parent holding a young daughters hand

My wife is dying – is our seven-year-old daughter too young for the funeral?

A man’s wife is dying from tragic bone cancer. This is of course a difficult situation, especially while they are navigating through it with their seven-year-old daughter. The father originally thought that his daughter would attend her mother’s funeral until he received some pushback from the rest of the family. He wrote to an advice column seeking advice. (1)

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This Man’s Wife Is Dying: Should Their Daughter Attend The Funeral?

At just 38 years old, a man’s wife is dying of terminal bone cancer. There is nothing more that they can do but do their best to make the rest of her time on earth as comfortable as possible. One of the hardest parts about the entire thing has been explaining this to their seven-year-old daughter. 

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“Together we’ve talked to and tried to explain things to our seven-year-old daughter, who obviously gets upset at times but is mostly being very strong and thoughtful.” he wrote.

His wife planned the funeral to included their daughter. She helped to choose both the words and the music that will be used. It hasn’t been without tears, but their daughter feels proud of her contributions.

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Not Everyone Is On Board

Unfortunately, not everyone in the family agrees with how they have done this.

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“When I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, she was horrified that we wanted our daughter to come to the funeral at all. She said she thought it would be cruel to put her through such an ordeal. She has obviously discussed it with other relatives because, since then, I have had several phone calls from other relatives, all going on in the same vein.”

Now, he is at a loss as to what he should do. He obviously doesn’t want his daughter to suffer any more than she already has and will. That being said, now that she has played a role in the planning, he says that she will be devastated to be kept away. What should he do?

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Read: Husband Asks for Advice When His Pregnant Wife Won’t Stop Drinking

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Columnist Advice

Advice columnist and counselor, Fiona Caine, started off by saying that she was proud of how this man and his wife have handled things thus far. She explained that children have very vivid imaginations. If she was kept more in the dark in order to “protect” her, she may end up coming to the conclusion that she is somehow responsible for what is happening to her mother.

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“In the same way, I think to exclude her from the funeral might also mean she imagines something terrible is going on. You have, presumably, explained to her that the event won’t just be about the words and the music? She presumably understands that it’s an occasion when people will say their final goodbyes to her mother? If she understands that, then maybe she should be given the option on whether or not she wants to go.” she wrote.

‘You will be unable to confort her’

She suggests explaining that this will be a sad, tearful occasion as people attempt to say their final goodbyes to her mother. He also needs to tell his daughter that he, himself, will likely be very upset and be unable to comfort her. If she is going to come, she needs to be prepared for what it will be like. She suggests talking to some relatives who have not yet voiced their opinions and see what they think.

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“When the day finally does come, it would be a good idea if you asked one of those she trusts from the supportive group to pay special attention to your daughter. It may be that your own grief is such that it becomes too much for you, and it would be good to know your little girl is being looked after by someone she is comfortable with.” she wrote.

Read: Too Much Love Never Spoils Children

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Kids Attending Funerals

Funerals can be very challenging events for everyone. For children, especially, who may not fully understand what is going on, this can be especially difficult. That being said, funerals are often important family events. If they are done well, they can be helpful – therapeutic, even – in bringing at least some closure to that loss. (2)

What many experts agree on is that once a child reaches an age when they are able to sit still and act appropriately at a funeral, they should be given the choice. One of the aspects of a funeral that can be beneficial for a child is that they reinforce the reality of death. They also validate grief and provide space to share memories. 

Funerals are usually more than one event. There is usually a visitation, a ceremony, a burial, and some sort of mingling event afterward. You can give the child the choice of what, if any, they want to attend. (3)

Just as Fiona suggested, if they do attend, they should be assigned a “guardian” or “shepherd” so that the grieving parents don’t have to try and handle their own sadness while taking care of their child. During the funeral, they should not be forced into anything – if they want to go up to the casket, prep them beforehand. If they choose not to, then they don’t have to.

If your child chooses not to attend the funeral, then make sure you do other things with them afterward to commemorate the loss of that person. This will not only help them process death and their own sadness, but it will likely help you, too.

Keep Reading: Study Says Close Friends Actually Share The Same Brain Patterns

Sources:

  1. “MY WIFE IS DYING – IS OUR SEVEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TOO YOUNG FOR THE FUNERAL?” The Independent. August 17th, 2021.
  2. “Should Children Attend Funerals?” Kenneth J. Doka Ph.D. Psychology Today. May 20, 2018.
  3. “Infants and Children Attending Funerals” Chris Ramond. Verywell Health. March 02, 2020.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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