Dear Aunt Juniper,

I am devastated by the death of my mum and fear I may not be thinking straight. We are in the process of planning her funeral and I just can’t decide what to do with my children on the day.

I have a five year old son who is old enough to understand that Nanny has died and isn’t coming back. He wants to come to the funeral but I don’t want him to see me upset. I have to deliver a eulogy and can’t bear the thought of him seeing me sob my way through it. Having said that, he was very close to my mum and I would like him to have the chance to say goodbye.

I also have an 18 month old daughter who I fear would be a nightmare; running around and refusing to sit still or quietly. My mum was a really family orientated person and would hate to think that her grandchildren were excluded from a family ‘event’.

I don’t want to upset them and, at the same time, want to be able to grieve without worrying about them. I want to be the daughter and not the mum for a while. My brother is horrified and thinks the whole family should attend. He thinks the children will be a welcome distraction and that it won’t be a proper send-off without them.

I’m under pressure from all around. What should I do? Should children go to funerals?

From, Grieving Daughter and Worried Mum.

Dear Grieving Daughter and Worried Mum,

I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your mum. The death of someone close to us is never easy, and it’s very common to feel confused and worried about what’s right. The main thing in this situation, is working out what’s right for you, and for your family.

Here are some things you might like to think about… When people are planning a funeral, they often plan it with their loved one in mind – what would they like and appreciate? That’s a good starting point, but it’s important to remember that a funeral service has several different purposes.

A helpful service should:

  • Help us to remember the person we loved with joy
  • Give us the opportunity to give thanks for their life
  • Create a space for us to share our grief with others
  • Allow us to let go of the person
  • Entrust them to God in the case of a Christian funeral

The service is just as much for you as it’s for your mum, so it’s fine to think about what you will want and need on the day. Maybe the question you could ask yourself is: what is the most helpful way for each member of the family to do these four things? Once you’ve worked out what you need, you can think about helping the children.

It can be very helpful for children to go to funerals – for their own sake, and as a sign of ‘new life’ to others.

If you think you’d like to take one or both of them, take some time to prepare them by talking about it with them. Explain what happens in the service, explain where Nanny is, explain that it’s good to cry as it shows how much we loved Nanny. Give them a chance to ask questions too. Every family will have different ideas about what does or doesn’t happen after we die. Decide what you’d like to say to your children, and then let them know that “We don’t need to be afraid because…” This will hopefully allay any fears or concerns, but still let them know that it’s ok to be sad or angry.

I took my own son (then aged 2 ½) to the funeral of his Great Nan. Half way through the service he announced in a loud voice that Great Nan was “in the box”. Interestingly, it really helped to break the tension, as that’s what we were all thinking!

I think my own children have found it helpful to understand a bit about what happens when we die, and I think it’s also helped them to see that losing someone is painful and difficult, and you need time to grieve. In terms of your own son seeing you cry, whether or not he comes to the funeral he’s likely to see mummy cry at some point. Perhaps you can reassure him that it’s not his job to look after you, but that your partner, friends and family are there to look after you both.

On the day of the service, you could also ask a trusted friend to come along to look after the children. If you decide not to take one or both children, have a think about what you can do to help them say goodbye. You could make a special memories album with photos, drawings and memories; or you could do something as a sign of letting her go – helium balloons are a popular choice.

Grief is very personal, and there is no ‘correct’ way to do it. Whatever you choose to do it will be a hard day, don’t beat yourself up if others think differently to you, you’ll know what’s right for your family. 

Lots of Love,

Aunt Juniper* xx

 

*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Bridget Shepherd, Vicar of the Church of the Good Shepherd and St.Peter’s in Lee.

She’s been a vicar since 2008, and moved to Lee in 2014. She has two children aged 9 and 11, and her favourite gin is Sacred Gin – for obvious reasons!

 

FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:

‘If you think it is too soon for baby to be away from you then take the baby. People will respect you have a young baby, and you in turn will respectfully take them out if they are screaming during the service. I had the unfortunate experience of 2 funerals before my child was 8 months but he brought a welcome distraction and some comfort at both.’

‘We recently took our 2.5 year old and 2 week old to a family funeral, and everyone seemed very happy to have us there. Think it helped and seemed to give perspective!’

‘I took my 9mo to a family funeral; he definitely sensed what was going on as he was very quiet and sat still throughout. Afterwards he seemed like a positive distraction for people too, the person who had died had lots of special time with him so I’m sure she would’ve wanted him there too.’

‘I think it’s fine and if baby is unsettled you can pop out. Toddlers not so much as I found with little boy – he couldn’t be in the service but little ones are much easier.’

‘I would ask the immediate family. I took my daughter to a funeral when she was about one and everyone was very pleased to have her there. I think in some ways it depends on the circumstances of the death and what the atmosphere will be like. The funeral we went to was of a lady in her 90’s so in many ways it was expected and had a ‘lighter’ atmosphere. The family also let the vicar know in advance. I just didnt’ have any other childcare options.’

‘I took my little girl to a funeral when she was very young (think about 6 months old). I sat at the back at the end of the row in case she became unsettled and I had to leave but she was as good as gold. On what was a sad day she also provided some light hearted distraction after the service for others and brought a smile to their faces which was lovely.’

‘I think, unless someone has strong opinions against it, it’s nice to take babies to funerals. It’s a reminder to others that life continues. I went to a friend’s Mother’s funeral a few years ago and another friend had her newborn with her and his presence was very comforting for us all.’

‘I think it depends on whose funeral it is. One of my best friend’s mum died when my little one was only a few days old and I really wanted to be there so we took him (around 3 weeks old) – we did sit near an exit, just in case, but he was no trouble. We left the 3yr old with family.’

‘My eldest was breastfed and refused a bottle at 4 – 6 mths so came to a funeral (x2), wedding and a ruby wedding celebration that were all supposed to be ‘children free’. A wise granny said if you are breastfeeding then the baby must come too… definitely lightened the sadness at the funerals.’

‘I took my son to a funeral at four months (due to breastfeeding reasons) and we lasted about twelve seconds in the service. We sat at the back and he made inappropriately happy laughing and cooing noises. I just snuck out and waited in the church hall. No one noticed we had left and congratulated me on my quiet baby.’

‘I took my 6 month old to my father in laws funeral. She was a bit talkative but it was fine. Do try to sit near an exit. I basically think “babes in arms” are (should be) acceptable everywhere.’

‘I’ve definitely found after major family deaths last year that people welcome babies a lot more than you’d think. They have this amazing ability to bring joy & happiness to sad/dark times.’

‘We took our daughter to my husband’s godmother’s funeral when she was 4 months. We asked the widower’s opinion first, and he said yes. If he’d said no, we wouldn’t have done. It was a humanist service, very full and very relaxed. We stood at the back so we could make a quick exit if need be, and it was absolutely fine. And as others have said , it is lovely for everyone at the wake to have a baby to cuddle and coo over.’

‘I took my baby to a funeral when he was about 6 months old, I just sat at the back in case I needed to dash out but he was fine, I kept him in my arms and he started to sleep during some of the music. I think some of the older relatives enjoyed having him there to bring some joy to a sad day but make sure you ask immediately family if it’s ok first.’

‘I think you need to consider what is best for your child not what is best for everyone else (hence the baby cheers up the sad moments- not her job). Follow your instinct and feel free not to go if even a little bit in yourself is in doubt.’

‘I think it depends who the funeral is for, that is the age of the person and the wishes of the deceased family. I have been to the funeral of a friend’s grandma which had all the 10 great grandkids there and it was a lovely celebration of her life.’

‘I took my then 20 month old to a wake last year but not the funeral. It was a very close family member so I didn’t feel it was appropriate at the funeral but everyone enjoyed seeing my little one afterwards. A beautiful testament of life continuing.’

‘When my grandma died, other family members implied that I should not take my 8 mth, nor my cousin his 1 year old. If you know the nearest family members well enough to ask then ask, otherwise play safe and get a sitter.’

I took my 9mo to a family funeral; he definitely sensed what was going on as he was very quiet and sat still throughout. Afterwards he seemed like a positive distraction for people too, the person who had died had lots of special time with him so I’m sure she would’ve wanted him there too.’

‘All these points prove there is no right or wrong but best to check with the family first and always be ready to make a quick exit.’

 

Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.

Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.

 

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Helen is the founder of MGF, a friendly, supportive community of fabulous mums and dads, making a difference to the local community, promoting local business and organising events.