Should Children Attend Funerals? A Royal Example

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains run by a direct descendant of founder, Bede Freeman, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Funerals can become newsworthy for a variety of reasons and, as the first […]

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Internal shot of the Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors Hills Cemetery Chapel

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains run by a direct descendant of founder, Bede Freeman, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Funerals can become newsworthy for a variety of reasons and, as the first British monarch to die during the digital age, Queen Elizabeth II’s recent funeral received extensive coverage. Here, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, considers how the participation of the younger members of her family sets the tone for the general public…

We often get asked whether children should attend funerals.

The answer is simple: it’s up to you.

My own parents faced this dilemma when I was a toddler, and my younger sister a baby. Ultimately, they chose to attend with my sister, and have me looked after by our grandparents. Over 30 years later, my Mum advocates positively for this decision – she barely saw my sister at the wake, as she was passed around from guest to guest, innocently breaking the tension, and allowing Mum the rare opportunity to eat a meal uninterrupted.

I can understand why people may worry about children and babies being ‘disruptive’ at a sombre occasion, or behaving ‘inappropriately’, and I think there are two things that you can consider to help yourself with this struggle. Firstly, the vast majority of adults are aware that children and babies are unpredictable, and may be unfamiliar with adult codes of behaviour. There does therefore tend to be a bit of grace offered to them. Secondly, the way for older children to learn how to handle their feelings, and conform to expected behaviours, is to put them in those situations, rather than hide them away from them.

And this is where the Queen’s funeral comes in.

I’ve trawled the archives to compare a few similar occasions, and discovered some interesting things. Firstly, let’s go all the way back to 1952, when the previous monarch’s funeral took place. Queen Elizabeth II famously ascended to the throne at a young age upon the death of her father. Two of her four children were yet to be born – Charles and Anne were 3 years old and 18 months old respectively and, for perhaps obvious reasons, did not attend their grandfather’s funeral.

This is where we can look at the example as an extenuating circumstance: as well as attending her father’s funeral, Elizabeth was already the reigning monarch, and had a variety of duties to perform. She potentially understood that she and her husband would be unable to support their young children at such an occasion, and instead attended alone in order to focus on their roles. Whilst the media wasn’t what it is today, it was also a good opportunity to shield them from the spotlight for a while longer.

The next occasion I’d like to compare is the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which took place 50 years later. By this time, the Queen was several times a grandmother, though she didn’t yet have any great-grandchildren. And, in fact, two of her grandchildren weren’t yet born. So there were no young children or babies within the immediate family to consider, although there could have been – daughter-in-law, Sophie Wessex had gone through an ectopic pregnancy the year before.

As it was, the youngest attendees at the Queen Mother’s 2002 funeral were granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie, who were 14 and 12 at the time. Their older cousins, Princes William and Harry, plus Peter and Zara Phillips also attended.

Nineteen years later, all six cousins were present at their grandfather, Prince Philip’s funeral. Now all adults with children of their own, life looked very different for this generation. However, attendance at Prince Philip’s funeral was limited due to pandemic-related restrictions, which played a bigger part in decisions around who would be there than their ages.

As a means of meeting the restrictions in place at the time, the majority of guests at Prince Philip’s funeral were his children and their spouses, plus his grandchildren and their spouses, as well as other close members of family and the Queen herself. The only under 18s in attendance were Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn – the children of Prince Edward, who were both teenagers by this time.

Which brings us to the Queen’s funeral in September 2022. It was different for many reasons, an important one being that, for the first time, the Queen’s successor, plus the next several heirs – two of whom were young children – were present. Having looked at the age profile of the younger guests, there seems to have been a decision taken based upon an age split.

The great-grandchildren in attendance at the Queen’s funeral were: Savannah (11) and Isla Phillips (10); Prince George (9) and Princess Charlotte (7); Mia Tindall (8). At the time of her death, the Queen had a further seven great-grandchildren aged four and under, two of whom live in the USA. It seems as though those who are currently attending school were deemed prepared to be present at the funeral, and perhaps more straightforward to care for throughout the process. This makes me wonder whether or not they would also have attended their great-grandfather’s funeral too – although they would have been younger, all of these children would still have been of school age at that time.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there are a number of things to consider when deciding whether children should attend a funeral. At this point, I would refer you to this advice from the charity, Winston’s Wish, which offers some great insight for making a decision. It is worth asking a child whether or not they think they would like to go, and supporting them in making an informed choice if they are able to do so. Something which is important to bear in mind is that their choice may differ depending on the circumstances, and not to assume that, just because they have attended a service previously, they would still like to in the future.

Fortunately for the majority of children, they are not also facing the prospect of being on display to an international television audience, as those members of the royal family do. What it comes down to is making the right decision for each child, and those accompanying them.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

October 19, 2022

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