Funeral stuffed animals can be a source of comfort and strength during a difficult passing away of a loved one, parent. child or friend. Plus, we added some tips for helping our own children go through the viewing of a loved one.
When my ex husband passed away, one of the things I worried most about was how to help the kids say good bye, and what they could use to bring them comfort during the funeral and after.
How could I help them remember their Dad? How could I help bring them comfort on those nights that they needed more than just me telling them it was going to be okay? How could they carry a piece of him with them when they needed him?
Having an ex spouse pass away so young is so difficult for a child--mine range from young elementary to high school. They deal with his death differently but they all need the same thing--comfort.
After talking to their personal counselor and as a school counselor myself, I started to look for some ways to help them through the difficult time of the viewing.
The idea of funeral stuffed animals came to mind and I decided to run with it. In an effort to include my youngest and help her understand and prepare for what happened to her Dad, we went looking for stuffed animals. We got one for him and one for each of the kids.
We looked at Hallmark and then ended up at Build A Bear when we couldn't find enough matching animals. It ended up being the best because my daughter could pick and prepare each animal. She of course picked dogs, because her Dad loved them.
Picking the hearts (blue polka dot of course, because blue is her favorite color)
Helping to stuff each animal:
Getting each dog's hair ready and groomed:
And then they were all boxed and ready to go home.
At home, the teenagers got mad that they didn't come. Even though they didn't WANT to come when I asked. When they found out where we had been, they then got pretty upset. So tip #.5: DRAG, don't invite your teenagers to come to Build a Bear. Teenagers love Build a Bear even if they SAY they don't love Build a Bear or if they say it's not cool. DRAG THEM.
Once at home, we made charms for each of the stuffed animals. I really wanted to order some nice metal charms but we didn't have enough time, so the kids made Shrinky Dink ones.
We found these at our local craft store. Each child made one charm for their animal and one for their Dad's animal. I made a charm (a car since their Dad loved cars) for each of the kids stuffed animals as a "gift" from their Dad so they could remember him. We then attached them to their animals and to his.
Once the pets were ready, we brought the pets and the kids over several minutes before the viewing started so they could have a few quiet moments to say goodbye to their Dad. This is an important time to EDUCATE!!! It may have sounded morbid, but prior to the viewing I let them know that their Dad would look like their Dad but he wouldn't in some ways too. I talked about how his skin would appear, how he would be wearing makeup, and how they had chosen to dress him. I did not want any surprises for them or any shock more than it would be. I told them that they could touch him if they felt comfortable. I also let them know we would place his animal inside his coffin so he would also have a reminder of them when he was having a hard night. That they would know when they were holding their dog tight, he was too.
Tips for Kids at a Funeral Viewing of a Loved One:
- Educate. It might be difficult to talk about, but educating kids on what a viewing is, what will happen and what to expect when they see the body will help them prepare.
- Involve them in the Process: Make funeral animals, pictures, etc that they can place in the coffin or in the wall if the person is being cremated. This helps the child know that the person although not here anymore is still "real" in a non physical sense and still loves them even if they cannot see them or talk to them. It's also a great tool for helping young children say goodbye.
- Do not Force: I have been to too many viewings where young children are made to stand by their deceased loved ones casket and hug passerbys. Do not force your children to stand there at the viewing. My kids would come in and out of the viewing. My youngest never broke down at the sight of her dad, but made comments at his physical appearance (what he was wearing, etc), my middle one turned away immediately after seeing his Dad and wouldn't return to look for awhile, then came in several times during the viewing with different family members to timidly peek at his Dad. My oldest broke down and sobbed and wouldn't stand by him but came in several times during the viewing to quietly stand by him and say goodbye for a few minutes at a time. None of them wanted to touch him. Do not force them to do anything during the viewing. Allow them to feel what they need to feel at this time and allow them direct the process. Encourage, educate, but don't force.
- Get Reminders: make sure to have guests sign the guestbook, and grab pictures and flyers to place in a scrapbook for later. I would highly recommend NOT taking a picture of the deceased in the casket. I even had trouble thinking of taking a picture of the box my Dad's ashes were in. It just looked like a shoebox to me, and I didn't want to remember my Dad that way. Those images are best left in our memories.
- Reinforce: When they closed the casket, the girls wanted to hold their dogs for comfort. I had talked to the funeral director prior to make sure that his dog stayed in the casket with him. When the director announced he was closing the casket, I leaned over to my youngest and let her know that Dad was going to hold his dog close to him now, just like she was hers. She was worried it would be dark or scary in the casket, and I reminded her that he was able to hold them close and he wouldn't be scared.
If you have any tips to share for helping young kids through a viewing of a loved one, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.