Spending Time With Your Child

In almost all situations it is possible for you to spend time with your child prior to the funeral. Ask a funeral director to make the necessary arrangements.

In some situations when a child dies suddenly and unexpectedly the coroner may make the decision to conduct an autopsy after considering the wishes of the senior next of kin and any information provided by police, pathologist or other scientist.

The autopsy may be undertaken at a Coronial Services Centre or a regional hospital. Hospital, Coronial Services and funeral service staff understand your need to spend time with your child. They understand that it may be very important to you to see and hold your child and to involve brothers, sisters and other members of the family. It may be possible for you to have your child at home before the funeral.

In writing this section we, as parents, have tried to prepare you for changes you will notice about your child. Although we don’t know the circumstances of your child’s death, inevitably, there will be changes. Your feelings of love will remain with you, even though your child has died and his or her appearance has changed.

Where a child has died, possibly of SIDS, he or she may appear pale and waxen with a bluish tinge to the lips.

Sometimes, after a child dies, particularly when he or she has died during sleep, the skin may have a purple/blue mottled appearance, resembling bruising. However, this discolouration may have faded by the next time you see them. Body stiffening can set in quickly, approximately 24 hours after a child has died. After this time his or her body may be cold; some parents have described their child as having a doll-like appearance. Dressing or partially dressing your child at this time will be more difficult than before, but is still possible. An autopsy will be performed by a pathologist, or paediatric pathologist (child doctor). Usually, this will result in stitches in the chest and at the back of the head, but the child’s face will be untouched. If you do not want to see the stitches, you can ask that a nappy, singlet and bonnet be put on your child before you dress him or her.

We can assure you that the people at Coronial Services Centres who look after your child will do so with great care and respect.

In some circumstances of death, dressing or partially dressing your child yourself may not be possible, but it is still possible to spend time with your child.

After the autopsy, you will be able to be with your child again as often as you like. This might take place at a funeral parlour, at home, or at a place of your choice. This is often an appropriate time to take some photos if you wish and also to involve your other children.

In cool and moderate climates your child’s body may be kept at home in a room without heating for about 36 hours. Partial or full preservation of the body may be required for a longer time at home or in warm weather.

“A friend rang very late at night and said I could have my baby at home. It was lovely – we had the funeral director bring our baby to us and we took him to the funeral in our car.”

“Our other children came to the funeral parlour and put drawings in the coffin; they kissed him and said goodbye. We were terrified going in and seeing this tiny little coffin, but it was something we wanted to do.”

“I am sorry I never saw Brendan after he died. I will always wonder what he looked like and wish I had time for another cuddle!”

“I had the funeral director come to my house and pick up our baby’s bassinet so we could view him in the bassinet.”

“We wanted him dressed in particular clothes. I got his denims, his red jumper and beanie: it was better than a silly white bonnet.”

“As Thomas had died while we were away on a family holiday, we didn’t feel the need to bring him back home, as we had only living memories of him there.”

This article was prepared using extracts from Your Child has Died: Some Answers To Your Questions1 and Choices in Arranging a Child’s Funeral.2 The full texts are available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.

Last reviewed: 20/7/24