The death of a child is a traumatic experience for any parent and their families. When planning a funeral you will need as much support as possible around you, from family, friends and other support groups and networks.
Since the 1950s, when our own family experienced first-hand the trauma and sadness of the death of a child, it has been our policy not to charge for our professional services when the funeral is for a child.
We are family; we are parents and siblings, and having been through a similar experience we feel this is something we can all accept is outside the natural order of life. Giving our time and professional knowledge seems a small way in which we can try to help when it is needed most.
Grieving the death of a child
At such a heartbreaking time, it is very difficult to find the right words to say at a child’s funeral. As a parent, you may find it impossible to speak the words yourself and may prefer to ask a close friend or relative if they may be able to speak on your behalf. As a sibling, it will also be such a painful time. Here are some suggestion for how to make the period a little easier:
Allowing children to say goodbye in ways that feel right to them is important for the grieving process. Don't assume that what holds true for one child will be the same for another. Some children may want to see pictures and memorabilia of the child who died while others may not. Some may want to actively participate in the funeral service while others may not even want to attend.
Below are a few ideas to help children say goodbye to a loved one:
- Help pick out something for the funeral service such as the coffin or flowers
- Plant a tree or flower in memory of the person who has died
- Create a memory box with special mementoes and photos of the deceased person
The death of a child, no matter their age, can be devastating. Society will play a big role in your support and grief. Some will say very well intended but insensitive things, while others may avoid you because of their discomfort. As a result of our culture's discomfort with grief, especially the death of children, the death of a child may be best supported with other people who have lost children and who understand what you are experiencing. Consider seeking out those who understand.
- Find other grieving parents - there is nothing like talking to people who understand. Their story and circumstances may be very different from yours, but they 'get it' in ways unique from others.
- Anticipate what people will say - because people don't know what to say they tend to rely on clichés. You may find some of these hurtful. It is okay to avoid situations where these things might be said, and it is okay to practice your response for when they are said.
- Anticipate what you'll say - "How many kids do you have?" is a common question that many bereaved parents struggle with. Do you include the child who died? Will your response scare the person who asked? How you answer the question is completely up to you. There is no right or wrong response and your answer might be different depending on who asks and when they ask. Anticipating what you'll say may make these encounters more manageable.
- Exercise - grief is not just an emotion. It comes with fatigue and other ailments. Exercise is a healthy coping strategy if you're able to do so.
- Find ways to honour - many parents say (and research confirms), that if you can find ways to honour your child's life and do good in his/her memory it helps manage the grief and isolation. Do this in your own time.
The first steps
The first steps will involve thinking about which funeral director you would like to appoint, the kind of service you would like, and where you would like to hold it. This could be religious, traditional, outdoors, or a memorial service.
At CPJ Field, we meet with you, answer all your questions, and help and guide you.
We will also complete any necessary paperwork with you and arrange everything you would like for the funeral. You can opt for a burial or cremation. This can be a very difficult decision in the case of a child, but CPJ Field have the experience to guide you on the best decision for you. You will always have our heartfelt and deepest sympathies at this terribly difficult time.
Every death is different and presents different needs for those left behind. Each of the charities below offer support to families experiencing particular types of death.
- Teddy's Wish - support for grieving families
- Cruse Bereavement Care – generic bereavement support
- The Compassionate Friends - generic bereavement support
- Sands - stillborn and neonatal death
- The Lullaby Trust - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Miscarriage Association - miscarriage
- Winston's Wish - child bereavement
Local children's hospices will also offer support to grieving parents and siblings.
What to do after the funeral
Any form of gathering after a funeral for a child can bring family and friends together, giving them the important opportunity to share stories, photos, anecdotes and to reminisce. You can meet at a range of venues such as a local hotel, restaurant, pub, a community venue, a place of worship or arrange for people to come back to your home.
Whatever you choose, it will be extremely personal and tailored to your family’s wishes. An occasion to gather for the death of a child is highly poignant and choosing a funeral director who has some experience of such a tragic occasion is, although small, some help to the family.