UPDATED: Take Daughter to Memorial Service?

Updated on May 13, 2010
S.H. asks from Harvest, AL
15 answers

I know this is ultimately mine & my husband's decision, but I've never been in this situation before & wanted to get others' opinions.

My daughter is 4; she's in a preschool class at her daycare. Before this class, she was in a toddler class for a couple years. Sadly, the lead teacher from that toddler class passed away last weekend. They are going to have a memorial service for her tomorrow evening. The fliers for it say "come as you are" and they will have a potluck afterward. I asked a teacher if it would be appropriate for me to bring my daughter to this, and she said it was up to me.

I know she is only 4, and I probably can't explain death to her right now. She only knows about bugs dying!

What would you do? Should I take her with me, or find someone to babysit?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Update: Thanks for all of the replies so far. To clarify, this should be just a memorial for her, no casket. She was a teacher at the daycare for 24 years. My daughter did know her very well. She was a big part of her days while in the toddler room, and we would still see her often in the hallways or lobby. Used to give her Yoohoos or chips some days when I came to pick her up. I don't think that my daughter even knows that anything happened. She wasn't used to seeing her every day anymore, so hasn't felt she needs to ask where she is. I kinda want to take her, but then I think maybe I shouldn't since she doesn't even know anything happened. But then I wonder if I would feel guilty later for not taking her, and she might ask about her later.

Tough decision :(

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So What Happened?

Well, it didn't go quite like I thought! We sat in the very back, and she did NOT want to sit still & quiet!! We were there for maybe 30 mins. I kept having to quietly tell her to be quiet or to stop whatever she was doing. She just didn't pay attention to what was going on around her; in her own little world! Then she said she was hungry & wanted to go, so I carried her out as she started to fuss & cry... oh well.

She hasn't asked many questions or anything either, so I guess I'll just leave it alone!

My husband and I discussed it today, and we decided I should take her. She may not understand much, but we wanted her to have some experience with death of someone not related to us. My husband is currently 10 hours away staying with his mother who was recently hospitalized. She is home & ok for now, but we fear her health will only get worse. We will discuss any more questions our daughter may have this weekend when he comes home.

I also bought the book "When Dinosaurs Die" that Michelle Q M. suggested. I sat with my daughter & read it to her. I liked that it was very factual and to the point. I think she understood some of it, but not sure she makes the connection with the teacher. I tried to explain it along with the book. She didn't get upset, but was very curious about the book. She even asked me to read it a second time!

I'll try to update again tomorrow evening & let you know how the memorial service goes.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts!

Featured Answers



answers from New York on

Great update.

I would take her. Death is another part of life. A memorial service isn't like a funeral. You can always take her out for ice cream or the park after if it isn't too late.

Thanks for being such a kind, caring and considerate mom. She is lucky to have you.

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answers from Lafayette on

There is a good series on grief for young childrem featruing Elmo here:


The videos may help you to explain this to her. I would do what my heart thought was best for her if it were my decision. This woman was her teacher for two years, and the school has likely tried to tell the kids about this in the best way they can. But you know your daughter better than anyone. Some kids may find going beneficial and some may not.

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answers from Houston on

I didn't experience a death close to me until I was in high school and I was a wreck. It has taken me years to not find reasons to avoid memorials and funerals. I knew that I would do it differently with my child. Not criticizing my parents, of course, they thought they were doing what was best.

At three, my daughter has been to three viewings/memorial services...and, yes, she has seen the deceased. None of the three were particularly close to her, but certainly people that she recognized.

At four, your daughter certainly has more awareness than my daughter did at 2.5 (the last funeral), but I am a full believer in exposing children to the realities of life.

We've also lost two pets...and my daughter was much more affected by that since they were a daily presence in their lives.

I plan on checking out the Sesame Street program that another poster mentioned.

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answers from Boston on

My view has changed on this. I would take her. I didnt let my two oldest come to my dads funeral or memorial. I now feel regrets about not having them with me to say goodbye to papa. They bring it up time to time, ask why I didnt let them come. My only answer is that I was a mess and was not thinking clearly.

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answers from Denver on

Yes! Take her. Kids understand what death means and need a chance to say "good bye" as much as adults do. I've taken my kids when they were 3 & 5 for a funeral for my step-dad....they did amazingly well. Be prepared for lots of questions. Answer them honestly. And as the hospice workers said to me: "Thank you for not hiding from this and being honest with your children." Sorry for your loss.

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answers from Chicago on

I agree with DanaW and Leslie. Take her. Especially since it is a memorial only, it is a great way to pay respect to the teacher's family all while teaching your child the cycle of life. Involve her in a gift...be it picking out flowers, drawing a picture or making cookies to bring to the service. Your daughter will be watching you for clues. I can almost guarentee that she will refer back to this experience when she is faced with death again (death of a pet or animal at the roadside, friend, relative, acquaintance, news report or natural disaster).

I recommend a book titled "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie which talks about the rhythm of life and death for all creatures. Another excellent book is "When Dinosaurs Die: A guide to Understanding Death" by the author/illustrator of Arthur, Marc Brown and his wife, Laurie Krasney Brown if you want to explore the topic further further.

Good luck and let us know what you decide.

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answers from San Antonio on

I would take her. I think it is better for them to experience death of someone they aren't really close with first than to wait till it is someone they are close to like a family member. I think being exposed to death is a part of life. If they have an open casket, I wouldn't necessarily take her up to it though. My kids have been exposed to death from an early age and so when my father died last year it was sad for them that their grandfather had died but
it wasn't tragic for them. (They are 9 &5 and were really close to their grandparents) I think that because they have been exposed to it before it helped to soften the blow. I know not everyone feels the way I do though.

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answers from Sacramento on

Personally, I wouldn't. I just went to a funeral for a friend of mine last week and it was rough for me at 40. I can't imagine a four-year-old being around crying people and gaining anything from it. She won't resent the fact that she didn't go to the memorial service because she doesn't know about memorial services. You can just have the conversation when the time is right.

At the same time, if you want to have the death discussion and encourage her to grieve, then attending may be the right way to go. It really is a personal call on what you feel ready to talk about with your daughter and whether she will be better off for having attended.


answers from Philadelphia on

Since this was someone that was not "close" to her, it might be the perfect opportunity to introduce death to her, she can go to the memorial, without suffering a huge loss. (Not that this person was not important, just that she can start to understand the process before being faced with a life altering death.
I woud avoid viewings for a while, I was four when I went to my first viewing and it horrified me for some time, so much so that I did not attend my father and my grandfathers funerals which occured that same year. Seeing a body is alot different then honoring someone at a memorial service. It is likely that your daughter will not even truly understand the whole process, but it is a good starting point.



answers from Chicago on

I am not reading all the other responses but giving you my own. I would get a sitter for her. As she gets older she will remember that teacher and how wonderful she was you don't want the last memory she has to be of her laying in a casket. also a 4 year old has a pretty short attention span. Just my thoughts. If it was a family member it might be different but as it is I would say leave her at home



answers from Fayetteville on

Don't underestimate you daughter's ability to understand and process something as serious as death. My oldest daughter was only barely 3 years old when her younger sister passed away at 7 months. She was very accepting as we gave her a simple explanation of what happened and explained that Emma had gone to live in heaven. We did not take her to the viewing but we did take her to the memorial service and burial. I know she didn't understand everything, but she processed what she did understand very well.

I know that this death was not as close to your daughter as that one was to mine, but I just wanted to encourage you that she will be fine if you do decide to take her. If you do, just give her a simple explanation of what happened beforehand.




answers from Nashville on

That is really hard! Is it a service or a viewing? I would not take her if it is a viewing, but if it's a service to honor the woman then I would take her. Discuss with her that the teacher is no longer alive (use your own religious explanation if you have a specific faith). She may not fully understand but at this age will ask questions. Just do your best to answer them. I think it's a great chance to talk about the subject that will come up time and again.



answers from Oklahoma City on

I think either one is fine. As you said she doesn't really understand death. Another factor is she won't remember this event anyway. My kids don't remember much at 4 and what little they do is fading. Do want to warn you that you may be dealing with the "death" issue for a while. I had several relatives die fairly close together and one was the boys great grandmother that they had met several times. They stayed in the children's room at the churches during the funerals but they knew why we were there and every so often my kids asks questions about death and have even cried thinking about me and my husband dying some day. I try to tell them it is a part of life. Hopefully the end of very fulfilling one.


answers from Dallas on

It really depends on your daughter, how well she knew the teacher, and her maturity. Do you know whether this will be open casket. If yes, then I would lean toward not taking her. However, was she close to this teacher and upset over her death? If so, and you think she could sit through the service, then I might take her.........or take her at the end of the service. If she was not close to the teacher and barely understands I would probably not take her, but talk about it.

If she knows the teacher died then talk to her about death. Ask her what she thinks and how she feels so you can dispel any worries and don't give her more information than she needs. I know you can't explain it but you want your daughter to know that usually it is very old people that die. I don't know the age of the teacher, but if she was younger try to explain why someone younger passing is unusual. Be sure she knows that you, her Dad and she are very healthy and you expect that you will all live to be very old. You want to tell her the truth while doing your best to make her feel safe.



answers from Indianapolis on

Honestly, I would take her. You can explain as much as she can understand as long as you're prepared for all the accompanying questions.

Our son will be 4 in a few weeks, and I'd honestly not hesitate if it were a teacher who was really important to us.

But, my motivation (outside of paying our respects) would really be for her family - so they know how much she touched lives outside of their own family and the positive impact she made on the children she nurtured through the school.

As a cancer survivor, it becomes apparent very quickly that people are the most important thing in life, and I can't think of a better way to honor hers than to let an innocent 4 year old help commemorate it (my personal opinion).

Good luck in your decision.

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