Our Lord says to raise our children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). This certainly includes the subject of death. One of the best classrooms in which to disciple a child about death is a Christian funeral and I have good news for you….we have one this Saturday. NEHBC parents and grandparents, I’m inviting you to attend the funeral at our church this Saturday, 1-2pm, for the purpose of training them in the instruction of the Lord. Here is a guide to do this well.
If your child is four or older, they are ready. You attend a gospel preaching church which means death is put on the minds of your children every single Sunday when they hear about the cross. They want to know about death and you need to be the voice explaining death to them.
Before you come, teach them some key biblical truths about death itself:
- God created the universe without death; death was never meant to be.
- Death is the result of sin.
- When a person dies, their physical body is dead, but the person still lives. Free from their physical body and the physical realm they pass through death into the afterlife where there are two destinations: heaven and hell.
- Rehearse the message of salvation with them at this point.
- Finally, remind them of the confidence we have that all Christians instantly go to heaven upon their death, and also of the urgency we must have for evangelism and missions as all who do not call upon the name of the Lord are condemned to hell by their sinfulness.
Be prepared for them to start asking about the current location of deceased loved ones. Be honest with them.
Be prepared to answer questions about what will happen to them if you die. Nicole and I explain we have made financial plans for them to be taken care of through the end of college, we have secured new parents to raise them, and they will still have the loving support of our extended family and NEHBC.
(***Parents: We simply must set up a will, life insurance, guardianship arrangements, etc. Our parenting responsibilities extend long past our death.)
Before you come, teach them about widows and widowers. One good Scripture passage is 1 Timothy 5:3-16.
Before you come, talk to them about the two different ways human bodies are looked after in death: cremation and body burial. Talk about urns and caskets. Talk about open casket and closed casket funerals. Talk about funeral homes and cemeteries.
Before you come, talk to them about funeral etiquette under the subject of respect and honor. Here are some talking points:
- the more somber and hushed atmosphere they will likely encounter at the funeral (no running around, no pushing and shoving, no loud laughing and joking around)
- how to talk to the widow or widower (never ask: “How are you doing?” or “How are you?”; never say: “Time will heal” or “Everything will be ok” or “You’ll get over it”; stick to encouraging comments: “I am so sorry, we are praying for you, if there is anything you need, please let us know” or have 2-3 prepared sentences about what the deceased meant to you.)
Arrive 15-20 minutes early for the funeral. First thing, take them right down to the casket or urn and let them see it up close for themselves. If the casket is open, pick your child up and let them examine the casket and get a good look at the body. Have your child put their hand on the hands of the deceased. (It is not creepy, trust me, the surviving spouse has hugged and kissed the dead body countless times and covered it with their tears. You have no idea how much it means to a surviving spouse if they see you walk up to the open casket and act like their deceased spouse is a person rather than an alien.) Showing your child the casket, urn, and body removes any taboo aura from death so that your child feels free to think about death and ask you questions over the coming days and weeks.
Next, if you can, take your child to where y’all can discreetly watch the surviving spouse so your child can see what real grief looks like and people expressing condolences to them. We must be honest with our children about the curse of sin that lays upon this world and its effects on human life. You want your children to hate sin and love righteousness, so let them see the ravaging affects of sin. You also want your child to see how to express respect to the surviving spouse.
Before or after the funeral, be sure to take your child to greet the surviving spouse so you can model for your child up close how to interact with the someone grieving the loss of a close loved one.
Finally, during the funeral service itself, whisper a running commentary to your child so they know what is happening. Sit where you can do this without being a distraction but also where your child has a good sightline of the action. Things to point out: the reading of the obituary, the eulogy, the identity of the various participants in the service — ie: “that is the dead person’s son talking” or “that is the dead person’s pastor praying”, the pictures of the deceased if there is a slideshow, point out the preacher sharing the gospel and calling people to salvation, point out the deceased’s loved ones sitting in the VIP section, explain the “pass by” at the end of the service as attendees file passed the widow and or casket one last time.
Don’t miss out on taking your child to a graveside for an up close and personal look. They need to see a casket sitting above an open hole ready to be buried. They need to see loved ones saying their final goodbyes. Pro Tip: stick around the graveside after everyone is gone if you have time or go get an ice cream and come back, and your child will get to walk up to the big hole in the ground and take a long look and can actually watch the cemetery workers lower the casket into the ground and cover it up. My four children have done this.
After everything is said and done, take your child to a lighthearted setting where you can debrief them and answer immediate questions. For example, go to Whataburger for a shake.