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How to Plan a Child’s Funeral or Memorial Service

Planning a child’s funeral or memorial service is overwhelming. Knowing the steps can help families make decisions.

Types of services

The terms “funeral services” and “memorial services” are different. A funeral service is a gathering before burial or cremation with the body present. A memorial service can take place at any time.

Usual goals of services: 

  • Gather family and friends together to remember a life
  • Express sorrow and begin healing
  • Provide support to one another

Families may choose to have more than 1 gathering. For example, a family may have a small graveside funeral service and then a larger memorial service later. 

Factors to consider include:

  • Family and religious preferences
  • Time and travel issues 
  • The number of people who will attend
  • Costs
  • Personal touches

Tips to help plan a child’s funeral or memorial service

Families say that there are some ways to help make planning easier.

  • Ask for help: You will need help. Family members or close friends can help manage visitors, make phone calls, and take care of other needs. Families also need help from someone who can explain planning details. This person is often a funeral home director. Take a close friend or family member with you to the funeral home. It is hard to make decisions under grief and stress.
    social worker or hospice care expert can help with planning. Many families also include a minister or spiritual leader to help plan and lead the service.
  • Focus on what is most important for your family: A funeral or memorial service is a way to remember the special life of your child. Personalize the service in ways that are most meaningful to your family. Some families want to be involved in every part of the planning process. Other families may focus on 1 or 2 things that are most important to them. Let people know your family’s priorities.
  • Take it step by step: You have many things to do. Grief and stress make it hard to think. A planning guide or checklist can help.

Ways to honor your child’s legacy

Finding special ways to celebrate the child’s life is important. It can help families and friends find comfort and honor your child.

You can include personal elements. Examples include:

  • Photo and memory displays
  • Eulogies by friends and family members
  • Tribute videos
  • Specific music or readings

I have a beautiful strand of purple beads created from the flowers at Catie’s funeral. A friend gathered all the flowers after the funeral and sent them to a company that turned the flowers into beads. As each of our girls reached the age of seven, we gave them a special necklace or bracelet made from Catie’s flowers. Each of them treasures a happy memory today from a sad day that they really don’t remember due to their young age. I even have one set of white beads for our son; maybe one day he will find someone special for his beads.

Christine, mom to Catie

Families often look for ways to include personal items that pay tribute to their child's:

  • Special talents or traits
  • Interests, activities, or hobbies
  • Awards and accomplishments
  • Important people and places
  • Toys or possessions that hold meaning
  • Stories and specific memories
  • Favorite songs, books, sayings, or verses

How to involve your child in planning their funeral or memorial service

One question many families have is whether the child should be involved in planning his or her own service. Many families find comfort in having their child help plan the service.

Children may hold strong preferences and want to take part in planning. Whether families include children in the planning process depends on:

  • Family preferences
  • The child’s age and maturity
  • The child’s health status
  • Prognosis

Talking about what happens after death and what the memorial service could look like is sometimes a source of hope and comfort. It can help take away some of the unknown. It can give children some control over what will happen. This can also provide a way for families to connect and create memories.

Ways to involve children include:

  • Clothing: Some children prefer that family and friends wear casual clothes or a certain color at the service. Some children and teens may have ideas about how they want clothes or makeup to be done.
  • Food: Favorite foods may offer a comforting way of remembering loved ones. Some children may want their favorite food at a reception.
  • Music: Many children have favorite songs or performances they would like during the service or at gatherings.
  • Speakers and eulogies: Children may want certain people to tell stories at their service.
  • Photos and special objects: Children may want to help pick out photos and objects to display on a memory table. This can also give families a chance to talk about memories of events and people who are important in their lives.
  • Ways to be remembered: Children may want to select ways that they would like to be remembered. These can include donations to certain charities or activities.

It is also a good idea to give siblings the choice to be involved in planning. Many siblings find comfort in having a specific “job” for the service such as choosing a song or handing out programs. Keep in mind that children may change their mind. That is OK.

For resources to help talk about end-of-life care, visit the Conversation Project.

Decisions to consider in planning a child’s funeral or memorial service

Photo of purple flower

Planning a child’s funeral is extremely difficult. Knowing the steps involved and what to ask can help.

  • Type of service: Religious and family traditions often guide planning the type of service or ceremony. Services often include 1 or more of the following:
    • Visitation, wake, or viewing
    • Traditional funeral service
    • Graveside or scattering ceremony
    • Memorial service after burial or cremation
    • Reception or fellowship meal
    • Gathering of family and friends
  • Location: Most services are held at a church, funeral home, or a community facility such as a school auditorium or graveside. Some people choose a home funeral or a place that may have meaning to the child or family.
  • Service participants: Families will need to decide who should be part of the service. These people often include spiritual leaders, family members, friends, or representatives of the school or other social and activity groups. There may be some limitations to who or how many people can take part in a funeral or memorial service.
  • Private moments: Families can decide to have private moments or limit attendance to services. Funeral homes and churches often have special rooms reserved only for family and close friends.

Other important decisions to consider include:

  • Date and time: There is no legal time limit for completing a service. Families can choose what is best for them. Some spiritual practices require the service to take place within a certain length of time. Also, families might consider whether people need time to travel to an out-of-town service.
  • Telling friends and family: The obituary or death notice in a local newspaper and funeral home website is often how people learn about the details for a funeral or memorial service. Friends and family may also share the obituary on social media, email, and phone calls.
  • Caring for other children: It can be helpful to assign a sitter or family member to care for children during the service. Some facilities may offer sitting services. Consider having a children’s room on site where adults can take children who need a break. It is a good idea to assign a close friend or family members to each sibling. They can step away with the child if they need time alone.
  • Recording the service: Families may want to plan to have the service recorded. A family’s distress can make it hard to remember the day.

For more information

Key points about planning a child’s funeral or memorial service

  • Planning a funeral or memorial service for a child is hard.
  • It is important to ask for help when you need it.
  • Your child may want to be involved in planning their memorial service.
  • Your family can find ways to personalize the service.
  • Important decisions and tasks include:
    • Date and time
    • Telling friends and family
    • Child care
    • Recording the service

The Together by St. Jude™️ online resource does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.

Reviewed: September 2023