Children at funerals



When I was a relatively young child, my great-grandfather died. Back then, families brought their loved ones home for a week and placed them in what we call today the living room. My great-grandmother, however, called it her parlor. Nevertheless, upon his death, my great-grandfather was in the living room/parlor for an entire week in a hot, non-air-conditioned, and highly humid Louisiana home.
I don’t know for certain if my great-grandfather had been embalmed, but I assume he had been. As a funeral director, I can’t imagine we could have borne his presence otherwise. In some cases, embalming is not required by law; however, modern regulations state that should a body be without refrigeration and/or unburied for longer than 24 hours, embalming becomes a legal requirement. I certainly hope it was the same back then.
As an almost 3-year-old, my memories are somewhat vague. I have clouded recollections of his casket in my great-grandmother’s parlor, but it didn’t seem unnatural at all. He was there with us, albeit deceased, while my little cousins and I were in and out playing as though nothing unusual was going on at all. Additionally, on our way in and out of the house for a drink of water or a sandwich, we’d pop over to say an endearment or lightly touch our PaPa’s hand.
Sometime later, when I was about 6 years old, my aunt passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was survived by my young uncle and their almost 2-year-old daughter. Families no longer brought their decedents back home for a week by then. Therefore, I saw my aunt at the nearby funeral home. The scene was quite different from my previous experience. Not only was the territory (funeral parlor) unfamiliar, but the level of grief seemed more significant.
A few years later my grandfather was murdered. As a 10-year-old, his death was devastating. I remember my mother calling out as she fell to the floor, writhing in anguish and grief as she received the news over the phone. By then, my family had left the southern U.S. and was living in the west. We boarded a plane and immediately flew back to Louisiana.
My grandfather’s funeral was an eye-popper for me.His death changed the way I understood life in general and changed my level of trust toward others in great measure.
The question then becomes, was going to funerals beginning at age 2 too much for me? Well, I did become a funeral director, so in my mind, I think it probably helped me understand more about the tragedies and the natural sequences and recoveries we experience in life. My exposure to death as a child did not frighten me nor mar my inner balance. However, it instilled in me the absolute knowledge that life is a gift, a precious time to enjoy companionship, family relations, and friendships. It is a time to be kind and accept kindness, to love and serve others in need, and to grow and develop oneself into a being who makes life on earth a better experience for everyone you meet.
If you are faced with a death and are fearful of the impact it will have on children, please analyze the situation. If you feel the child is able to handle this reality, and if you are stable enough to present and assist them through it, follow your instincts. However, if you are unstable or you fear for the child’s mental welfare, take a moment and review your motives. In some cases, children may not be ready for such a reality, especially when the accompanying adult or the child’s coping skills are compromised..

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, Podcaster, and founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, Podcasts, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award.

For additional encouragement, please visit my podcast “Deadline” on Spotify and follow me on Instagram at “Deadline_TracyLee.”