Death, Funeral, Wakes Etc

Updated on September 17, 2012
K.G. asks from Hinesburg, VT
19 answers

My FIL is quite ill and I am lookng ahead to see what age you let kids participate (attend) wakes/funeral for a close family member. The kids are 4 and 5 1/2. I not inclined to keep them away from any events, but wondering any positive or negative experiences you have experienced.

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So What Happened?

Well, wanted to first thank everyone who answered, and I agree that the kids would and should be included as much as they could in any funeral/wake services. Very helpful to hear from different perspectives. That being said, my stubborn FIL is still fighting the fight. He finally agreed to some medical attention and had 3 cardiac stents placed this AM. Thanks to all for taking the time to share your experiences!

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answers from St. Louis on

My kids have gone to funerals since the day they were born. I see no need to shelter them from death. Well that and their father's family owns funeral homes so they think it is perfectly normal.

Still I have observed funeral homes, imagine that, right? Kids of all ages go and have no issues.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Okay... so there's been a lot of death in my/my son's life since he was little. Oftentimes at least 2-3 per year.

There is no magic age. At least not for us.

Sometimes I took him, sometimes I didn't. Same kid. Same year. Went to a wake in Sept, but then not in Feb. Went to a wake and a funeral in March, but then just a wake (skipped funeral), and then just a funeral (skipped the wake), then skipped both.

TOTALLY depended on the situation at hand, in that moment.

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answers from Boston on

I think it will be a blessing for the ones that loved him to see his grand children playing. It enforces the cycle of life and allows some joy into the sad situation.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

When my father passed away, my kids were 9, 7, and 5..... we gave each of them the option of going in to the funeral service. My 9 and 5 yr old both went in, but the 7 year old decided to stay in the nursery with her 6 week old brother.. (there was a nursery worker as well).

Just explain that at the service, people will be talking about grandpa, and the things he did and what he meant to people. Some people may be crying, because they are sad that he is gone. Emphasize that it is ok to cry... or if they feel they need to leave, to just say something quietly to whomever they are sitting by, and they will be taken out.

If they don't want to go in, then that is ok, also.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My Dad died in February and my not quite 3 year old grandson (who I am raising) attended the memorial and funeral. He had no problems. He attended a viewing of our next door neighbor three weeks ago, again no problems. And he will be going to the viewing of my Dad's lifelong best friend this coming Tuesday.

I believe it is in how you present it. I did it matter-of-factly, he saw Tata dying during hospice and I explained he was very sick and would soon be going to heaven. He still tells me he misses him and I tell him that's OK, and I tell him that Tata still loves him, we just can't see him in heaven. At the viewing he knew it was his friend's dad and he knew he'd been sick. My parents didn't allow me to go to my grandmother's services when I was 5.5 and it took me many years to let go of the feeling of being "left out."

And something our hospice social worker gave me said that if a child is old enough to love they are old enough to grieve. Services help through the grieving process, children see sadness is normal.

My condolences on your upcoming loss.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I am so sorry he is so ill.

Have your children still been able to visit him? are they making drawings for him. etc.. ?

I love the book "Lifetimes" Purchase it now and begin reading it.. then explain how old and ill grandfather is. They will be prepared. No need to over share. Your children will ask questions based on what they are wondering..

I was raised that everyone goes to the funeral. The children see family and friends come together, they mourn, they honor and then they support each other.. and then we all gather for a meal and move on.. You can explain expected behaviors. You can explain what they are going to see. Be prepared to take them out if they are too noisy. It is just like any church service to the child. so treat it as such. I always took some books, paper and colors with a small drink and snack for just in case.

An example when our daughter was in preschool, one of the moms was killed in a car accident! It was so awful. I purchased some different books and we talked a little.. A few days later..on her own, the only question our daughter asked was "How will he go to the store? He is too little to drive a car?"

I told her, "well he is going to live with his grandparents, so they will drive him,. " After a few minutes she asked, but what if they die?" I said, "well he will come and live with us, and i will take him to the store." She said. "That is a good plan."

She never mentioned anything again..

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I say it depends on your child.

We've had 4 funerals in the last 2 years. My kids attended the ones for their Great Grandma and for one of the Great Uncles but not the other Great Uncle. And, they skipped the funeral for the young uncle who died tragically.

All of these deaths were on my husbands side of the family. They were all catholic, and yes, my children were expected to be there.

But, my oldest son (who is now 7) really internalizes and worries about death. After the last death (the tragic accidental death) we opted to not bring any of our children because my oldest was taking it so hard. He was sick to his stomach (and actually threw up once) when we were having a family talk about the funeral. We decided family expectations or not our children were too little to attend.

My kids cousins on the other hand, didn't seem to be fazed by the whole thing... so it seems to be pretty kid specific.

I also posted some questions and got great responses on this forum.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

It depends on your culture. We're from a Catholic community and have big families. People would be offended if we didn't bring our children unless they were ill or had school or something. (And even then, school isn't always a good excuse.) Our church has a cry room for parents to take small children if necessary, and all of the older relatives like having the little ones at the luncheon and stuff afterwards.

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answers from Boston on

I'm sorry for what you're going through. In my family, it's normal and expected that children of all ages participate in services that mark someone's death. My kids have gone to open-casket wakes, closed-casket wakes, funeral Masses, non-denominational memorial services, grave-side services, etc. even when they were very small. I think that given that this is their grandfather, people would expect and be fine with their presence but let your husband have the final say.

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answers from Charlotte on

K., I'm so sorry about your FIL. I think the answer to your question depends on what your families are like. Are they reserved kind of people? What is their religion? Where will the funeral/wake be held?

What are your kids like? Are they boisterous? Can they be still? Have they been to church before and know to sit still?

If you have to keep taking them out because they are loud or won't sit still, it may be best to ask someone to watch them in a Sunday school class during the service.

You might ask your MIL how she feels about it when the time comes.


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answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm sorry about your FIL. I assume they see him & know him well?
Prepare them now. "The doctors are doing/giving things to help him but he is very very sick and sometimes when people are so very I'll, it's not enough...". Also explain what you believe happens when people die and hat the body is a shell left behind.
There's a good book called Lifetimes for kids about death and the cycle of living things.
All the best.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My kids have been to two services. The first was when my older son was about 10 months. It was a very formal Catholic service for my husband's aunt. He slept for most of the service, made a few tiny noises, but was perfect overall. Aunt Olive was older and many of her older friends plus a lot of church people were there. He was one of very few kids and the youngest by far. All I heard was how wonderful it was to see him, how Olive was so thrilled to have a boy in the family to carry on the family name, etc, all very positive. The second service was this past June, for one of my dads. It was a very informal memorial. One of the very best parts was taking a photo of all of Dad's grandkids and grand nephews/nieces in the back of his '70, mint green Ford pickup. I think there had to be 25 kids in a big giggly pile. I love that one mental image of his legacy.

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answers from Houston on

That's tough! It really depends. I attended a Catholic funeral that was not very child friendly, it was very stoic and there were no children there (it was for a great, great uncle, so much older people). Then I have been to others that are less formal and children were very welcomed. Then I have been to some that were very formal, but the memorial was more child friendly, so the kids went to that part and not the funeral. I think it really depends on your family! If it were my children's grandpa, they would certainly go to the funeral, I would quietly remove them from the service as needed if they became rowdy, but mine are pretty used to sitting quietly during church service, and they know all about death. So, it depends on the kids... I went to a funeral once where the mom allowed her toddler to run around screaming, crying, stomping around, laughing and crying for a good 20+ minutes. Now that was inappropriate and upsetting.



answers from San Diego on

I was raised that we should always go to weddings and funerals so that is how I'm raising my kid's as well. They have gone to several family viewings and funerals and they are fine with them. When they were your children's age it was explained to them that the family member is in heaven and we miss and love him/her, and it's ok to be sad. My husband was raised that the person had already passed to what was the point of bringing a child to the funeral, so he grew not experiencing death. He wasn't told of his Grandfather's passing until after the funeral and to this day he has regrets that he wasn't there to say goodbye.

I'm sorry about your FIL's pending passing. My heart goes out to you and your family.



answers from Oklahoma City on

I started going to funerals when I was a toddler. It is one of those things that just happened.

I would sincerely tell you that your kids do NOT need to go to the actual funeral or see the body, the casket, the room where it is, nothing like that. They are just too young. I would not let my granddaughter see anyone dead until she's a teen. She is just to "deep". She takes a long time to process stuff and mulls it over. She would dwell on that experience and that pictures would be firmly ingrained in her brain.

I think that the family activities where they are all gathered, even talking about the deceased person would be okay, they are not really going to "get" it until later that this person is gone.



answers from El Paso on

I took both of my daughters (3 years old and 7 months old at the time) to my grandmother's funeral. I did NOT take them to the wake service, but we went to the funeral and the after-luncheon. Admittedly, we're Catholic, so a funeral service isn't much different from regular Sunday Mass, aside from the obvious addition of the funeral parts. My older daughter (3 1/2 ish now) understands that her great-grandma died, but I don't recall how much I told her at the time. It may have been after all of the services that I explained what had happened. My family is large, and all kids of all ages have always been at the funerals.



answers from St. Louis on

both of my sons have attended all funerals, wakes, & memorials since babyhood. Death is a part of life, & the earlier you expose them to it....the better their understanding will be. It's okay to let them see grief, it's okay to let them see raw emotion. This is how they will learn.

At age 12, my younger son was a pall bearer for his beloved Gma. I was so proud of him. He was the youngest, & he carried himself well throughout the entire Mass. It was a very special moment to see all of the grandsons performing their duties.

During this funeral, my older son was 21. He cracked the law down upon one of the younger cousins....who'd decided while sitting with the pall bearers (his cousins) that he would not partake in Communion. My older son leaned in & said, "oh, don't even think about it. You will pay respect for our Grandmother". Again, danged proud of him!

On the flip side, we have friends who sheltered their children from death. As adults, the parents simply were unable themselves to function at funerals & believed their children also unable. It was such a mistake, such a misstep! The children never learned how to mourn properly, never learned to release emotion, & adults now, openly berate their parents for making the process so difficult. They swear they will raise their children in a manner which will teach them how to cope with life & death.

& to me, that's what parenting is all about....allowing our children to achieve Peace through coping with Life & Death.



answers from New York on

Sadly, we have had quite a few deaths in our immediate family in the last 3 years so we've experienced this with our (now 4 yr old) son. My FIL died 18 months ago and my son (3.5) attended the service, the burial and the luncheon following. He did not attend the wake. It was an open casket and I did not feel that he could handle it. He did very well at the services and I wouldn't change my decision. We talked about death at that time and what it meant and the permanency of death. I think attending helped him to understand what was going on and helped him to understand our family's sadness.

We did not take him when he was younger. My nephew died when my son (and he) were 2. Way too young to understand and frankly my SIL needed her brother to be fully present to support her through the three days. My son is a loving little guy, but he would have been a distraction to my husband and to me.

At your children's ages, not only do I think they will be OK, but participating in the process of death and dying may really help them to understand what has happened.

Take care of your family and whatever you decide is the right decision here!



answers from Austin on

Wakes are not a problem for us, but the actual funeral depends on a lot of things. The kids themselves, of course - both of my children understand, and are okay with it, but there are other things, too.

My oldest daughter went to my grandfather's funeral - she was three - no trouble, but then, her daddy went, too, and he was able to help her when she got antsy. I couldn't attend to her, because I was attending to my mom and my grandfather's girlfriend (practically part of the family).

However, if we are going to a funeral of someone we are not particularly close to, I am NOT taking my oldest. She doesn't do well sitting still, at all - she would be miserable, and so would the people sitting around us. At church, she does okay, because we go to contemporary services that have a lot of dancing and music - but funerals don't tend to be quite so rambunctious.

Also, it depends on whether I will be able to attend to the kids. My mother really needed my emotional support that day - she doesn't do well at funerals anyway, and this was her father; and my grandfather's girlfriend was literally leaning on my shoulder. I couldn't carry around DD. Be aware when you go to the funeral - you will be on kid duty, because you husband will be dealing with other things.

I am very sorry to hear of your family's impending loss. Prayers for healing and peace coming your way.

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