Dr. David Meagher created the graduate program of Thanatology at Brooklyn College, where he’s also an emeritus professor. He joins Dr. Heidi Horsley for a special episode of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) organization’s web series to discuss whether or not children should participate in funeral services. The short answer? It depends. There are many factors to consider, and every child is different. It can be healing or harmful depending on the scenario, as well as how it’s handled.

He’s also the author of Zach and His Dog, which shares how children may handle grief. Post-death rituals are an important part of death, and Dr. Meagher says children should be included to the extent that they understand what’s about to take place. The decision should be made in conjunction with the child and other adults in the family. Older children should be asked whether or not they want to attend, go to a cemetery, or participate in any other ritual.

Prepping the Child

Before asking a child if they want to attend, it should be explained to them why the ritual is happening. How will other people react? What will the child see and hear? Give the child time to think and ask questions. They should have the choice to go and/or participate or not. No matter the answer, the next step is finding someone who isn’t a primary griever but that the child knows. This should be their chaperone during the events.

If the funeral ends up being too much for the child, that adult can take the child away. Spending time with them to dissect what they experienced is important. For many children, the cemetery is a great place says Dr. Meagher. Let the child lead what they want to do.

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Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.

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