“I have never planned a funeral. In fact I have never even been to a funeral and now I am faced with the overwhelming task of planning something loving and meaningful for my child. How do I begin? What are my options? Do I have to use a traditional funeral home?”
Arranging a child’s funeral is a job for which no parent can be prepared. The death of your child is perhaps the most painful thing that has ever happened to your family and this may be the first time you have been involved in making funeral arrangements. You may be tempted to rush the process because you are so stunned and upset, but it’s important to take some time to think about what you want for your child and your family, so that you are not making decisions about the services in haste. According to “Choices in Arranging a Child’s Funeral”, SIDS Australia states:
The funeral is the last physical act of caring for your child. It is a time, amid profound grief, when you can acknowledge your child and the meaning your child’s life holds for you and your family. You have many choices in arranging the funeral. Arrangements for children and babies may be quite different from the way adult funerals are conducted. There are few legal requirements in arranging a child’s funeral, although your religion or culture may guide you in your choices. Take your time, however.
Below are some basic suggestions to help guide you through the process.
- It is customary to have a professional in the funeral industry make the funeral arrangements, but there’s no legal reason to do so. In fact, you can do everything yourself. Parents who have planned a home or family-run funeral found it to be a meaningful way to involve family members and de-institutionalize death.
- If you decide to use a funeral director, don’t be afraid to call more than one in order to find someone you like and trust and that is compassionate and sensitive to your loss. Ask friends for help if you find this hard to do.
- You’ll want to notify people when your child passes. Make a list of the people who should be contacted and their phone numbers so that you can ask others to do this for you.
- Give some thought to the kind of service that would be most personal and meaningful to you and your family.
Practical Matters at Time of Death
- It is a legal requirement for a death to be registered within five days and it must be done before you can complete arrangements for a funeral. In most circumstances, this is straightforward. If your child died at home, notify the doctor and/or hospice case manager and they will fill out the death certificate. If your child died in the hospital, the staff will arrange for the death certificate.
- At this time, you may wish to have a brief ceremony of blessing for your child. If you have a clergy or spiritual advisor, you may wish to ask them to come to you.
- If you have a funeral director, notify them. They will come and remove the body and keep it safe until the funeral arrangements can be made.
- If you have decided to donate your child’s organs to help others, a donor transplant coordinator should be contacted to discuss this further.
- If you do not have a funeral director and want to make arrangements yourself, ask the hospital if they will keep the body for you until the arrangements are in place.
- You will need to write a death notice and obituary. The work of composing these items can be therapeutic for you. A funeral director can place the press notice for you. However, you can also do this yourself by calling the local newspaper.
Burial or Cremation Arrangements
- There are a variety of interment choices. Traditional in-ground burial options in cemeteries range from single plots to family estates. For families preferring an above-ground burial or entombment, mausoleum crypts in both indoor and outdoor locations are an option. Cremated remains are generally placed in an urn or other container of the family’s choice, which can then be sheltered in a protected structure called a columbarium or buried in a special urn garden. Cemeteries often have special areas for children.
- If you choose cremation, you’ll need to decide whether you want to disperse the ashes at the crematorium or have them returned to you in an urn. The cemetery can provide an urn or you can purchase or make your own. Later, you can choose to disperse the ashes yourself in a special place such as the garden, countryside or at sea. Alternatively, you can keep the ashes at home for as long as you wish; there is no need for an immediate decision. You may decide you want a permanent memorial for your child at a cemetery.
- If you have a funeral director, ask questions of them so that you understand your options for planning the service. Get cost estimates in writing. Remember that you don’t have to accept all the options presented to you. For example, if you’re planning a burial, a simple coffin may be preferable to a more elaborate one. Make the choice that feels right to you and don’t let yourself be rushed. Take as much time as you need to make these choices, without feeling pressured. These decisions will be with you forever.
- Decide how your child should be dressed. You may want to provide a photo to the funeral director.
Arranging a Service
There is no legal requirement for what a funeral service has to look like or where it has to be. You could have it in your house or garden if you wish. You should feel free to design a service that will help you say farewell to your son or daughter and have a lasting significance for you and your family. Here are some suggestions:
- Services can be religious or non-religious. A non-religious funeral can take place in a crematorium chapel, community center or at the family home.
- Consider inviting people who have been important in your child’s life to officiate; this could be a family member, friend, teacher, your child’s employer or the leader in a voluntary service.
- Consider a service in which friends, relatives, teachers or classmates are given an opportunity to express their thoughts and memories about your child.
- Place personal expressions of the family, such as a good-bye letter, family pictures, mementos, toys, or drawings in the casket.
- Arrange a “memory table” containing pictures of your child and some of theier favorite possessions.
- Choose music and readings that reflect your child’s interests and personality. You may also wish to record the funeral service because sometimes our distress during the actual event may hinder us from taking away a clear memory of the farewell to your child. A recording can be a unique solace over time.
- Think about personalizing how you use flowers. You can ask people to bring flowers from their own garden. You may want to provide a single flower to all those who participate or ask people to give donations to a specific charity in lieu of purchasing flowers.
- Consider a reception after the funeral at a family home or the home of a relative or friend.
- Involve other family members such as siblings and grandparents in the planning so that it will be meaningful for everyone. Don’t forget to include surviving children in making arrangements. They are often forgotten and their involvement will be helpful to them in their grieving, both now and over time. Talk to them about the funeral and whether or not they would like to participate in it.
- Clergy can provide support and resources to help you prepare memorial or funeral arrangements.
Memorials and Unique Options
According to The Lifemark Group of Cemeteries, Crematories and Funeral Homes in Northern California: A memorial is a marker or some other physical object that is permanently inscribed with the name and possibly other information about a person who has died. Memorials create a lasting tribute to the person’s life—and provide a physical location where people in current and future generations can honor that life. Memorialization is important whether remains are buried or cremated.
There are many options available to fit your circumstances and your preferences, from traditional markers for stored remains to more unique memorials such as benches or living memorials such as trees and flowering perennials marked by a plaque.
There are a number of options for families wishing to distribute cremated remains in a unique way. These include:
- Launching a portion of the remains into space
- “Planting” them in an ocean reef
- Incorporating them into fireworks that can be used as part of a goodbye ceremony
- Using a portion of the remains to create a diamond
- Creating a work of art that contains a portion of remains
- Creating “keepsake” personal jewelry items that contain a portion of remains
Use your imagination and let your child’s spirit soar.
Article contributed and printed with permission from Sophia’s Garden www.sophiasgarden.org