Chapter 3: Funerals, memorials, and other rituals

Viewing the body

The expert says
Andrea Warnick, children's grief counsellor, encourages adults to be very specific when preparing children to see a body. (3:22)Video transcript

I heard Thomas tell his friends that your legs are cut off when you die. When I asked him about this, he said: "Yeah, Mum, when I saw Uncle Brad in the casket they'd only put in the top half."

The benefits 

If it’s possible, children benefit when they’re given the option to view the body one last time.

  • They often imagine the body to look far scarier than it does.
  • Viewing the body in a safe and supportive environment can help them understand the concept of death by making it more real. 

If a child would rather not see the body, they should never be forced. 


Preparing your child to see the body 

If the body will be at the service, clearly explain this is the last time they’ll be with the body. If the casket is closed or not at the service, most funeral homes are more than willing to provide a private viewing at the request of immediate family.  

  • Let your child know that the body doesn’t work anymore and will never work again.
Grandpa’s body has died which means it has stopped working and will never work again. When a body dies, it doesn’t feel anything anymore. So Grandpa’s body doesn’t feel pain, cold, heat, hunger or anything else. 

  • Let them know that the face and the body may look different than they’re used to. The skin may be lighter, and may have make-up on. 
If you want, you’ll be able to see Uncle Tom’s body in the casket. You may want to touch his body and if you do, that’s okay. It’s safe to touch him or kiss him. He’ll probably feel cold, and his skin may not feel as soft as usual. He may look like he’s sleeping, but he’s not sleeping. His body has died. You may not be able to see his legs because often they’re covered when someone is in a casket. But even if you don’t see them, they are there. 

The body and the head

When adults talk about the body, some children take this to mean there is no head. Be sure to explain that the head is part of the body.