Palliative care

Funerals

  • Funerals

    While it may seem confronting to discuss funeral arrangements with families before their child has died, many parents will benefit from having time to think about this as there is quite a lot of planning and work involved in organising a funeral. Older children may have wishes regarding their own funeral and it is important these are sought and respected wherever possible. The family may wish to speak with a number of funeral directors before deciding on the one they feel most comfortable with. It is worth noting that families do not necessarily need to engage a funeral director if they wish to make all the arrangements themselves. The guidance and advice of a funeral director is highly recommended particularly in regard to the preservation of the body. Many funeral directors are supportive of parents who choose to retain control of their child's funeral planning and are willing to take a purely advisory role if that is a family's wish.

    A funeral is an opportunity for family and friends to express feelings of love and grief and it is important the family feel in control of this process. This is the last physical act parents can do for their child. They may need encouragement and support to achieve a service that meets their needs. Extended family members may act with the best of intentions (protecting parents from burden/trauma) to arrange the funeral but this may be regretted by the parents later on. It is important to note that while there are legal requirements around burial and cremation it is not a legal requirement that a funeral service be held. It is also essential that families take time to think about what they want.

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    A range of options are available and there a variety of individuals who may assist the family in planning a funeral. For example

    • Social Workers
    • Funeral Directors*
    • Hospital Chaplains
    • Religious leaders in the local community
    • Palliative Care services
    • The Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program keeps information packs for families (contact us)

    The Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program is also able to offer assistance.
    *The Australian Funeral Directors Association (A.F.D.A) provides helpful information for families and can be contacted on 9859 9571.

    Families may be as creative as they wish. Examples of options families have available to them include;

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    Venue

    The service may be held in a church or other place of worship, funeral home or any other place that is significant to the family. This might be the family home, a beach or a park but approval from the relevant body (eg. Council) may be required. Some options may incur a cost.

    Master of ceremonies

    This might be a religious leader, civil celebrant or family friend.

    Coffin

    Families may wish to have the coffin open or closed. It is possible to decorate the coffin in a variety of ways including colour, drawings by siblings or friends, and stickers. Families may also wish to choose to line the coffin with a particular material and place special toys or possessions with the child. Some families may have a friend or family member who is wanting to build the coffin themselves. Funeral directors can assist by providing the relevant specifications.

    Having the child at home

    It may be possible for the family to keep the child at home until the time of the funeral. This will depend on environmental factors as well as the illness which caused the child's death. Children with liver failure or those who received chemotherapy may need particular care. In general, keeping the child in a cool environment and wrapped in cotton is helpful. The funeral director will be able to provide advice based on individual circumstances.

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    Viewings

    Funeral directors are very supportive of families spending time with their child before the funeral. This may include opportunities to bathe and dress the child.

    Transporting the child to the funeral

    Families may ask that the child be transported by the Funeral Director. Others may wish to do this themselves in the family car.

    Music

    Choice of music is restricted only by the creativeness of the families. Playing music requires copyright acknowledgement but Funeral directors generally hold a licence to use a wide range of music.

    Readings

    Family members including siblings or close friends of the child may wish to read a passage from a book, a poem, or a letter written by a parent. Photographs, drawings or special mementos may be displayed at the funeral.
    Memories
    It may be difficult for parents to recall aspects of the service and creating memories is often helpful. This may take the form of orders of service, audiotapes, videotapes and photographs. If siblings provide drawings, it may be useful to make copies of them before they are placed in the coffin (young children may not understand the permanence of sending a letter in the coffin).

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    Siblings

    Siblings should not be forced to attend a funeral but it is important they are included if that is their wish. Even quite young children can contribute significantly to the service by speaking, creating artwork, and choosing music. If siblings are to attend the funeral, it is important they are prepared for what they might see, hear and feel. It may be helpful to nominate a trusted adult to support them if the parents become overwhelmed.

    Staff

    Staff members may wish to attend the child's funeral if they have developed a close relationship with the family during the child's illness. It is important to be clear however, that attendance is out of respect for the child and family and does not add to the family's burden.

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