Children at funerals

What is the advantage in taking young children to funerals?  In my humble opinion, their presence exposes them to indelible images that may later prove even harder to deal with.

I was raised in the Deep South during the 1950’s and our culture of dealing with death and the departed included the family’s insistence on an open casket if at all possible.  Coffin lids were closed only in cases of extreme disfigurement.  After the service at the home of family members or in the church social hall where casseroles were consumed, much was made over how the deceased appeared in death.  “Didn’t she look good?  And words meant to be a comfort – “They did such a good job with his hair, didn’t they?  Looked just like he did last week.”

Funerals were loud affairs with sobbing and moans mixed in among the amens and exhortations from the preacher.  Demonstrations of grief were many and varied.  Eulogists offered proclamations about the virtues of the departed while singers invariably waved handkerchiefs around – using them to mop sweat during humid summer events  or to dab tears away when the singer knew the departed, and sometimes a handkerchief was merely one more dramatic device. 

Good music at our funerals was a matter of pride and if a home congregation didn’t boast singers of the right caliber, a call went out to find someone who could offer the best interpretation of the songs the family chose.  A funeral was quite a show and I guess our people considered them a healthy way to get it all out, because folks would respond to a wail with, “That’s right!  Let it go, sister!”

Children attended these services.  I was a child myself when my preacher-father required me to sing at funerals.  Very soon (I started singing at funerals at the age of 9) I learned to avert my eyes because gazing on a coffin, even when I’d never met the departed, was disconcerting.

Some people today believe that taking children to funerals provides “closure” or at least a step toward that desired condition.  I believe nothing can provide closure to a fatherless or motherless child.  Of course many parent-less children grow up to thrive and even devote resources to championing help for other children without parents.

But all of this is to say that I wouldn’t voluntarily open up a discussion with a young child based on the theme, “He’s gone and he’s never coming back.”  Those discussions will come soon enough and will likely last a lifetime.

Ó Anita Garner

4 thoughts on “Children at funerals”

  1. Such a sad and difficult subject. Your very personal perspective confirms my feelings. I would never force a child to go to a funeral and in fact, I might not allow it.

  2. When I was five my grandfather died. I watched from the
    window as others departed for the funeral. I was told
    that I would see him again when I died. For years I
    wished for death so I could see him again. Another
    point to take children to funerals so they can finally
    say goodbye.

  3. Well that is exactly the other side of the discussion – and there are plenty of people who say that’s the reason they take children to funerals. It’s interesting how each of our childhood experiences had a completely different outcome.

  4. My gut feeling is that funerals are tough enough for adults to deal with, much less putting a small child through one of those final ceremonies.

    I remember when I was a kid of a boy back in ’52ish – the neighbor lady across the fence, Mrs. Tuck, passed away. At her funeral later that week I remember my mom lifting me up as the line of people passed by to pay last respects to Mrs. T. in her coffin. To this day, I can still see, in my mind’s eye, that initial image of the first time I saw an acutal person who’d passed away. It was at once, startling, unnerving and — a bit scary. Especially when you’re barely 7.

    The adults in attendance all made the usual comments about “what a dear lady she was, etc.” But as I sat there listening … I still had this slightly “creepy” feeling as to what I’d just viewed.

    Today, I think that’s why I still don’t like the smell of fresh cut flowers. The initial aroma instantly reminds me of that afternoon with Mrs. Tuck.

    I won’t go into all the funerals I attended over the many years that followed. Let it be enough to say that I’m fortunate most of them were what Anita calls … “closed coffin.”

    In the end when my dog Duke died in ’76 (yes, Mom and I gave him a regular burial and funeral at a top notch cemetery in Huntington Beach) his send-off ceremony was … “closed coffin” as well. I had no stomach or desire to “see him one last time.” Certainly not in his final state.

    And when Mom passed on later in ’87? Same closed lid ceremony. I’d discussed my feeling on the matter with her years before and .. she heartily agreed. Her wish was that I remember her as a living soul; not laying still in a … forever resting box.”

    Selfish? Maybe. But my memories are, if nothing else … a bit more … alive.

    And that’s just the way it is. But as the ad says: “your results may vary.”

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