Arranging Your Child’s Funeral
You have many choices in arranging the funeral. Arrangements for children and babies may be quite different from the way adult funerals are conducted. There are few legal requirements in arranging a child’s funeral, although your religion and culture may guide you in your choices. Take your time and do exactly what you want, so that there are no regrets.
There are so many questions to ask and questions you may not think to ask. Should we bury or cremate? Should we involve our other children? What sort of funeral? Who should attend? How much should we do? This period can be totally overwhelming with so many choices to make.
Red Nose Grief and Loss Services have a booklet called Choices in Arranging a Child’s Funeral1 which is full of information and ideas. See related articles.
The funeral is the last physical act of caring for your child. It is a time, amid profound grief, when you can acknowledge your child and the meaning your child’s life holds for you and your family. After a child has died, you may feel shocked, angry, upset, numb and confused. It can be hard to take in what has happened, what it means to you and your family and what has to be organised. The most important thing is to take your time – don’t rush. Do what you feel is best for you and your family. The choices you make now for your child are important now and in the future.
“We decided to do whatever special things for her we wanted. We wanted no regrets when the funeral was over.”
“What we really needed was to take care of our baby one last time.”
“We wanted to plan her funeral as thoughtfully as we had planned her arrival. The sacredness and care with which we approached both events was similar, but there was no joy, no sense of anticipation.”
“We had a kind of delay really with the Coroner. It took a while, eleven days, between Sian dying and her funeral. I think that was a good thing to help us process this a little bit. It gave us time to think about what we wanted to do, rather than being rushed. That really helped us to then celebrate her the way we wanted.”
“Arranging our child’s funeral ourselves gave us something to do during those dreadful days: it gave us a sense of purpose.”
“The three days between his death and the funeral felt like an awfully long time, but this timing was right for us.”
Where will we hold the service?
You may decide to hold the funeral in a place that has special significance for the family: at home, in a church or in a garden. Some people have services at the funeral parlour, the crematorium or the graveside. Your choices are endless.
“Some people were shocked that we held Zoë during the funeral service, while others thought it was a lovely thing to do. I couldn’t bear her to be taken away, we loved the garden and the service had to be held there.”
“Andrew’s funeral was held in our parish church. While it was a traditional funeral Mass, we chose all the readings and wrote our own prayers. I gave the eulogy. It was very important for Ron and I to be able to share Andrew’s short life and death with all our friends who were there. James (Andrew’s twin brother) was in a pram beside us – this was very sad, as Andrew’s coffin was next to him – but we believed that the twins had always been together and later on, James will know he was there with Andrew.”
“Andrew’s older brothers carried out the coffin: It made you feel sort of proud through all the sadness – carrying his coffin was my last goodbye.”
“Andrew’s big sister read a prayer to her brother. We put a lot of time and thought into the Mass booklet and included several photos of Andrew in it, so everyone present took home photos of our little boy. So many people have told us since that they often look at his Mass book and keep it in a special place. It makes us realise just how much our little boy touched so many people, and obviously his short life still does.”
Choosing the casket
Some people have asked family members or friends to make the coffin. Families are also able to choose linings or coverings or provide their own. Parents may find that the tiny caskets have insufficient room for a child and the toys and mementos they may wish to add.
“There was enough room for her and for the items each family member had chosen to give.”
“The coffin was a really tight fit – we took him out of it when we got him home and had him laying on the bed. We dressed him at home in clothes that we chose and put a lambskin on the bottom of the casket. All of us in the family screwed down the lid and we knew he was in there and that we had done all we could.”
“Zoë’s brother Tom painted the coffin with all her favourite things.”
“We dressed Lannie (Ellana) as a fairy with a little tiara and wand. We put a number of things with her in the coffin, including her fairy doll and Teddy, a favourite blanket, Noddy, a book, and letters from her brothers, Sam and Jack. I took out Noddy and her blanket before Lannie was cremated so I could keep something precious of her last moments.”
The size of a casket may be important if it is being placed in a pocket of an adult grave. The pocket can be at the side, head or foot of the grave.
There are several options you can consider for transporting your child from Coronial Services and/or on the day of the funeral.
You may prefer to collect your child: that way you are able to use your own car. If a funeral director is collecting your child, he or she will generally use a sedan. If you wish, you may accompany them.
“It is not necessary to use a hearse: we picked up our daughter from the Coronial Services Centre in our car. We had the casket in the car and we took her to the church.”
“We had the service in the garden. My husband and I held Zoë in our arms in the car on the way to the crematorium. We had to stop at the gate and put her in the casket.”
Flowers and alternatives
When choosing flowers, people may have quite different ideas: some prefer masses, while others prefer none. Some parents prefer cut flowers, while others prefer plants for their homes.
Flowers may also be preserved as memories.
“The flowers which we had preserved and framed were the ones Tim and I bought to place on Andrew’s coffin. The flowers are a symbol of our beautiful little son, Andrew. Something beautiful we can have forever.”
“I had imagined Brendan’s coffin surrounded with masses of small white carnations. Instead, I accepted a small posy on his tiny casket as a cost alternative. The suggestion being that it was pointless to waste money at a time like this. I often ask myself, ‘When will there be another time when I can indulge myself with my son?’”
“We put a notice in the paper: Cut flowers only or donations. The last thing I wanted was great big wreaths. I would have preferred flowers scattered about rather than bunches.”
“We carried our flowers into the church. It looked a bit bleak to start with but it was lovely when we put them all on his little casket.”
“We were overwhelmed with flowers … I would have preferred plants for the garden, as a lasting memorial to Zoë.”
“We didn’t want formal flowers and asked people to donate money to SIDS research. However, we did ask them to bring flowers from their gardens. I think I wanted them to feel some of my pain as they picked them. They all looked rather sad sitting on the wire racks outside the church but it seemed to symbolise how we felt.”
“Our four children all had special trees. On the coffin we had branches of Cootamundra Wattle, which was Glenn’s tree. It had just flowered that week.”
One family requested teddy bears instead of flowers. These were later donated to a children’s ward at a local hospital.
Some families may like to have helium-filled balloons to symbolically release at the funeral for any children attending.
“We had balloons at the funeral. The children released them and felt an important part of the ceremony, but they were actually far more meaningful for the adults present.”
Families have suggested:
- Involving the children’s friends, to read, to sing, or to play an instrument at the funeral.
- Burning of candles and incense to create an uplifting atmosphere.
There are endless possibilities: the important thing is that you create a service that meets the particular needs of you and your family.
“We were never offered footprints or a lock of hair. This will always be a regret.”
“I have seen a piece of clay with the baby’s hand and footprints impressed into it. I wish we had been aware of this possibility, even though we had accepted the offer of ink prints. There was something very lovely in being able to feel the shape of the hands and feet.”
“I treasure that little book with all the photos.”
“We have since had another baby and we now wish we had allowed more space on the plaque for the addition of the names of new brothers and sisters.”
“We taped the entire service. It is our living memento.”
“As we had a private service, we opened up our house afterwards to friends. We asked our family and friends to write down their memories of Thomas. Our children now love to remember and laugh about these memories when we read ’Tom’s Book’.”
“It was a big blur at the time. We took photographs at the funeral of people who spoke. My father read a letter that our cousin wrote to the baby. We wanted to have a memory of how we said goodbye.”
Some parents find that after time has passed, they have a need to find creative ways of expressing their grief.
“… creativity can be expressed in many different ways, and while for some that expression seems to come effortlessly, for others it is a slower, more complicated experience.”
“Each time someone significant in my life was expecting a baby, my grief was renewed.
Many times I feared ever being able to welcome a new baby with love. For me, quilting was a way to express not only my own pain, anger and frustration, but enabled me to encourage in myself those feelings of love for a new baby. Each time I started a new cot quilt for someone else’s baby, I began the process of realisation and acceptance. Each time I finished a quilt, I knew I would be ready to welcome the child with love.”
Parents may find themselves painting, sewing or quilting. Others may sit and write about their child. Making a photograph album, compiling all the memories of your baby from family and friends, planting a garden or a tree, preserving some flowers from the funeral, may be part of the expression of your grief and love.
There are several forms you’ll need to complete before the funeral. These forms, along with advice about funeral arrangements and the accompanying legal procedures, can be obtained from a funeral director or Cemetery Authority.
For more information about funeral arrangements in your state or territory, contact Red Nose Grief and Loss.
The Death Certificate
The Extract of Death may not be automatically sent to you if your child was under 16 years of age. You can request an Extract be sent to you from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. It is free. If your child was 16 years or over, an Extract of Death is automatically sent to the person who completed the legal forms.
A full Death Certificate can be obtained for a fee.
The funeral payment usually consists of three costs, the funeral director’s service costs, the cemetery and crematorium costs and other miscellaneous costs, like the flowers, the minister or celebrant, the death and funeral notices in the newspaper. When arranging the funeral, be sure that you understand what costs you must pay.
You’ll need to pay for the plot at the crematorium or cemetery on or before the day of the funeral.
This article was prepared using extracts from Your Child has Died: Some Answers To Your Questions2 and Choices in Arranging a Child’s Funeral. The full texts are available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.
Last reviewed: 26/9/20
- Bereaved Parents and Siblings & SIDS Australia. (2000) Choices in Arranging a Child’s Funeral : A Booklet by and for Parents whose Baby or Young Child has Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly (P. Jones, V. Jones & T. Ross, Illus.). Malvern, Vic.: SIDS Australia.
- Same, D. & Bereaved Parents & Red Nose Grief and Loss Services. (2016). Your Child has Died: Some Answers To Your Questions: A Booklet for Bereaved Parents whose Young Child has Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly. Malvern, Vic.: Red Nose Grief and Loss Services.