An unexpected death of a close family member a few months ago left me reeling and struggling to cope. Even now, I’m still in disbelief that he’s gone – so suddenly and unexpectedly – and yet we do what we must and life for the rest of us goes on. Grieving the death of a loved one is incredibly hard, but if you have children, you have to stay strong for them and show them that even in the darkest times, we pull ourselves together and continue. A lot of tears have been shed whilst he’s been sleeping though and I’m glad he’s too young to understand what’s happening although that has the double edged sword of he’s too young to hold any memories of this family member.
I hold onto the positive thought that at least they got to meet my son and spent quite a bit of time with him. My son won’t remember, but I’ll always know that he was a part of their lives and be grateful for that.
The practicalities of taking an infant to a funeral
A funeral and sometimes a reception and wake follow the death of a friend or family member and as parents, we have to then think about the logistics. What’s best for us as a family? What’s best for our children? What’s best for the rest of our friends and family who are also grieving? As I’ve had to think about that in depth this week, I’ve been reading a lot of material and discussing it with other parents and family members. I had to ask myself – should I leave the baby (12 months) at home? Should he join us for the funeral? Should he skip the funeral and come to the wake? Here are my thoughts.
Would you be able to leave the baby at home, logistically? The first question to ask is whether it’s even possible for you to leave the baby. If you are breastfeeding or he has trouble taking a bottle, it may not be possible to leave him behind. If you don’t have any reliable childcare or your child has special needs that make you uncomfortable leaving him with someone else (given that your family will likely be at the funeral with you), then it becomes a question of whether you go or not at all.
I don’t think anyone should miss out on saying goodbye, getting closure and being around their friends and family at a funeral because they didn’t want to leave a baby at home. In my opinion, bringing a baby at this point is a given!
The benefits of bringing a baby to a funeral
- Babies and children often make people smile.
- Funerals should be celebrations of love and life as much as an expression of grief.
- The circle of life and having children around can have a positive affect on everyone.
- It gives a real feeling of an inclusive family.
- Although they might be too young to form long-lasting memories, they may take comfort later on to know that they were included in saying goodbye.
The downsides of bringing a baby to a funeral
- Getting the baby dressed, ready and packing a bag for the day may be a lot of extra emotional and physical work when you’re already at your lowest point.
- If you’re already struggling to cope, you may need to ask for extra help.
- Children make noise. If the baby starts crying or making inappropriate noises (I had nightmares of my son making his happy oooh noise and clapping his hands at exactly the wrong moment!) are you, or is someone else, going to be available to just nip out of the room to calm them down?
- This isn’t so much an issue with infants and babies usually, but sometimes children can be negatively affected by the mood of others. There’s a chance that being surrounded by grieving, crying people could upset a child so you have to think about how the children will respond – although this is more for older children than youngsters.
So what did I decide and how did it go?
I took my son to the funeral, but my husband did leave half way through the ceremony due to him starting to make noise. They were actually happy noises not upset noises, but it seemed sensible to take him out. This wasn’t a big deal and I’m still very glad I took him and he shared that moment with the family. Afterwards at the wake, I had him in his high chair in the kitchen for a lot of it whilst the rest of the family shared their memories. Later on he spent some time with family members and I think that he brought smiles to peoples faces.
Since we have no childcare other than my mother and husband, who both wanted to attend, our decision was both a practical and emotional one. He gave me something to focus on other than my own grief. But my other family members with older children chose not to have their children there and I think this is a very personal decision with no right or wrong answer. You’ll know best how your family and your children will respond and we can all say goodbye to a departed friend or family member at any time in our own way.
My Tips for bringing an Infant to a Funeral
Having now experienced taking a 12 month old to a funeral, these are my tips for making it as smooth as possible:
- Talk to other family members and close relatives of the deceased before making a decision to get their opinion.
- Research what practical options might be available if you choose not to take them or if they are unwell or especially rowdy on the day.
- Have lots of snacks and plenty of milk or other drinks available.
- Check the logistics of whether it will be easy to take a stroller into the funeral venue (we left ours outside).
- Discuss who will leave the service if the baby needs some time outside.
- Have a plan for who will take care of the baby at the wake.
- Take toys or things to entertain the baby at the wake.
- You may need to speak to the organizer about providing a folding high chair for feeding, or even a cot in a quiet place if a nap is needed.
- Make sure you pay attention to the other mourners and see how they are being affected and judge when it’s best to bring him in to interact with the family.
It’s an unfortunate situation but a lot of us will find ourselves asking whether we should take a baby or an infant to a funeral. It is a strange mix of life and death to be mourning whilst in the presence of a baby and very much a personal choice with no right or wrong answer. I’m glad we got to say goodbye together.