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Thoughts on children attending funeral/memorial services

Original post made by Meghan, Vintage Hills, on Oct 20, 2010

I'm looking for some outside, unbiased, third-party feedback on a sensitive topic and hoping this will be a good place for some thoughful advice...

My husband's great Aunt, sister to his paternal grandmother, recently passed away. She was a well-known and loved figure in the Berkeley community, and her memorial will be public and, I'm sure, well-attended. We, along with our 3 well-behaved children, ages 5, 3.5, and 1, are planning on attending because we wish to show our respect to the rest of the family, as well as get to see several people in the family that we don't often get a chance to see.

This morning, my husband was talking with his mom. She said that she and my husband's sister were planning on attending the memorial service and that they would "represent" their branch of the family for us, and that we shouldn't come along with the kids. He told her that we hadn't finalized our plans yet, and that he was still planning on discussing it further with me, but that we were planning on coming along with the kids. She continued to insist that he not come with the kids and the conversation ended badly because he didn't like her telling him what to do and she felt her wishes were being ignored.

A little more background on things... my mother-in-law divorced my husband's father many many years ago, so the fact that she says she'll be representing my husband and our family to his side of the family, which she chose to leave so long ago, is not sitting well with him. For us though, we just don't believe there's a problem with bringing the kids. We really don't have any alternatives for leaving them with others if we were to go alone, they are very well-behaved, his aunt loved children, there will be a lot of people there, and we want our kids to be a part of the experience and have the opportunity to meet members of their family they don't usually get to see (and vice versa).

But the botton line and question is... is it ok to bring children to funerals?


Comments (19)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

In my opinion, it is not okay to bring such young kids to a funeral. You say they are well behaved and I believe that, but a 1 year old is a 1 year old even if well behaved.

When my mother-in-law died, my sister-in-law brought her two kids: a 4 and a 2 year old. The kids were miserable and started running around both at the memorial service and then at church. They were well behaved kids, but what do you expect of such young kids being asked to sit for hours and hang out at a place where there will most likely be only adults? My sister-in-law's husband ended up having to leave with the kids, he did that so his wife could properly mourn her mom.

I suggest you either get a babysitter or have your husband attend alone.

I agree that your mother-in-law should not represent your family. Either have your husband go alone or get a babysitter and go with your husband.

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Posted by Meghan
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 20, 2010 at 9:17 am

Something else now, my husband just reminded me that he has a required training course to be at the same day as the memorial which will conflict with the time, so he won't be able to be there, so it would have to be me with the kids. We don't have the money to pay for a babysitter or any extended family in the area. Should we not go?

Also, I just realized that I started out calling it a memorial, which is correct, and then ended up asking about funerals, which it is not. She's already been buried, this is to be a memorial of her life. Not sure if it matters in the scheme of manners and things, but thought I should point it out.

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 9:36 am


this sounds like a delicate issue between your husband and his mom. That's probably a more important concern in the long run, if he wants to maintain a strong relationship with her.

When you said that you want to go to see other members of the family, I can certainly understand that desire. There's a difference between a memorial and a family reunion, though. Did the kids actually know their great, great aunt?

Personally, unless I knew for sure that other children will be attending, I would stay home with the kids.

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Posted by Karen
a resident of Birdland
on Oct 20, 2010 at 10:48 am

Hi Meghan,

Sorry about the recent loss in your family. Although you may not have been particularly close with this relative, loss always has a lot of emotions tied in to it.

Recently, my dad died. At the time, I had a 2 year old and a 1 month old. They both attended the services, however, a friend of my mom's sat in the back with them and took the 2 year old outside for most of the time.

My father was also a very public figure and there were hundreds of people in attendance, which resulted in a standing room only crowd extending beyond the pews. Several people shot me dirty glances when they noticed me dealing with the two small children before the service. They didn't realize I was the daughter of the deceased and the children were his grandchildren. However, what I took from that, was that most people do feel it is inappropriate to bring children to memorial services/funerals (in my dad's case, memorial service.)

What I would suggest is, contact those family members you really would want to see, and host a get together at your home, or a park after the service. That way you would still have the chance to see family. Just a thought....

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Posted by don't go
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

If your husband can't justify getting out of a required work training then it isn't *that* important to him. Sounds like a good enough reason for you to miss it as well. Let his mom 'represent' as she graciously offered to. If you want to do a reunion then offered to host some family afterwards like the previous poster suggested.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm


I think that if the memorial service is not important enough for your husband to attend, then my advice is for you not to attend unless you can get a friend or relative to stay with the kids while you attend.

This is, after all, your husband's relative. He is the one expected to be there, not you. Children, in my experience, are not welcome at funerals, memorial services.

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Posted by M
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm

I think children attending a funeral/memorial completely depends on dynamics of the relationship of the parents and children to the deceased. I think it's too broad, and not of my opinion, to say children are not welcome at such services.

Possibly you can show up towards the scheduled end time, when people tend to stick around and mingle, and you and your children can see relatives and friends you want to catch up with at that time.

Sorry for you loss, and standby whatever decision you make, as long as it's for all the right reasons.

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Posted by T
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Oct 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

Children under 5 are too young for the memorial service. But if there is a crying room that could be an option if you must take them-- they wont remember the service and you wont either because you will have to pay attention to them.
You could also go and sit in the back seats with them and go outside if they start acting up.
My own children under 5 did not come to the services of their grandparents---I wanted to have the time to grieve myself.
But you need to respect that people want to be able to listen and grieve and focus on celebrating a life.

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Posted by Meghan
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Oct 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

Thank you all for the comments. As it turns out, it looks like we'll be able to see family after the memorial at a gathering nearby and I've found out that the kids are welcome. So I'll just see that day how they're doing with nap schedules and get there for the reception afterwards at least, which my husband will be able to meet us for.

Just so we're clear on my husband's interest in going, it's definitely not that my husband does not want to attend or "can't justify getting out of a required work training"... it's a *required* work training thing. Whether or not he can get out of it is up to the union, not him. Anyway, doesn't look like it matters, since he'll be able to make it to the reception regardless.

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Posted by Sue
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2010 at 9:46 am

I personally remember attending a memorial service for my Grandmother when I was 5. I am now 57 and wish I had never gone. I would have rather remembered her a different way, like visiting our home or a happy time. I have had this memory of her for years now and would rather have been able to remember her as I said, in a happy way. Since I was her only granddaughter, my parents felt it was appropriate for me to attend, even at only 5 years old. Those memories last forever.

I wouldn't suggest any young child attend a funeral or a memorial service....just my opinion.

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Posted by don't go
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2010 at 10:38 am

"Just so we're clear on my husband's interest in going, it's definitely not that my husband does not want to attend"

So, if a closer relative to your husband, say his own mother or father, were to pass away - he would be required to go to this work training still? Is this what you are telling me? That his work/union is so oppressive that the training must go on with him in attendance without regard to this mental health?

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Posted by reasonable
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

Generally, I think funerals are for 1) family and friends of the deceased -- this includes young children only if they were very close to the person who died (i.e. parents or grandparents) but not otherwise. 2) people who are close to the bereaved parties and are there to support them (i.e. attending funerals of the parents of good friends, even if you didn't know the parents well). 3) In a public memorial, any adult or teen who felt that the deceased had a personal impact on them.

In this case, it is really only your husband (and maybe yourself, in the role of supportive wife) who belong at this memorial. As it turns out there is a reception afterwards which works out ideally for your whole family, but if that hadn't been the case, I'd have said leave the kids home; if you can't find a sitter, then you stay home with them. As for your mother-in-law, she was probably just trying to make a low-key appearance and not make a scene with 3 young grandchildren in tow.

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Posted by just me
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Oct 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

Perhaps instead of asking a bunch of strangers online, it would be better to contact whoever is running the service. You could ask them what their experience has been with young children.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 21, 2010 at 11:34 am

since there seems to be a family friction, what i would do, is leave the kids home. husband and wife go. if there was no family problem, the kids should be there.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm

My brothers and sister and I lost two of our grandparents when we were ages 2-10. My parents took all of us to the funeral services. I think children at such services was common. We children had known our grandparents pretty well. Both services were also open casket. As to how well behaved we were or not, I don't recall, but my parents were pretty good at enforcing discipline. As a child I think it is beneficial to gain some idea of what death is about, and I don't recall any of us being traumatized by the experience. About 5 years later our father was killed in a car crash. That loss still hurts, but I think that there was some benefit in having attended those funerals for our grandparents. I think they prepared us some for the horrible experience that we later experienced with the loss of Dad.

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

if you want to go with your kids, then take them along. I've been to memorial services and nobody seemed to blink an eye when kids started running around. Not all services are somber affairs.

It's your call, later for the old hen. Give her a milk shake so that she can be occupied. I'd ignore her and take the kids along. you seem like some kinda wimp...

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Posted by SR
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I attended many calling hours and funerals growing up. Most for relatives, but some for friends of my parents. I was taught that death was a part of life and that we must honor the life of those who have passed and support the families in their loss.

As an adult, I have been so much better prepared for those sad occasions than those I know who were not raised in this manner and who have no idea how to handle the death of their loved ones.

I think the 3 1/2 and 1 year old may be a little young, but to think our children should be shielded from everything sad is doing them a disservice. And children often bring a bright spot to a sad event, reminding us of the circle of life, not just the end of it.

Of course this is only my opinion and everyone must decide what is right for them and know the family of the diseased, it may be more respectful of their wishes to let them know you are thinking of them but cannot get a babysitter so will not be attending. There is also no written rule that you need to spend the whole day. Pay your respects and leave if your children are uncomfortable or misbehaved. They will do better the next time and grow up to understand death and know that the it is good to honor the lives of those who have passed.

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Posted by Tango
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Oct 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I attended my first funeral, When I was 24. I had always wondered what happenrd at a funeral. It was a great mystery to me. My parents were not funeral or memeral people. I never understood why. It still seems strange to me. We had a quiet 10 person grave side memoral service for my father -in -law. We had a small service for my father. Nothing for my mother, execpt my sister and I. what I am trying to get at is there can be all kinds of services and you must pick and choose your battles. Maybr this isn't the time to pick this one. Send a lovely card to whomever is the receipent of such. and express you feeling in that manner. There will always be other services and hopefully your children will be older and more understanding of what it is all about. Try for a happy family reunion sometime soon.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Oct 23, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Sorry for your loss. Each time a relative passes, we lose a little piece of our childhood.

It sounds like the primary issue is the feelings underlying the relationship between your husband and his mother.

If he feels that her stepping back into his life for this important occasion is lessening his presence as a full-time member of his father's side of the family (the side his mother "chose to walk away from so long ago"), then this should be straightened out through an honest and calm conversation. The training commitment that prevents him from going solves the immediate crisis, but the underlying conflict will smolder for years.

My opinion about kids at these occasions is that if you feel they may interfere with the main purpose of the event, they should not attend.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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