end of life
Funerals and Services
Every culture and religion has traditions surrounding the death of a loved one. Most of these customs bring together the community to recognize and provide comfort to the family at the time of their painful loss. There are many different religious and secular traditions for funerals and memorial services.
When possible, a person shares with loved ones their own wishes for these services in life, incorporates the wishes of the survivors, and allows the planning for the funeral or memorial services to begin before death. Some families have a strong religious or cultural tradition that provides the basic structure for the funeral. Others have a mix of cultural traditions that may mesh or be in conflict with each other, and still others have no traditions to incorporate. It is a gift to the survivors to let them know what you would want so that they can feel good about honoring you in this last life ceremony.
Planning the service
Funerals typically occur soon after a person dies. Memorial services may occur weeks, months, or even a year after a death. Often there is one ceremony, but sometimes a decision is made to have a small family funeral and utilize a memorial service to acknowledge the loss within the greater community later. Family members may organize the memorial service or it may be organized by a person’s professional colleagues or friends. Funerals and memorial services should take into consideration the needs and wishes of your children. For example, consider having the presiding person be someone your children know, having a ceremony in a setting that is familiar to them or permits their friends to be in attendance, and having the burial site or ashes in a location that they can visit relatively easily.
Establishing adult support
It is important for a caring adult to talk with your child in advance about what he will see at the funeral or memorial service and talk with him afterwards about what he saw and felt. In order to prepare a child, the adult must seek out information about the service including many specific details. For example, talking to funeral directors and clergy members is often very helpful. Many funeral homes have written materials describing the funeral process to children and addressing common questions. It is helpful to find out how to contact these individuals again if your child has questions that the caring adult is unable to answer. If someone outside your immediate family is organizing a memorial service, be sure that your children will be represented equally and that photos or stories are approved by them and are not embarrassing or too private to be shared in this public setting.
Most children from about age four and older will attend some part of a parent’s funeral or memorial service. Children of all ages will need to have access to an adult who can take them out of the service if need be. Older children may want to participate in the service by doing a reading, choosing music, or speaking. It should be clearly communicated to each child that he is welcome to participate but that participating is a choice, not an expectation, and is not a measure of its love or commitment to you.
Friends, community members, and extended family can be invited to send written memories about you and photos of you to a designated person. Once collected, these stories and photographs can be arranged in a scrapbook and saved for your children to have now and for the future.
© 2013 Marjorie E. Korff PACT Program/PACT Boston • • Back to top