Should a young child see relative in coffin?

(26 Posts)
WomanlyWoman Sat 25-Feb-12 19:53:53

My mum died last week. She was very close to my 4 year old daughter, who I have tried to explain things to as best as possible. We were as prepared as could be, she had had cancer and we knew in early January that she would have only a few weeks left or a few months at most. Mum's body will be at her house for two nights this week before the funeral, it will be open. I will be staying there with my daughter, I am wondering whether it would be acceptable to let her visit the coffin with me. I realise some people would recoil at the idea and part of me does too, even for myself tbh, but I do my best to be as honest as possible with my daughter and don't want to shroud death into some huge unmentionable thing, I want to be as open as possible. Then again she is only a child and maybe it would be too much for her. Actually writing this is helping me make my decision; I think there's a risk of it being a damaging experience so I will keep her away from the coffin. Still, it will be quite difficult, as we will be staying there (my family live miles away), and Mum will just be in the back room. Anyone have any similar experience, advice?

OP’s posts: |
MummyDoIt Sat 25-Feb-12 20:38:39

Sorry for your loss, Trisha.

I think you know your own child best and know what they can cope with. My DSs were 4 and 5 when DH died. He died at home and I let them see him before the undertakers took him away. Didn't have much choice with DS1 as he was with me when I found DH. DS2 asked to see him and I decided it was better that he see - and see there was nothing to be scared about - than have him imagine all sorts of horrors. However, I didn't let them see DH in the chapel of rest as I didn't want their last memory of Daddy to be of him in his coffin.

Not sure if that helps at all but I didn't want your post to go unanswered.

LackaDAISYcal Sat 25-Feb-12 20:56:41

Sorry for your loss trisha sad

IME, the answer would have to be no fot the reasons given by mummydoit, but also for the fact that I was 36 when my Dad died, and of course I went to see him in the chapel of rest. The image of him lying there, all theatrical make-up and not looking like himself at all is the first Image that springs to mind when I think of him, and I have to banish it back to the far recesses of my mind.

Saying that though, children are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and my 6yo nephew saw his grandad with no lasting effects. My DS was 3 at the time, and although closer to his grandad than my nephews by virtue of the fact that we lived with him for the first year of DS's life and I wouldn't let him go to the chapel.

And, as mdi says, you know your own child and how they will react.
I hope you are both ok whatever you decide smile

WomanlyWoman Sat 25-Feb-12 22:46:33

Thankyou both. I think I'd sooner she keep her fun memories of her Nana. She may be very curious about why she's being kept out of the room though, but I'll try to explain the reasons why I think she should remember Nana as she was and keep her out. If she really wants to see her, then I may rethink.

OP’s posts: |
everlong Sun 26-Feb-12 08:40:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

alorsmum Sun 26-Feb-12 08:44:47

Sorry for your loss Trisha. I think you have to go with your gut feeling, and it sounds as if you have made your decision now. My dad died when I was 6 and I wanted to see him. My mum didn't let me but showed me pictures of him in his coffin. It helped me understand and it might be something to consider.

festi Sun 26-Feb-12 09:03:38

sorry for your loss trisha, I would say no. at 21 I went to see my mum and i do regret it, had i understood how it would have made me feel I would not have gone to see her. I think you should go with the decission you have made.

After my mum died her family wanted to bring her home, however due to the grandchildren being 11 and 3 we decided against it, my mums brothers and sisters did not understand this decission but It was the best decission for the young children.

CosmicMouse Sun 26-Feb-12 09:06:59

Sorry for the loss of your mum.

I have to agree with the others that no, I wouldn't let a child view someone after they had died.

I went to see my dad, and the image still haunts me 18mo on sad

singarainbow Sun 26-Feb-12 09:15:08

I am sorry for your loss. You know your own child, best. My family are from Ireland, and its common for the coffin to be open in the house with what seems like the whole town coming to pay their respects (and drink lots of tea), kids included. I remember when my Gran died, so many kids wanted to see her, it was like a bike/scooter park in the front garden.
I accept that its not done so much in England, so the people are not so used to it. If it were my kids, I would let them, even though they have never seen anyone like that. Kids do not see death the same way as adults, and do not have the same fears around it.

notfluffyatall Sun 26-Feb-12 09:21:23

Agree with Singa, kids aren't frightened by death the way adults can be, it's only when we introduce our fears onto them that this begins. Death has changed over the years, we're all a lot more frightened by it than we were a couple of generations ago. It's just part of life you know and if you can bring your kids up with a healthy acceptance of this you've done them a huge favour.

Sorry about your mum sad

TrinityRhino Sun 26-Feb-12 09:26:34

So sorry for your loss sad

I'm assuming you're talking of an open coffin arrangement to say your last goodbyes

when dh died, I chose not to have an open coffin as I thought everyone wouldn't really benefit from seeing him dead but to remember him as they last saw him alive and with their 'alive' memories. Also our children were very young so as they were going to be a part of everything that went on, that was another reason I chose not to.

if you have decided on an open coffin then I would be very cautious about letting your dd see, I would think it could be confusing not being able to 'wake' her, maybe

in the end it is a personal decision, good luck

frasersmummy Sun 26-Feb-12 09:47:50

hey trisha. I am truly sorry for your loss. I lost my mum in Dec and its still really raw.. my heart goes out to you

Ds is 6 .. he saw his nana in the hosp a few days before she died and he was at the funeral but he didnt see her inbetween. DS is very mature for his age and he seemed to handle it really well
but for a few weeks after the funeral he said each time he closed his eyes he saw the funeral. We spent some time in the dark at night saying do you remember when you and nana did this so that his happy memories came to the front of his head rather than the funeral iyswim.

The next week or so is going to be really hard for you all what your heart tells you .. there are no right or wrong answers and remember to take care of yourself as well

sending you a very un-mumsnet hug

foxeeroxee Sun 26-Feb-12 09:56:54

Have to agree with the idea suggested by everlong....we lost my grandad and fil within a few months and dd(5) and ds1 (3) were very close with both. didnt take them to funeral/see coffin but we did have a special afternoon where we shared funny memories and looked at pictures. dd has photo of each if her grandads that she chose and says goodnight/morning to them.....sometimes they forget and sometimes they get upset and question why this happened but honesty and cuddles have worked for us.
Hope advice has been of some help and sorry for your loss x

MummyDoIt Sun 26-Feb-12 11:24:38

The photo idea is a lovely one. It's something I did with my boys. They chose their favourite photo and we went shopping to choose a special photo frame. Your DD could also start a little memory box of things that remind her of your mum - maybe you could give her a couple of small trinkets of your mum's to remind her?

mrsnesbit Sun 26-Feb-12 11:32:27

Hi, we are in t h same situation at the moment. My mil died on Tuesday of cancer after being diagnosed 4 weeks ago.

My ds was very close to her, he is 8.
We (me, fil, bil & dh) went to the funeral home to veiw her and my husband is traumatised by the experience. MIL looked horrendous, not like herself at all, unrecognisable in fact.
We will not be allowing ds to see her.
We have given him some photos of her to choose from and i am taking him shopping to find a photoframe to put the pictures in in his room.
He has chosen a picture of himself and is writing her a letter to go in the coffin with her. DH is giving it to the funeral director to put in for him.
That will be that then (Apart from his special memory box)
Too traumatic and distressing for us here.
Sorry you are going through this, its hell isnt it?

LadyDamerel Sun 26-Feb-12 16:47:41

I'm so sorry you've lost your mum and your DD has lost her Grandma.

When my Grandpa died in the summer I had the same thought as you about being open and honest with my dcs who were 4,5 and 7 at the time.

They actually asked if they could see Grandpa's body when I described (in answer to their questions) what happened at the undertakers so I agreed with a certain amount of trepidation, mainly because I'd been with him when he died and knew he didn't look too dreadful. I didn't want them to think there was something 'bad' about a dead body and also felt that what they were imagining was likely to be worse than the actual event, iyswim.

The undertaker was fantastic - he talked to them about what it meant to be dead using the analogy of a car without a driver; when the driver gets in the car can move and go but without a driver it won't go anywhere so your body is the car and once you're dead it's like your driver has parked it and gone off.

I told them they could change their minds at any point and could leave if they needed to but all three of them went into the room with the coffin and saw Grandpa. They had a lot of questions but none of them showed any sign of being upset or traumatised by it and, I suppose more importantly, eight months on still show no ill effects from the experience. Occasionally they ask questions about it but I think they coped with it amazingly well.

The 4yo has asked the fewest questions because I think he doesn't have the emotional understanding to over-think it in the way an older child might but I guess that may be down to his personality; he's quite a matter-of-fact child and doesn't tend to think deeply.

As your mum will be at home could you just leave the door ajar and if your DD wants to go in she can? It's an incredibly difficult, personal decision and I hope you manage to make the right one for you and your DD.

RabidEchidna Sun 26-Feb-12 16:55:36

So sorry for your loss, I think you are the only one who can decide if your DD should see her gran or not.

DS1 was 5 when his granddad died and they were very close, DS did go to see his granddad at the funeral home, stood on a stool looked in to the coffin said "I like your suit Granddad" and then told him all about the school play he had been in. DS1 is now 15 and was not in any way damaged by it

Ambersivola Sun 26-Feb-12 17:00:56

I am sorry you have lost your Mum.

I would take into consideration your Mum's appearance and whether the Cosmetician has had a photo to work from and has applied make up.

If your Mum's appearance has altered dramatically it may be a shock to your daughter that her Grandmother doesn't look like she did when she was alive.

But if Mum's appearance is good she will just look as though she is asleep.

Best wishes


peterpansmum Sun 26-Feb-12 22:26:49

Sorry for your loss Trisha. Our older son was 4 when his 2 yr old brother died suddenly and unexpectedly. This was almost 3 years ago and he came along to see his brother in his coffin, we have no regrets in doing so as it has helped us help to answer his questions over the last few years as he seeks to try and understand what has happened. Death is part of life and I think childrens imaginations can be much more scary than any reality. Bottom line is you should stick with your instinct but children look at death in a very straightforward way in my experience. Good luck with whatever u decide to do xx

chipmonkey Mon 27-Feb-12 11:37:40

So sorry for your loss and that your dd has lost her grandma.
We lost our baby daughter last Octoberaqnd the boys did see her laid out in her Moses basket. But having said that, she really just looked like she was asleep.
However, I didn't let them see my great-aunt who had wasted away in her last days due to cancer and really didn't look like herself at all. My boys also saw my Dad laid out but he did look a bit more like himself apart from the fact that his hair was tidy, which it never was when he was alive!

drivinmecrazy Mon 27-Feb-12 11:51:36

My dd1 was 7 when my Dad died. She asked if she could come with me to see him at the undertakers, and after much discussion and angst, decided she would go. I hate to say this, but it was one of the funniest things I have ever shared with my daughter. After a few moments respectful silence in the room, she piped up that it looked as if he was going to suddenly sit up and say 'only joking' (they shared a very humorous relationship and many many funny memories). Goodness only knows what the undertaker thought as he sat outside listening to us howling with laughter. Absolutely no regrets from me or DD, and certainly no ill effects 4 years later. Not sure if I would have suggested it if she hadn't expressed her own wish to see her 'RG'. Funeral also had their moments as my 3yo DD2 stood up on the pew in church, using the program as a rolled up trumpet when DD & I read a poem.
Actually, reading that has made us sound very disrespectful, but truly it showed that the spirit of my Dad was alive and well in his granddaughters and was about as fantastic as a funeral could be as every one there knew my Dad lived for 'his girls'.

chipmonkey Mon 27-Feb-12 14:21:17

The humour does help, drivin! My Dad played the fiddle with and Irish musical group and in the middle of the funeral, they piped up with a funny song he used to sing in Irish. One of my cousins said the happy music was almost sadder than the sad music as you began to realise the big personality who was missing.

BeckyBrandonNeeBloomwood Mon 27-Feb-12 14:37:19

Hi Trisha, really sorry for your loss.
I dont really know what to suggest, I think you've made up your mind anyway but just thought i'd share my experience too.

My dad died when I was 21 (5 years ago) and I saw him in his room about an hour after he had passed. It was one of the most haunting images that will be burned into the back of my mind forever. I also saw him in the coffin at the undertakers, when he had been dressed and made up. They did a great job and he looked so peaceful so it was much better but I was so overcome with grief I had a panic attack and couldn't breathe. (I also had a panic attack straight after getting the call to say he had died - but have never had another one since.)

However, despite my experience - I don't think it is a bad thing to allow your DC to see your mum, as others have said, as long as she looks like her. one thing I remember is that in the coffin, my dad's cheeks looked very sunken in so he looked quite a bit thinner in the face.
The best way to describe it is that he looked like a wax work figure of himself.

But I think as many others have said, it's perhaps a good thing to ensure your DC doesnt see death as a horrible scary thing and I think they look at it a different way than an adult anyway so may well handle it better than you think, especially if they were really close.

Again, I'm really sorry about your mum, whatever you decide for your DC will be the right choice.

RockinD Mon 27-Feb-12 20:38:54

I am currently doing some family history for a work colleague who wanted to know whose body she had seen as a very small child. She remembers the debate going on over her head and then someone lifting her up to see the body.

She is 67 now and has never forgotten it. I have now found out she was 5 at the time, but she still remembers as if it were yesterday.


BiddyPop Thu 01-Mar-12 10:13:48

Almost 2 years ago, when DD was 4, her great grandad died and we didn't allow her to see the body. Although she did come to the church for the removal from the house (DH and DD met me at the church - I had been in the house and followed the hearse) and DD laid a wreath from the great-grandkids (3 of them) with the other flowers on the coffin. And got to go up and say goodbye to the coffin. Whe I've been near the graveyard, I've gone in to "have a chat" (not out loud), and sometimes DD is with me and comes too. She also reminds me that I need to go to see my other grandad (the graveyard for him is near our house, he died long before she was born but when some of my siblings are up and want to visit his grave, I've brought them and DD has come with us so knows about it). It's all very matter of fact.

Both my grandmothers are getting VERY elderly and frail now (92 and 95). We have mentioned to her that they are getting old. I think, in the case of the wife of the more recently deceased grandad, the same arrangements will be made (open coffin in the house for an afternoon and then on to church overnight). There would be frowning amongst the elders of the family for bringing a child into the situation - but I will again play it by ear based on my and DD's needs (and smooth over diplomatic incidents later). But it's probably unlikely that DD will see that gran in death.

The other gran though, we may well show her. That will be far less formal, there will be lots more kids around and in the house (cousins from the UK will travel etc), and it will be in the funeral parlour rather than the house. And as gran wants to be cremated and her ashes scattered over (one of a list) a beach where she enjoyed nice swims, there won't be a grave to visit. (She has a fear of being buried alive, AND the family grave is full - her DH is buried with his parents and DSis, so this was all agreed YEARS ago before grandad died).

It will depend on how your DD reacts to the general notion and fact of granny not being there, and more difficult if you are staying in the house. Will she be in a coffin or laid out in bed? As the bed might be easier to say yes to.

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