Preparing a Child for a Memorial Viewing

Oftentimes, an element of the process of bidding farewell and honoring a person who has died is some type of memorial viewing. A viewing of the deceased can occur in a number of settings, including:

  • Wake
  • Funeral
  • Rosary (Catholic Church)
  • Visitation

An important consideration when it comes to a memorial viewing is the guidelines to be applied for the participation of a child in this aspect of the funeral, memorial, and mourning process. A parent needs to keep certain factors in mind when it comes to determining whether a particular child should participate in a memorial viewing.

Age Versus Emotional Maturity

A common question poised when it comes to a child attending a memorial viewing centers on age. Is a child old enough to go to a viewing?

In fact, the chronological age is not the determining factor when it comes to a child attending a memorial viewing. The real consideration is an evaluation of a child’s emotional maturity.

As a parent you are called upon to make an objective and yet honest individualized assessment of a child’s coping and comprehension abilities when it comes to determining the propriety of a child attending a memorial viewing.

Give a Child a Choice

Once a determination is made that a child has the emotional ability to attend a memorial viewing, the next consideration becomes that young person’s choice. A child should never be forced to attend a memorial viewing. Indeed, a child not only should not be forced to attend a memorial viewing, but should not be compelled to attend a funeral or memorial service if he or she has reservations about doing so.

With that said, many children understand the importance of attending a funeral or memorial service. This includes even younger children, according to research reported in Psychology Today.

Tell a Child Specifically What to Expect

If a child has the emotional maturity, and makes the decision to attend a memorial viewing, the next step is to tell your son or daughter precisely what to expect at a viewing. Let your child know up front that even though he or she has made an initial decision to attend a memorial viewing, he or she still has the ability to forgo actually viewing the decease love one, even after arriving the service venue.

Describe generally how the deceased will be presented in a casket. Your child may be curious about how the deceased individual will appear. You can explain that the person who has passed may not look exactly like he or she appeared while living.

Make sure your child understands that some people at a memorial viewing may touch, even kiss, the deceased person. Make clear to your child that he or she is not expected to touch the deceased individual. Explain that an individual who has passed on no longer feels like a living person. Let your child know that a deceased person will feel cooler and the texture of his or her skin may feel a bit different.

When explaining to a child what to expect at a memorial viewing, be sure to answer all questions. Indeed, because attending a memorial viewing is a foreign experience for your child, you might want to prompt your child with questions of your own to make sure your young one does have a full and complete understanding. For example, ask your child what feelings he or she might experience at a memorial viewing.

If the deceased person is a close family member, you may be able to take your child to the location of the memorial viewing before the service starts. By taking this step, you are able to allow your child the opportunity to view the deceased loved one without the possible pressure that might arise from other people being in the room.

This step does not preclude your child from fully participating in a memorial viewing as scheduled. It just provides one more helpful step in fully preparing your child to a memorial viewing, particularly when it is associated with the funeral, wake, or rosary.

The Importance of Rituals for Children

Rituals are not only important for adults, but for children as well, according to Kenneth J. Doka, who writes about his research in his book Using Ritual with Children and Adolescents. With this in mind, voluntarily participating in a memorial viewing can help a child in mourning and grieving the loss of loved one. It can make a child feel part of a loving family and caring community.