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Planning a child’s funeral or memorial service is something that no family can truly prepare for. Making plans during a time of grief is overwhelming. Most people have never planned a funeral or memorial service. Some may never have attended one, especially for a child. Knowing the steps involved and what questions to ask can help families navigate the decisions that have to be made during this difficult time.
Services of remembrance usually share common goals: to gather family and friends together to remember a life, express sorrow and begin healing, and provide support to one another. Families may choose to have multiple gatherings. For example, a family may have a small graveside funeral service and then a larger memorial at a school or community center later. Factors to consider include family and religious preferences, time and travel constraints, the number of people who will attend, financial considerations, and personal touches desired.
There are no right or wrong answers in planning a service. Although the process is difficult, families say that there are some ways to help make planning easier.
Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms “funeral services” and “memorial services” can refer to different types of ceremonies. Traditionally, a funeral service refers to a gathering prior to burial or cremation with the body present. A memorial service can take place at any time and usually refers to a service that takes place some time after burial or cremation.
Finding special ways to celebrate the child’s life through a funeral or memorial service is an important way that families and friends find comfort and honor the child. This can also provide new memories and connections as families and friends come together to share stories and remembrances.
Personal elements can be included in services a variety of ways. Examples include photo and memory displays, eulogies by friends and family members, tribute videos, and specific music or readings.
Depending on their age, siblings may wish to be involved in the planning process. Siblings can play an important role, and their involvement may help them find comfort and support. The process of planning offers a specific way to talk about the death, grief and ways to cope as a family.
Families often look for ways to pay tribute to unique characteristics or memories of the child such as:
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 about certain aspects of the service and may want to take part in planning. Whether families include children in the planning process depends on a variety of factors including family preferences, the child’s age and maturity, health status, and prognosis. For many children and families, talking about what happens after death and what the memorial service could look like is a source of hope and comfort. It can help take away some of the unknown and give children some control over what will happen. This can also provide an opportunity for families to connect with one another and create memories.
Ways to involve children include:
For resources to help with conversations about end-of-life care, visit The Conversation Project.
As families plan for a service, options may be discussed regarding:
Important logistical decisions to consider include:
Additional resources that may be helpful include:
Together does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.
Reviewed: June 2018