Parents and caregivers often wonder how to include their children as they say goodbye to a loved one who has passed away. If you are wondering about this, you may think that including children in these final goodbyes is not appropriate, or that it may be very sad or upsetting for your child.
Being included, though, can give children an opportunity to feel comforted and supported by their family and friends, and can help them to feel connected at a time it matters most. Giving children the ability to participate in a way that feels comfortable for them can help to promote feelings of empowerment and resilience through the grieving process.
The most important thing is to give children options about how they would like to be involved. Supporting children through this choice can empower them to find a way to participate that feels most meaningful for them. It is equally important to ensure the child knows that he or she can change his or her decision about their involvement at any point and time.
There are many different ways to support children in honoring their loved one with a special goodbye through age-appropriate activities designed to help memorialize their loved one.
Make something special
You may wish to consider an opportunity for your child to create something for their loved one that can be placed inside the casket or next to the urn, or that your child could share during a special memorial celebration. Some ideas include:
- Making a card
- Drawing a picture
- Writing a letter
Choose a meaningful keepsake to share
If you’re planning any type of memorial gathering or celebration, consider suggesting that children choose special items that remind them of their loved one to be displayed during the gathering. Take the opportunity when children are selecting their items to remember favorite memories together. Different items to choose from can include:
- Clothing (such as a favorite sports jersey or fishing vest)
Participate in a memorial celebration
Consider giving your child an opportunity to choose a role to participate in a memorial service or celebration. A memorial celebration can be a large gathering of family and friends, or a very small and personal family dinner. There are all kinds of memorial celebrations and children can be included in many different ways. Some ideas include:
- Sharing a special memory, poem, reading or song
- Handing out memorial cards
- Planting a memorial tree, bush or garden together
- Writing down favorite things about their loved one on flat stones or colorful paper which can be gathered in a glass jar or vase to become a beautiful keepsake
Set aside time to talk
After the memorial activities and gatherings have ended, set aside time to talk about any questions your child has. There may be new questions that your child didn’t know they had before, and this can be an opportunity to have a supportive conversation with your child about the passing.
Visit the article, Supporting Children and Teenagers During a Loss, for ways to support a grieving child or teen at each stage of development.
For additional resources on supporting children and teens after a loss, you can visit the following organizations. They provide helpful insight, suggestions and resources for children and their families: