Rituals, like a funeral or scattering ashes in a special place, are an important way for families to say goodbye to someone who has died. Children may also benefit from the chance to remember that person or say goodbye. It can also help them express their grief and share it with others. However, funerals and what they mean will raise questions about what happens to the body, and what happens next.
The funeral is an important opportunity to acknowledge the death, and for people to come together, either as a family or as a community. It is also a ceremony for remembering and sharing moments, both of the person’s life, and also our own moments.
It can be extremely difficult if families are in a position to make decisions collectively about a final resting place for a relative. It is often very hard for adults to talk about burning a body and they may feel they need to keep these conversations hidden from children and young people. Using descriptions that are simple and easier to understand, such as ‘the body is placed into somewhere very hot and turns into ashes’ or ‘the body is covered and placed in the ground and turns into soil’ could be helpful.
Younger children do not understand the concept of death, and experience death as absence. On hearing about burial, children may worry that the dead person might be hurt during a cremation or get cold and hungry in the coffin. In this instance, it may be useful to use natural, life cycle references to the body, and explain that they no longer feel cold, or need food.
There will be lots of discussion about whether the children and young people attend and take part in funerals. Evidence shows that if children are well prepared and supported, attending a funeral can be helpful and makes them feel part of what’s happened, and their own feelings acknowledged.
What is most important is showing that grown-ups can come together, showing children and young people that they can make decisions collectively.
Grief Encounter provide free, accessible support for grieving children, young people and their families. Please call our grieftalk helpline on 0808 802 0111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also chat with us on www.griefencounter.org.uk. We are open 9am – 9pm weekdays, providing free, confidential advice, support and resources.