Celebrant Insider: Children’s grief and the importance of funerals

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Children's celebrant Poppy Walker

Jennifer Constant, director of The Celebrant Directory, talks to Poppy Walker about children’s grief and the importance of including them in funerals.

How does grief differ in children and adults?

Grieving takes diverse forms in kids and grown-ups. For adults, it’s a slow, enduring process; for children, it’s like deep waves interrupted by times of blissful play. Their young minds can’t handle prolonged sorrow, so they dive into activities and fun to shield themselves. This phenomenon, called “Puddle Jumping,” sees them hopping in and out of their puddle of grief, a survival instinct that cherishes positivity amidst sadness.

Does attending a funeral help a grieving child?

Absolutely, I think it does. Funerals play a big role in the whole process of healing after someone passes. Especially for kids, seeing the grown-ups they rely on sharing their own sadness can make them feel understood. When families and friends gather to support one another, it’s like a reminder that they’re not alone in those tough feelings. And that’s really important because losing someone you love can feel super lonely, and being together helps tackle that.

What if the child is too young to understand what is happening?

Little ones, like toddlers and babies, might not grasp much from being at a funeral right now. Yet, down the road, it could aid them in coping with loss. Being part of the farewell, especially for a dear family member like a parent or sibling, lets them know and remember, fostering healing as they grow.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is bringing a child to a funeral?

Make sure they’re ready for what’s ahead, both in terms of what they’ll see and hear, and how they’ll feel. Keep it simple and factual when you talk about it. Cover the practical side of funerals and the mix of emotions they might go through. There are some helpful books, leaflets, and resources out there for families dealing with this.

For younger children, I always suggest the book Why Do Things Die? by Katie Daynes and Christine Pym. It’s written in a way that’s so easy to understand, with friendly language, pictures, and even interactive lift-the-flap parts. As for the older kids, you might want to check out the animated videos from Child Bereavement UK. They guide kids through the funeral process in a caring and factual way.