By Alison Andreasen
People often cringe at the thought of bringing kids to funerals. How will they explain all the sad people? What if the children talk during the service? What if they do something unthinkable like knock the casket over or scream something completely inappropriate?
While I don’t have all the answers to those questions, I would like to offer a few reasons why you should take your children to funerals and address a few concerns (warranted and not) that people give for not doing so.
Children are part of the Body of Christ: We are told to mourn with those in our Christian family who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice. It is fitting that children see how the reality of death affects others. They are, after all, part of the Body of Christ. You might be surprised at the empathy that toddlers and children exhibit as they wipe tears from your eyes and give you a hug. Older children, too, feel the desire to show compassion to someone grieving the loss of a loved one.
Funerals attest to the broken world we live in and give an opportunity to discuss the Gospel: The Fall into sin has forever changed our world, and creation gives testimony to that brokenness. Allowing children to see this brokenness gives an opportunity to speak of Jesus, who has redeemed us and all Christians and is now preparing the New Heaven and New Earth where all of the brokenness we see will be nonexistent. It is hard to imagine why a child would long for such a place if everything she has experienced has been sparkles and unicorns. Not that we intentionally put our children into places where they will see extreme brokenness, but we also don’t pretend the brokenness isn’t there. The Lutheran funeral is a carefully designed liturgy that is more about Jesus than the individual who has passed away. At funerals, children hear about Christ who died for us so we could live forever, is the firstborn from the dead, and has promised to return and make all things right. What Christian parent doesn’t want their kids to hear about Jesus?
They learn etiquette appropriate for such occasions: Many individuals don’t attend funerals until they are adults. Even then, it is usually only because it was someone very close to them. They then find themselves in such a state of shock that they are unsure of what to do or not do. A mortician recently noted that the people who had been to funerals before seemed to handle the situation more easily and were not as uncomfortable when they attended a funeral of someone close to them. They were able to focus on saying “goodbye-for-now” to that loved one and commending them one last time to the Lord’s care.
These are just a few of many reasons people should take their kids to funerals. Yet no matter how good the reasons are to take your kids to funerals, there are many reasons people give for not doing so. Maybe some are even ones you have said yourself!
I don’t feel comfortable at funerals!: If this is the case for you, I would even more heartily encourage you to attend a funeral, perhaps attending by yourself so you can address your own unease without distraction. It is good for the Christian to face the effects of our Original Sin and to put our hope in Christ. In other countries and parts of the world, death is an experience most people are familiar with from a very young age. We will not and cannot be sheltered from it forever, and no matter how much anti-age cream we use, it will happen to us too (unless the Lord comes first) and when that time comes, we should not fear, but confidently cling to Christ.
They will miss school: Life lessons occur outside of the classroom. It is silliness to say that our children aren’t learning in such a situation.They may not be learning about math or science, but they are learning about the Christian family and eternal truths. If they can miss school so they can get their teeth straightened, surely they can miss school for this!
The funeral will be at my child’s naptime./My child has a special need that makes social behavior unpredictable: Your child’s needs are a very important factor in helping you decide whether to attend a funeral or not. While children are ALWAYS invited to participate in the life of the church, some church functions happen at very inconvenient times for children. If your child is at that difficult age (I always say 15 months until 3 years old) and there will likely be tantrums, screaming, or excessively disruptive behavior, it is a service to your child and to the people attending the funeral that you refrain from attending. Likewise, some children have sensitivities to sound, lights, and crowds. If this is the case for your child, it might be best that you refrain from attending, especially if the funeral is occurring on an especially challenging day or at a time of day that is difficult for your child to navigate.
May the Lord bless you as you live the life given with the people He has given. As we mourn in the brokenness wrought by our own sinfulness, may we also rejoice in the victory over death that Christ won for us and for the New Heaven and New Earth that await us. All of us--even the little children!
Alison is a wife of one, mother of three, and teacher of many. She lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife. A trained Lutheran school teacher and homeschooling mom, she has a passion for children’s education, especially education in the Christian faith. She is a brainstormer by nature and those who are close to her never know what new idea she will think of next. Recent adventures with her family have included tapping trees to make syrup; creating, expanding, and selling her own granola business; and learning to preserve fresh garden goodness for year-round use.
Funeral image source.