member and know to stay still and keep quite at appropriate times then if the desceased relatives agree I suppose so,especially if they sit near the back and slip out when getting noisy.

As for a friend of a friend then maybe not, perhaps pop in a bit earlier /later and pay repects? If it’s a closed casket I’m guessing it would be easier than an open one.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. A fidgety or fussy child I would leave with a sitter. However, as soon as my future offspring can understand and speak 5 whole sentances they will get their life lesson on death started. And I am sure there will be plenty of times to bring it up without a tramatic situation, the fish dies, the hamster passes away, death on a nature show on TV. They will also know like in school if there is an event, a play, a speech etc they have to sit still if not sit still and be attentive, so when funerals happen they will know what to expect and what is expected of them.

gailcalled's avatar

Belated edit; rending of garments.

abbielou182's avatar

It depends, if the child is closely related or just close to the deceased person. I myself believe that children should knkow about death young, like my brother, our mother died when he was 3 and he understood by the time of 5.

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