Unhealthy to bury feelings

Good grief: Children need to experience the ritual surrounding death of someone close.

Children need to go to funerals, says Helen O’Callaghan.

CHILDREN want to attend the funerals of loved ones, and regret it if they don’t, says Mary Lynch, helpline coordinator with Barnardos Children’s Bereavement Service.

She says it’s beneficial for children to attend the funeral of a parent, sibling or grandparent; but she understands why some parents want to keep their children away.

“They do it out of concern — they don’t want children witnessing adults being sad,” Lynch says. But funerals are an important part of grieving.

“Children need parents to teach them how to be in this territory of grieving. Funerals allow us to say goodbye in a very ritualised, supported way. They acknowledge the importance of the loved-one in the lives of others and provide an opportunity for the person to be publicly remembered.

“Children are part of the family community. Particularly when a loved one dies, they should be included in the funeral. It helps them say goodbye. They feel a part of it all,” says Lynch.

Children should be provided with three elements when going to a funeral — information, support, and choice (when old enough to make a choice). Children can choose whether to go or not, whether to stand at the back and not view the body, or to take a break during the funeral. Even if they choose not to attend, include them in the after-service gathering.

But to make a choice, children need information. Point out what a funeral is and what being dead means.

“Explain that the person is no longer breathing, they’re not asleep, their heart is not beating, their brain isn’t working. Explain that their colour will be different, because the blood is not going around the body and they won’t be moving.

“Explain the funeral parlour — it’s a special building and the body will be in a coffin at the top. Tell them there will be lots of people whom the children won’t know, but who knew the deceased. Explain that people will be sad and how long the funeral will take,” Lynch says.

Support during the funeral is essential. If it’s a parent who has died and the other grieving parent won’t be fully available to support the child during the service, nominate someone whom the child knows and trusts.

¦ Barnardos Children’s Bereavement Service is for anyone who has concerns about a bereaved child. Phone 01-4732110; free booklets and referral for bereavement support.


¦ Information in advance, and support during the funeral, are vital to assist the child.

¦ Include children in the ritual — read poem, bring up gift.

¦ Use the words ‘dead’ and ‘died’.

¦ Answer questions honestly in child-friendly language.


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