Guidelines for Funeral Directors
When a child or infant dies, funeral homes play a key role in helping the parents and families grieve their loss. As a funeral director, you are a guide in the journey through helping the family memorialize their loss and remember their child.
When a parent reaches out to your funeral home to help plan their child’s service, it is important that you approach the request with sincerity and compassion. A child who has died suddenly or unexpectedly is a devastating event for the parents, and an overly-professional approach from the funeral home can be off-putting.
If a family has selected your funeral home as the coordination site for funeral services, it is important to fully include the parents as much as possible in the process of creating a special and personal memorial service. Your goal should be to work with the family to make sure the decisions provide them the most comfort. Since there is often significant involvement with state investigative services, it is important to remain as accommodating as possible with regards to location and timing. The family will need your assistance in navigating available service options, coordination of clergy and burial, and payment arrangements.
When offering services options, they should be appropriate for the family’s situation. If the child is still undergoing an autopsy, it may be suitable to suggest a memorial service where the child’s body is not present. The decision to embalm or cremate the child should also be left to the parents. If the parents are able to personalize the memorial service with personal touches, such as poems, letters, or a balloon release, it can provide significant comfort. If the parents are hesitant to purchase a casket for the child or infant, it may be appropriate to recommend an alternative, such as a bassinet or small cradle.
Since an unexpected child or infant death is unplanned, it is possible that the family may not have the funds available to pay for a service and burial. Funeral homes should be comfortable offering free or discounted services to help reduce costs. It may be beneficial to recommend that the family ask for additional support from their religious community, if they have one. In Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Family may also be available to provide additional financial assistance. If the family is still struggling to collect the funds to pay for a service or burial, it is possible to suggest an outside financial assistance source, such as the TEARS Foundation.
If the child was a stillbirth, there are a few more suggestions that should be made to provide additional comfort to the parents. In Massachusetts, a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth can be requested. If the family is having difficulty paying for a service or burial for a stillbirth, the Angel Names Association may be able to provide assistance.
Support for Families
If the family also requires counseling or bereavement services, and has not yet been in touch with The Massachusetts Center for Unexpected Infant and Child Death, please refer them to our website at MAgriefcenter.org.
Suggestions from Parents
We have received direct feedback from parents regarding what has/has not been helpful for them in the funeral process following the death of a child. This feedback includes:
- Funeral directors who are sensitive to parents’ cultural beliefs and practices and communicate in the language spoken by the family or, if necessary, through the use of interpreters.
- Since funeral rituals can be a significant therapeutic and healing experience, a variety of options should be available to ensure services are sensitive, culturally competent, linguistically appropriate and consistent with the cultural beliefs, values, and practices of the bereaved family.
- Families want to be included in planning funeral rituals and participating as much or as little as they would like, in activities such as dressing and bathing and/or holding their child for as long as necessary. Embalming the baby may encourage parents who want to see and hold their child. The reality of seeing their child’s body may be less frightening to them than the imagined appearance when they do not see the child. The opportunity to take photographs, a lock of hair and set of footprints may be important ways of remembering the baby.
- Families may want to perform their own personal ceremonies or rituals that are in keeping with their cultural beliefs, values and practices. They also want to express their feelings in an unhurried sensitive manner.
- Financial considerations often dictate the disposition and funeral choices available for families from cremation, graveside service or a complete funeral service. Parents need explanations of cost and often assistance with financial arrangements. Any help the funeral director can provide is extremely helpful and comforting.
- Coping with the death of a child is a painful and life long process. Families need our support and understanding. Please consider letting the family know of our services and contact information or refer to us directly on their behalf.