Children often want to be included in what others around them are seeing. You may be uncomfortable with the idea of your child viewing the deceased, but it’s important to remember that children have big imaginations, and that fantasies can be far scarier than the actual experience.
Viewing your loved one may help your child understand that death is a natural part of life, and not something to be feared. It may also help him or her understand the reality of death, and that your loved one will not be coming back.
Offer clear and honest information to help your child make the decision whether to view the deceased; reassure your child that whatever he or she decides is okay.
If your child chooses to view your loved one, accompany him or her to the casket.
Your funeral service professional can be on hand to answer any questions, and help prepare you and your child for what you will see when you approach the casket. Consider scheduling a private viewing prior to the visitation or service.
Note the casket’s color, location and surrounding items (flowers, memorial table, kneeler, etc.).
Assure your child early and often that your loved one can no longer feel cold, hurt or fear. Explain that the deceased will be lying in a casket with hands folded and eyes closed. Acknowledge that it might look like your loved one is sleeping, but clarify that his or her body has stopped working, and will not start working again.
Prepare your child to see that your loved one may look different from when he or she was alive. For example, there may be visible marks, scars or swelling if he or she died from illness or injury. Funeral service professionals often use cosmetics for a more natural look, and to create a healing final impression of your loved one.
Describe what your loved one will be wearing. Is it a familiar outfit or a favorite color? If your loved one will only be seen from the waist up, your child may be curious about things like whether he or she is wearing shoes.
Let your child know that touching your loved one is okay, and that the deceased’s body will feel cool to the touch. If asked, “Where can I touch?” suggest a gentle stroke of your loved one’s hair or arm; model the action as necessary.
Even though you may not be able to see your loved one, remind your child that the deceased can no longer feel cold, hurt or fear. Explain that your loved one is lying in the casket, fully dressed, with hands folded and eyes closed. Encourage your child to ask questions.
It is just as important to explain what your child will see when your loved one’s body isn’t present. Explain that there might be a portrait, an urn or a memorial table, and that everyone is gathered to say their special goodbyes.
Losing people you love affects you. It is buried inside of you and becomes this big, deep hole of ache. It doesn’t magically go away, even when you stop officially mourning.
–Carrie Jones, Captivate