A member of the church or your family has died. Should you bring the kids to the funeral? Or will it be too much for them? Too much to explain? Too much emotion? Too much worry? Too much burden on their young hearts? This is hard enough for an adult, perhaps we shouldn’t burden our kids with all that during their childhood. Perhaps we should just leave them at home.
As a parent, so many factors go in to deciding what is the right way to raise your children to be healthy adults. And it can be complicated, and very messy at times. And so any parent who weighs all the options and chooses what they think is best for their kids is doing the right thing.
But if you’re on the fence about bringing your children to funerals, or if you’ve never thought reflectively about it before, let me make a plug: I believe it is very beneficial to bring your kids to funerals. Of course, that’s only if they are open to it. Forcing them to go might, of course, be harmful (though I would argue differently when it comes to Sunday morning worship – but that’s for a different post!)
Why is it helpful to bring children to funerals?
Especially if the deceased is not a family member, attending funerals as children is way to engage in practice grief. It’s a way to wade into the grieving process by observing others grieve. The Burial of the Dead liturgy the church uses is very powerful, and in itself can be very emotional, whether you were close to the deceased or not. If the first time you ever attend a funeral is as an adult for someone you were very close to, the beauty and power of the liturgy could be almost overwhelming. But if you’ve had some “practice” – if you’ve gone to enough funerals to at least be familiar with the liturgy before it’s someone you’re close to – then the funeral liturgy is like an old familiar friend to help guide you through your darkest moments of grief.
When my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 50, the liturgy of her funeral service was of great comfort to me, because I knew it by memory. But, don’t get me wrong. It was still very emotional. I didn’t “hold it together” in her service. I cried openly – even leaning on my dad’s shoulder and sobbing like a child.
The high emotions at a funeral are not something to be avoided. In fact, that is part of the purpose of a funeral. It provides the safe space for the release of true and heartfelt grief that must be felt as part of the grieving process. And I knew it was OK for me to cry like my heart had been wrenched out of my chest – because I had seen it before. Years earlier, my mom’s cousin had died, and I had seen her daughter put her head between her knees and cry in agony at the loss of her mother. That image came back to me in my own grief, and I knew I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t feel like I had to keep all that emotion locked inside. That funeral, and all the funerals I had been to prior to the age of 20 (the age I was when my mom died), helped prepare me for the hardest funeral of my young life.
The funeral service is the church’s farewell to the deceased, our final worship with them on earth until we join them in the Church Triumphant in glory. The funeral service is also a chance to show our support to the immediate family of the bereaved. It means so much to the family to see a church full of people who loved their family member, and who love and support them in their time of grief. But the funeral service is also for us. It is a time of closure, a safe time for the release of the sadness we feel at the loss, a time to praise God for the hope we have in the Resurrection, so that we can go forward from that day, not repressing our grief or trying to “hold it together,” but living into that hope until we, too, join the Church Triumphant.
All of this is not to say that your child should be at the funeral. As I said above, given various circumstances, it might not be right for you or your child at this particular moment. But, if you hadn’t considered it before, I hope this gives you some food for thought at the importance of attending funerals in childhood – both to give them the opportunity to grieve properly at this age for this person, and to help them be able to face the grief that will inevitably come when they get to be adults – freeing them up to live into the hope of the Resurrection we confess.