Do Children Belong At Funerals?

November 11, 2015  |  

I had the unfortunate pleasure of taking my babies to a funeral this summer. At the time, our oldest was 18-months-old and our youngest was three-months-old. We wrestled with whether or not our girls belonged at a funeral, but we finally decided to take them for our peace of mind. In other words, we did not want to grieve and worry about their well-being with a sitter simultaneously.

What do you think? Do children belong at funerals?

According to the Associated Press, 2.5 million Americans died in 2014. This equates to less than one percent of the United States population. This also means that it is less likely that you will have to attend a funeral in any given year. This is a broad perspective not accounting for age, race, and lifestyle, which do increase your risks of knowing someone who has died.

Funerals for the most part are not fun. How ironic given the first three letters in the word. Funerals are shocking, because it’s not every day that most Americans encounter a dead body. Funerals are sad due to the abundance of tears from weeping loved ones. Funerals can also be hilarious and celebratory. I find these types of home going ceremonies to be rare, especially in the African American community.

No matter the tone at a funeral, the event itself is necessary, but it is the least prepared for event by most Americans. LexisNexis reports: 55 percent of Americans do not have a will or an estate plan in place. This number increases to 68 percent for African Americans. Having been included in the funeral planning process of over 10 people, I would consider myself a funeral expert. I have witnessed time and time again the deliberation regarding paying for the death of a loved one. The first question asked when anyone dies, after the initial shock and sobs, is “who is paying for the funeral?”

If we as adults are rarely prepared for death, it makes sense that most parents lack a protocol for whether or not the presence of their child is appropriate at a funeral. This also includes lacking the ability to speak with our children about death.

I remember attending a funeral as a kid. I remember, because it was the first time I saw my family members publically emoting pain. I also remember wanting to be there. I wanted to support my family and I wanted to understand what it meant that my relative had died.

Interestingly enough, Helen Mackinnon, a child bereavement specialist, notes that she has never come across an adult who regretted going to a funeral as a kid.

My children are babies. They most likely will not remember attending this particular funeral. But there will come a time when they will ask about death and the relationship between how one lives their life and how they die. Having so many experiences with death, I am anticipating these conversations. I do not believe in shielding our children from the truth and realities of life. I do not believe it serves them well.

As they grow older, I will give them the right to voice their opinion. “No, I don’t wish to attend this event, mommy.” If this is their stance, I will respect it, but I will request to understand their reasoning. In my opinion, death is an inescapable truth. The more comfortable we become with this reality the more prepared we are to respond to circumstances that impact our lives regarding death.

For my husband and me, the decision to take our girls was weighted by logistics, but I don’t believe we would have chosen differently if we had other options. The age of our children, their relationship to the deceased, and/or prior engagements, none of that mattered.

Staring at the lifeless body of someone you love for two hours can be described as traumatizing. But there we sat, my husband, and our girls, new life, new hope, new possibilities, love, and new joy. For me, the only way to overcome the heartache and heartbreak of death is to focus on living better than before.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience. She resides in Philadelphia, Pa with her Husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace. Clarissa is also an expert in impact investing. She is the Communications Associate at Impact America Fund.

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