Young Children and Funerals [Updated]

August 18, 2006

Editor’s Note: I wanted to promote this diary because it’s a topic I’ve never heard discussed. There are so many variables and layers to consider when deciding how and when a child should get introduced to death. -Amy

When do you think children are old enough to attend a funeral?

The reason I ask is that my one-month-old niece is about to undergo her second heart surgery, and the prospects aren’t good.  My husband’s family is already making contingency plans.  If the worst should happen, they want us all – including my daughters, age 4 and 2 – to drive up to Ohio for the funeral.

I’m hoping and praying that it doesn’t come to this.  My sister-in-law and her husband have been through hell and back already, and I can’t imagine…I just can’t imagine.  To those of you who pray, I ask that you keep little Emily and her family in your prayers.  She’s been through so much already, and she’s fought so very hard to stay alive.  To lose her at this point would be devastating to all of us.
If the worst does happen…I’m not comfortable with the idea of my daughters attending the funeral.  They know Emily is sick; we spent a week in Cincinnatti, going to the hospital to visit everyday, but my girls never got a chance to see her.  If a funeral takes place, it would be the first time my daughters saw their tiny cousin.  And that would be after a 15-hour trip by car, with all the exhaustion and emotional outbursts that entails.  I feel like such a heel for worrying about this when my sister- and brother-in-law are facing the prospect of losing a young child, but I also feel that this is something I must take seriously.  

Have any of you MT’ers ever taken a young child to a funeral?  How do you handle the topic of death, especially when it happens to one so young and so closely related?  

[Update:] I want to thank you all for your input, opinions, and stories. I can’t go through and respond to each of you like I normally would, as we’re all a big mess this weekend since my oldest starts school tomorrow (yipe!)

Anyway, after reading through all of your responses, I feel much better about bringing the kids with us, at least, should we have to go. I don’t know if we can manage to get a babysitter in Ohio, but we’ll manage somehow. I was worried about how seeing my kids might affect my sister-in-law, since Emily is her only daughter (she has an older son,) and she’s been daydreaming about Emily playing with my girls since she found out she was pregnant. But you gals are right – if they want my girls there, then they should be there. Thank you.

I keep thinking how much a luxury this is, for me to be worrying about whether to expose my young children to death. So many parents the world over don’t get that choice – in Iraq, in Sri Lanka, in Darfur. When I think about what children face in places like that, I feel that maybe I’ve been overthinking this whole thing.

So Emily’s surgery will be late Tuesday/early Wednesday. I’m terribly grateful to all of you who will keep her in your prayers, thoughts, meditations, etc. Hopefully I’ll have some very good news to post in a couple of days. Emily’s a real fighter.