Taking a 16-Month-old to a Funeral?

Updated on August 23, 2009
L.H. asks from Durham, NC
35 answers

Hi everyone -

My aunt passed away a few days ago - she was in her early 50s and it was a complete shock to everyone. They're still not sure cause of death but they think it was maybe a heart attack. I have a very small extended family, and we were really close with her even though we live out of state. She loved my daughter and was always giving her books and stuffed animals and things. In fact we had just vacationed with her last month. The funeral is this weekend and we need to travel for it. There is no one who can watch my daughter since we are all planning to go to the viewing and the funeral. I think my family will want her to come with us - she's the princess and the light of everyone's lives right now. She's still so young that I know she won't be able to understand what's going on or remember it. Has anyone ever done this? Do you all think it's ok to bring her? I would keep her away from the casket and mainly be there to visit with our surviving relatives. She's typically very well behaved as long as she has cheerios or something to keep her occupied and she always sits with us in church rather than going to the nursery. I think she would bring a smile to everyone's faces as we remember my aunt... I'm definitely going to ask family members what they think first. The only option would be for my husband to stay back at the house with her, but he loved my aunt too and would want to go to the funeral activities.

Thanks in advance for your help - L.

What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thanks to all who responded for your advice and condolences - I did take my daughter to the wake and the funeral, and I was so glad I did. It made my Great Aunt (mother of the deceased) so happy to see my daughter there, and my daughter did wonderfully. The casket was closed which made it easier on everyone I think. It was good to have the whole family there to remember my Aunt. She was a wonderful lady with a hilarious sense of humor - she made all of our gatherings more fun. We will miss her greatly.

Featured Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

B.C.

answers from Nashville on

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking her. I live in a small town and that is the "norm". When children are big enough to ask questions and not understand it is a different story but at 16 months it will be fine. She may be able to put joy on the faces of the people who are greiving.

Edit My Answer
1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.S.

answers from Charlotte on

I would do it. I took my daugther who was about 10 months old to a funeral and it was a nice distraction for everybody. Even thought there are people greiving, its amazing how a little can just light up a room in an instance.

Edit My Answer
1 mom found this helpful

More Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

R.B.

answers from Nashville on

My daughter is 4 1/2 and has been to two viewings so far. The first was her step great grandfather who she and I had never met but my husband lived with when he was little. She did fine, didn't seem to know exactly what was going on, just that Meme kept hugging and kissing on her. We didn't attend the funeral because it was too far away but everyone in my husbands family thanked us for bringing her because she brought a little life and sunshine into a sad occasion. The second one was for my step father-in-law who she knew as Papa Tony. I took her to the viewing and once again she was a great comfort to the family. I didn't take her to the funeral because I didn't think she could handle the sitting still and being quiet. Everyone asked where she was and said I should have brought her. I'm not sure she really understands death yet, although she does talk about the goldfish at preschool that died and they flushed him.

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

W.M.

answers from Louisville on

L.,
I would absolutely take her. My mother took me everywhere and explained everything too me. She let me touch the people and ask questions and she answered the best she could. I remember this when I was very small.
My Papaw died when my oldest was your daughter's age and she was a welcomed distraction for many. She made us laugh, cry and appreciate life. People would talk about her and how precious she was which helped keep us from being so overwhelmingly sad. I know this is very difficult for you all. Please know how incredibly sorry I am for your loss.
Bless you.

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.T.

answers from Charlotte on

First, I am sorry about the loss of your aunt. Unexpected loss is particularly challenging. At this age, kids are too young to really know what is going on in a funeral, though it may help set groundwork for that time when you do have to explain death to your child.

A couple months ago my grandmother passed away and though we were not close, there were a lot of complicated situations that occurred (breaking the news to my mom - her daughter - and going to the funeral). Bringing my then 10 month old daughter along gave everyone a reason to smile and a way to break the tension.

Too, if you have other extended family members around, they may be able to take your daughter for a few minutes now and then to give you the chance to properly grieve your aunt. I hope this helps in some way.

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.M.

answers from Asheville on

I'm so sorry for your loss. I think you should bring her unless anyone has any objections. I agree with some of the posts that you can always take turns with your husband if she just needs to get outside for a bit. I DO NOT agree, however, with the post/posts suggesting that you let her see the body. 16 months is WAY too young. She will have plenty of time in her life to understand life and death. 16 months is not one of them. Again, so sorry and good luck.

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.P.

answers from Raleigh on

I would go ahead and take her to the funeral. Just be prepared to have to step out if she becomes fidgety or overly restless. I am so sorry for your loss.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.K.

answers from Knoxville on

Hi L.,
I would take her and not think twice about it. We took our son at about 18 months to a family member's funeral and he did fine (with cheerios and a pair of sunglasses). He made some noise during the service but no one seemed to mind and some people felt that it was a joy having him there because he brought some happiness to a sad occasion. If you feel like she is being disruptive, you can always take her outside of the service and walk around with her until she is a little more quiet. Hope it goes well. And I am sorry for your loss.
Cyndi

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.D.

answers from Nashville on

My son was about your daughter's age when we took him to my uncle's funeral. It helped everyone to have him to play with at the visitation. I just kept him away from the casket because he would not understand.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.C.

answers from Charlotte on

It sounds like your daughter will do fine at the funeral. Worst comes to worst, you or your husband can take a walk with her if she gets too fidgety.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.W.

answers from Lexington on

I have always taken our children to family funerals. I know some people don't. We even take our children up to the casket - if they want to go. Yes, they have had questions and we have tried to answer them honestly, but on their level and in words that are understandable to them. I would take items (book, doll, cheerios, a sippy with water) to help quietly occupy her. Funerals can be hard, but I think that they are harder for people who didn't learn to cope with them as children. I know some adults who didn't go to funerals as children and refuse to go as adults. My parents took me to family funerals when I was a child. I am sorry for your loss, your aunt sounds like a wonderful person and I am sure that you will miss her.

The one funeral we did not take our son to (he was 5 months old and an only child at that time). A cousin had just delivered a full-term baby that passed away during delivery. The funeral was out of state and our son was only breastfed at the time. Since, it was my husband's cousin my mom took a few vacation days from work and went and kept our son at a local hotel.

Have you thought about asking if someone you trust from your husbands' family could go with you just in case you need someone to help care for your daughter.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.K.

answers from Nashville on

You seem to have answered all the right concerns. Your daughter is well-behaved, knows how to sit with you in church, she is the light of everyone's lives, etc. Funerals are a time to say goodbye to someone we cared about, but where are there any rules that say a child cannot attend, especially of such a tender age where she will not know what is going on and even if they do know, death is a natural part of life that we all must learn to deal with. The only problem I see is explaining to her why people are crying... but then I think it is a good time to explain to her that sometimes people hurt or miss someone and that it is ok to show emotion (cry). I had two very good friends (both pastors) who taught me to rejoice at their death - that they were going to a better place and they wanted their funerals to be celebrations and not "doom and gloom". That was such a refreshing point of view! At my mother's funeral, all her grandchildren and great-great grandchildren were there! Family talked and visited and it was a great time of comfort and showing of love all around and yes, the babies, younger than yours, were a great joy to see - to remind us that life is a cycle, or circle if you will. There are births and there are deaths, but our families go on. Your concerns are valid ones and very respectful and for that you are to be commended, but take your daughter and allow her to spread her sunshine and love and be a comfort to your loved ones and to you. If they are too distraught, simply take her on to the next person or group of persons - just be aware if someone can't deal with her at a particular moment and don't be offended. If she acts up during the service, then your husband can take her out into the hallway and occupy her for a while. And most of all, my condolences to you and your family.

M.W.

answers from Charlotte on

first let me say that im sorry for your loss... my nephew was around the same age when my father, his grandfather passed and we took him to the veiwing and funeral. i think its important even though they are so young to get to say "goodbye" in their own ways...

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.G.

answers from Jacksonville on

I say go and quit worrying. Kids are really good at handling things we think they can't. I wouldn't expect any of my family to stay behind at a time like this. People need joy in their lives when these things happen. Take a deep breath and don't fret.

I'm very sorry for your loss we just lost my husbands Grandmother yesterday, and I understand all the things you are going through. Keep breathing.

D.B.

answers from Memphis on

I don't see that that would be a problem. She's young enough not to understand all that is going on and many would enjoy seeing her from what it seems by your post. I think your Aunt would love to know that she was there. I'm sorry for your loss.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.D.

answers from Knoxville on

First let me extend my condolences to you and your family. When my first daughter was around your daughter's age my stepdad passed away. :( I had to fly to the funeral and was not going to take her with me, but my mom threatened to not let me in her house if I didn't bring her. Anyway, it turns out that it was a really good thing for our family to have a little one around. My (step-)brothers and sister really enjoyed seeing her and loving on her. I think it is a nice distraction for everyone and helps them to smile a little. I don't think anyone was annoyed or offended by my daughters presence.

I hope this helps you a little.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.B.

answers from Clarksville on

I'm sorry for the loss of your aunt! I know that it is difficult to lose someone suddenly like that. It can make it equally difficult when you are trying to figure out how or whether to include small children in the funeral and other related events. That is something that should be determined by your family since it is usually out of respect to the family that people wouldn't bring young children into a funeral or viewing. The times we have had family members pass away since our children were born, we have only had one time when we were asked not to bring them into the service. During that funeral, a nursery was provided for the children since so many people had traveled there with kids. Other times we have taken them to both the viewing and the funeral service. Since the people involved have all been my family members, my husband always volunteers to take over with the kids if they get restless and need to be taken out, but for the most part we have both been able to participate.

In your shoes, I would feel out as many family members as possible, and see what their wishes are. Your husband can always bring your daughter and wait outside with her if someone has a problem with her coming in. That way, he is there even if he is not inside with you. (It also gives you a chance to swap with him so he too can pay his respects instead of leaving him out entirely.) I hope that you are able to find a solution that works for your family.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.L.

answers from Nashville on

There is no reason that you should not take your daughter. There is also no reason to keep her away from the casket. Just explain that she went to heaven to be with God. While she may not remember this later in life, sheilding it from her now only prolongs that at some point she is going to have to face that people die. My daughter is 12, she has a friend who has never been to a funeral, even her own grandmothers and she was not able to say goodbye because her parents sheilded her. A funeral is a time to celebrate the life and say goodbye, we all need it, not just the grown ups.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.B.

answers from Charlotte on

.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.R.

answers from Knoxville on

I would do the same thing, take some cheerios, books, whatever you usually take to church to occupy her. She will bring a smile to everyone and during a stress like this she will help everyone. God Bless and my sympathies to you and your family.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

N.G.

answers from Fayetteville on

L.,
I'm so sorry for your loss. Family is the most important thing. Your daughter is family. She's allowed to be there. You have the right idea to keep her from the viewing. It will be fine to take her as long as you keep her from running around the funeral home and keep her from disturbing everyone with loud noises. If she acts up, as I'm sure she will, just walk her outside for a bit.
When my son was small, I practiced saying, 'shhhh' with my finger up to my lips. He learned that seeing mommy do this meant it was quiet time. You may want to do this before or during your travel time. God bless!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.D.

answers from Greensboro on

Take her with you. We just went through this last month when my grandmother passed. We took our 2 year old and 4month old. My husband had to take the 2 year old outside about halfway through, but everyone was glad to see them. We live about 12 hours from the rest of the family.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.G.

answers from Nashville on

L.~ i am sure when you get this it will all be over. But, you absolutely did the right thing! 16 months old will not be afraid of a crowd of people. She is the youth and the light that makes them smile. To lose a loved one, sometimes it puts us in a sad and darkened emotion. It's hard to let go when you hold on so tight. But if we realize they are at peace now, no more pain and sorrow; then it can be comforting to you and your family. So come together and let them all know you love them. Tell them while they are still alive. If you have a special person in your life, send them flowers while they are alive and can enjoy them, not at their funeral where everyone just reads "from".. Celebrate life, and let that precious baby be your light. Thank god every day for your immediate family( your husband,baby, and parents). Always say i love you at least once a day. Never go to bed mad. Forgive one another. God bless ya.
Minister A. G.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.P.

answers from Memphis on

Definitely take her (but sit on an end, if possible, in case she doesn't behave). Your aunt was special to both you and your husband, and you should both be able to go.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.T.

answers from Fayetteville on

Hi L.,

Well, as you've mentioned, you really don't have any other choice but to bring her if you want to attend and you do. Being that this was such a shock to everyone, I think she will be a nice distraction for everyone and help them ease their grief and pain. She will not remember any of this, so I don't think you need to worry about her being traumatized. She will enjoy being the center of attention. While funerals are a chance to say goodbye to a loved one, they are also a chance to re-connect with family that you may not have seen in awhile and I'm sure they would love to see your child. I can't believe anyone would say anything, but if they do, just remind them that you could have stayed home with her instead. Please accept my condolences and enjoy your family. L.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

E.W.

answers from Chattanooga on

L.,

I am sorry for your loss, I know how it feels to lose someone suddenly. I will pray for you and your family.

Take her with you. She will not understand enough to be afraid. She will ask questions of why your aunt won't pay attention to her but just tell her she is sleeping. It is understandable for her age and she will bring a smile to everyones face. You will need that in the coming days.

I was very close to my mom and she was my daughters best friend. She died when Beth was 4, I took her and never regretted it. She even put her favorite pillow in the casket for her. My mom had broken her wrist and hip and in the hospital, Beth had brought her favorite little pillow fr grandma to rest her hand on, we buried her with it. Beth is 8 now and still remembers.

Don't deny yourself your family or your husband the chance to not have your daughter there. I think she will handle it very well.

E.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.S.

answers from Lexington on

We took our daughter to a funeral when she was around that age. She was fine. We brought something to occupy her (lovey and some snacks) and everything was fine. She did help those grieving, too, when she smiled...I would take her and not worry about it.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.B.

answers from Raleigh on

I have always taken my children to funerals from the time they were very small. For me this is a natural extension of family life... good times and bad times are shared. I have an aunt that never attended a funeral until she was an adult.. consequently she is a complete basket case at every funeral because she worked it up into this huge fear and stress thing.
Take your daughter... she will be a comfort to many there... she was close to the aunt so she needs to be part of the "ceremony" of saying goodbye. I don't know what your spiritual beliefs are but when my kids were little I told them that the person had died (don't use pretty words for this they need to know this person isn't coming back... passed away, passed on etc are confusing words for a little kid!) I always then said that the person was now an angel in heaven... that the body in the casket was just a shell and the soul had gone to heaven to be an angel. Even very young children can grasp parts of this. I was also very honest about how sometimes people get sick and doctors can't fix it and that when that happens the person dies and becomes an angel in heaven.

I have four kids now ages 19, 16, 14 and 8 and none are upset by funerals... they are often sad for the person and their family (if it's a friend) or sad themselves if it's a family member but they aren't fearful of the casket or the body etc. I remember my grandmother actually taking great comfort in the fact that my daughter who was 3 at the time told someone that her Papa had gone to be an angel...she had been focusing on that he was gone and not WHERE he had gone so it was actually comforting to her.

Do take some quiet things to hold your daughters attention and do talk about what's going to take place and talk about people crying too... that can be upsetting for little children but if they know to expect it they cope better. Also be prepared to take her out of the room or service if she needs to leave. Good luck and I am very sorry for your loss!

L. B
mom to 4 great kiddos

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.P.

answers from Nashville on

L., I think it is perfectly acceptable to take your daughter to the funeral. And if you want to go to the viewing then perhaps your husband can play with her outside or distract her while you have a few moments to say your goodbyes and then switch with him. Pack some things in your purse to distract her if she gets antsy during the service, but I think it is just fine to go. Especially since you were close and your aunt was so fond of your daughter.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

V.C.

answers from Wheeling on

Haven't read any responses, but I'm of the 'old school' where I believe children NEED to see reality. In the USA we are so protected from everything 'unpleasant' that most kids grow up thinkng the world revolves around THEM (and it makes for a lot of depressed, overweight, self-centered, non-productive , hard-to-get-along-with adults).

Anyway . . . I would even let her view your aunt's corpse if you're comfortable with it (or have your mother or someone older to show her) and explain that when our body gets tired, our life goes back to God where it will be alive forever and the body has done its job in carrying our spirit for us here on earth (or some such simple explanation). Fact is, we are ALL going to die, so why try to hide or ignore it?

P.S. I read all your responses so far, and it seems to be unanimous that you should take her! Lots of loving, sensible moms on Mamasource!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

E.M.

answers from Louisville on

my hubbys great grandmother just passed away this past winter and we were faced with the same problem. your aunt sounds alot like his "grannie" meaning she loved kids. we ended up taking our young 5 year old and our 18 month old. they were a little bored but dud really well and everyone was happy to see them. kids are part of familys too its unfair to exclude them on big events even if it is a sad one. im so sorry for your loss.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.H.

answers from Raleigh on

L., I understand your aprehension...my daughter was the same princess and now her son who's 2.5 is the prince. As we did with her and now with him, we take him to funerals just like another church service. We pack up toys and snacks and go choosing to sit on an aisle seat farthest from the casket. We do not take him to view the body, since he is the prince of the family there is always someone there who wants to hold him, while we view the body. If the service becomes emotional we ease out the seat and take him to the fellowship hall. At the burial we always take the stoller and stand behind the mourners. Your darling should be ok if you share "Aunt ??? is sleeping and gone to heaven to see Uncle ??" Thad's MAAMAW

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.B.

answers from Parkersburg on

I'm very sorry for your loss and pray for the best for your family.
I think it is fine to take your daughter - death is a part of life and she will be experiencing this in many different ways. And, if she is a big part of the family, it would be important that she go. However, every parent feels differently about when the right time is, and how their child is introduced to death. From the standpoint of if she will be a distraction to the rest of the family - I think that shouldn't even be an issue (additionally, she may very well be able to lighten the mood and help people cope with the situation better).
But, as for a right time to introduce her to death - that is a decision you'll have to decide. Every child takes it differently. I personally would not want to lie to my daughter just to save her emotionally. Though at this stage she may not understand death, she may also not understand why someone would lie. But, you will have to decide based on your family's needs and her individual personality as to how you handle it.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.H.

answers from Huntington on

I say take her and don't worry about it...I am sure she will be fine, especially since she is used to sitting still (church).

My family has always taken the approach that death is a part of life and I have never shyed away from exposing my child to these experiences. We unfortunately had several deaths in our family before he was 3 and I always took him.

Also, I think children can bring joy to an otherwise sad event. They are innocent and they are also a flesh and blood reminder that a part of us lives forever in them!

I am sorry for your loss.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

W.M.

answers from Nashville on

Bring her with you but don't tell her too much detail. She won't remember anyway but there is no reason to give her info that might not sit well for now. Bring things for her to do, try to give her a nap before going, bring snacks and drinks, and take turns with your husband watching her while one goes up to the casket. I think it is fine. Others will be happy to see a smiling baby at such a sad time.

Next question: What Is Your Opinion?