The death of a loved one is a tremendously painful situation for the family and closest friends. Rituals such as funerals and funeral homes are rejected, but for other people it is a ceremony that helps them, little by little, to cope and begin to accept the loss . In these situations, when we have to go to a wake or funeral and we have small children, or they are close family of the deceased person, we have a question: can children attend these rituals, or is it better that they not witness it? Surely you have seen someone criticize that there are adults who come with children to this type of event, or you yourself have been the subject of controversy. For this reason, we will clarify what experts in child psychology think about this matter.
Death is something natural and that all living beings in general, and humans in particular, have in common. However, the way we understand, cope with and accept death differs greatly between individuals, families, cultures, and even moments in time . In itself, death is not something that has to generate a trauma in children, but the way in which we teach them that part of reality and of our nature is very important . In fact, they are more prepared than we think to face this type of event. Not so many years ago it was common for children to attend these funeral rituals, they saw the dead, they were watched in their own homes and prayed for them. But today death has moved from home to hospitals and mortuaries, so that children do not have to meet it necessarily.
There are many people who, intuitively, or because of the very meaning that death has for them, consider that exposing the little ones to a farewell ritual of this type is harmful for them. It is not something that we should reproach, but that each father and mother does what they think is best for their sons and daughters . However, if what you have are doubts, you should not fear taking your children to a funeral or a mortuary. The way in which we do it will depend on the age of the creature, since its idea of death and the way in which we must explain it will change as it grows .
BOYS AND GIRLS FROM 0 TO 3 YEARS
At this age, children do not have proof of what death is, and they will not understand it no matter how much we explain it to them. In that case, if we need to go to a funeral home for a few minutes to offer condolences and leave, but we cannot leave the baby with someone else, we can take them. A long time would imply that the baby or child begins to cry or becomes overwhelmed if he sees many people,
BOYS AND GIRLS FROM 3 TO 6 YEARS
At this age, children can begin to understand that a person who has died is not coming back. But we must explain it very clearly and simply, and with direct language, without giving rise to double meanings. If we tell them that their grandmother or uncle “have left”, they may not understand it (has he gone where? When will he return? person has died and he will not return. At those ages they may believe that death is reversible, so we can clarify it better by saying that the body of the deceased person has stopped working. It may be difficult for them to understand it, but for this it is important to answer honestly and simply to all the questions that they may ask us.. If we are religious, we can use the expression that that person “has died and gone to heaven, a place from which they cannot return but where they will be happy.”
As for going to the funeral home or funeral , experts recommend that this decision should be made exclusively by the child. We will tell you that it is a place to say goodbye to the person, if it is someone close . There it is very important to always be by their side, speak calmly and answer all their questions. We will explain what a funeral home is and what you will see there: people who gather to say goodbye to the deceased person, flowers, etc. and that people are crying because they are sad. It is better that it is at a time when there are few people and they are known. This will be enough for the child to say goodbye, and if a lot of people are going to attend the funeral, then it is better that we leave them at home with a trusted person.
BOYS AND GIRLS FROM 6 TO 9 YEARS
At this age we will take into account the same recommendations as in previous ages, although now they will better understand what death is and that the deceased person will not return. But if they have never been to a mortuary or funeral, we will do the same: explain what it is, what they will see there, how the people in the room feel, that the deceased person is in a box, etc. Same thing at the funeral .
We will ask them if they want to attend or not and we will always respect their decision, be it positive or negative. They are already prepared to participate in funeral rituals, so we must allow them, if they want, to do whatever they want to say goodbye to the deceased (for example, some draw a picture, bring a toy as a gift, etc.). It is true that there are occasions when in the funeral home the deceased’s box is open and can be seen. Children must choose whether they want to see it or not , and answer, as we said, any question. If they notice that their parents, or their caregivers, are calm and collected, they will not see it as a traumatic experience.
Regarding the emotions of other people , we must anticipate that they will be crying because they will miss the deceased person. However, it is not pleasant when one of the relatives expresses their feelings by screaming or in some other way, so in that case it is better that the children do not witness it.
FROM THE AGE OF 9
Boys and girls from the age of 9 are already fully aware of death and their way of coping with it is similar to that of adults. We will let them express themselves as they need, and we have to explain to them that in the face of death there are people who cry and others who do not, and that each one reacts in a different way, and that they should not feel bad about how they do it. If this is the first time you have faced a loss of this type, we will explain how to behave in the funeral home and at the funeral , and what it will be like, so that you go safely.
Again, the child will have questions . Different from those of younger children, but at the end of the day they are somewhat puzzled. We can cry with them or show them our surprise and shock at what happened, so that they understand that they are normal feelings. They may not want to go to the funeral home, funeral or burial, so we must respect their decision.
THE TIME OF BURIAL
The funeral home and the funeral is one thing, but what about the burial? In this case, although psychologists indicate that it is possible to explain in advance what it is like and what will happen at the funeral, at this specific moment, so painful , we can choose if we do not want our children to attend. It is the phase of the rituals in which those close to the deceased suffer the most , they may have more expressive reactions, such as screaming or disconsolate crying, and we understand that we do not want our children to witness it. There are many adults who do not attend the funeral due to the discomfort that it generates.
If we want our children to begin to know death and all its ritual, then we can take them and explain everything before, during and after the burial.
CHILDREN PREFER TO PARTICIPATE
One of the reasons why it is positive that children go to funeral homes and funerals is that they feel part of the family ritual when the deceased is close. They will also suffer for not seeing that person again, so pushing them away without them wanting to stay out of it can make them believe that their feelings are not on the same level as those of the rest of the family.
It also helps them say goodbye to the deceased, which is a transitional phase between the loss and getting used to living without the loved one . If not, they will go directly from having that person in their lives to knowing that they will never see them again, something that can be too abrupt.
As we said at the beginning, death is not seen in the same way in all cultures or in all temporal moments. Therefore, it does not suppose a trauma by itself , but the way in which we explain it to the children. If we try to hide death and not talk about it, it will come into children’s lives much more suddenly, and they may think that then, at any moment, someone close to them or even themselves may die.