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Exactly How Young is Too Young to Attend A Funeral of Someone, Relative or Not?

Updated on November 20, 2012

When someone people love dies, like a well-loved uncle, parents ask this question: how young is too young to attend a funeral?

Most people have already attended a funeral, be it a co-worker or a cousin. There are a lot of people crying their eyes red out of grief and sorrow. Prayers, if the services are of particular religions, are said. Songs, tributes, and stories about the deceased (especially eulogies) are recited.

But there are parents up in arms on deciding whether or not children can attend those emotionally-taxing events. They are worried that such an occasion, especially if it involves their loved ones' bodies on display, would actually traumatize them. Some of them shield their kids from the services just to keep them emotionally safe.

Does Age REALLY Matter?

Few experts have to agree with parents on what age is appropriate enough to partake in the most essential part of the bereavement process.

Advice columnist Ann Landers wrote in response to a parent who was debating on whether her young child can attend her mother's wake noted that 8, not 5, was the most mature age to do so. "The viewing at the mortuary is only one aspect that may be perplexing and upsetting to the child.," wrote landers, "Lowering the casket into the ground and leaving Grandma in the cemetery would be much more difficult for a youngster to deal with."

So why do few experts and some parents think that children under 8-10 are the least emotionally mature to attend a funeral. Most obviously, they have short attention spans, which means that sitting for a long time listening to sermons and eulogies can be boring to them.

But the main fear about kids attending a funeral is how it's done. When parents know that there will be an open casket wake or visitation, they worry that kids would be very traumatized by the sight of the body. Remember that embalmed bodies aren't like sleeping bodies. Morticians try very hard to make them look as lifelike as possible, but they aren't really the same.

Lowering the casket or coffin into a hole in the cemetery or pushing it into a mausoleum or tomb can also scare children, some parents and even experts say. They fear that it makes kids really upset that they will never see their brother, sister, or other loved one ever again.

Maturity, Preparedness are What Matter

Most other experts and some other parents think that children's maturity level - independent of age - is the most important factor in determining if they are able to attend a funeral. Another factor is how do they understand the concept of death and dying.

Proponents of letting children attend a funeral provided that they know how it's done and how mature they will be state their reasons why it's necessary. Most of them think that shielding them from the services can actually make them just as scared of death as having them go to an open casket viewing without prior preparation. They say that it actually teaches them that death is a huge fear rather than a part of life.

"To shut your children out of such a rich and valuable life lesson is to deprive them of an opportunity to grow." wrote Marty Tousley, a clinical nurse, "Letting them participate in the family rituals of grief and mourning shapes how they will cope with future losses and ultimately with their own mortality as well."

They believe that there is absolutely no age restriction on attending a funeral. It's how prepared ahead of time that really matters.

If the wake is open casket, proponents of taking kids to funerals prepare them ahead of time to make it a less traumatizing experience.
If the wake is open casket, proponents of taking kids to funerals prepare them ahead of time to make it a less traumatizing experience. | Source

Experts who agree on this tell their parents to prepare their kids not only what behavior and attire are expected (After all, it's often very rude and disrespectful to the bereaved to have brightly-clothed children misbehaving in the services.) but also what will be going on.

Parents who follow their advice would often determine whether it's an open or closed casket or coffin wake. If it's the former type, they'd explain to the kids that their relative or friend's body looks like he or she is sleeping, but the body parts have stopped working altogether. They explain that he or she cannot get up from the coffin or casket to hug them, sit with them in the chapel pews, or awaken. They avoid euphemisms like "passed away," "sleeping," or "gone."

They'd also explain that funerals are family reunions to remember the person. They are held to celebrate his or her life, say goodbye and thank you, and be comforted.

Besides explaining the funeral process, like sermons and eulogies, parents who follow said experts' advice also give kids a choice on whether or not they can attend. If they can't, they'd assure them not to feel ashamed or guilty and videotape the service for them.

Despite the fact that most babies are disruptive in serious events like funerals, this boy is such an angel. His mother must've prepared him ahead of time.
Despite the fact that most babies are disruptive in serious events like funerals, this boy is such an angel. His mother must've prepared him ahead of time. | Source

Many parents and experts who believe that taking kids to funerals can visually explain what death means to them only if they are prepared to see what is expected. But be aware that few others believe that doing so can cause emotional trauma and stress - in few cases even if prepared.

Well, on debating whether kids can attend a funeral all depends on the type of parent or guardian.

How old can children attend funerals?

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