Attending a Funeral (for a child with cancer)

If a friend with cancer dies, you may wonder about attending the funeral or memorial service. Should you go or not go? There is certainly no one answer that fits everyone and every situation. It may be helpful to think about the reasons we have funerals:

  • To remember what was special about the person who died.
  • To honor the memory and life of the person who died.
  • To honor and support the family.
  • To receive support from others.
  • To spend some time together with other people who are grieving, and who knew the person who died.
  • To help make the death more real, which may help everyone deal with better it in the future.
  • For some funerals, to connect us to a faith community and the comforts of a religious faith.
  • To begin to imagine the future without the person physically here with us.

If you are considering attending a funeral or memorial service, there are often several options or activities to attend. You may want to attend all of them, some of them, or none of them, and some of them may be open only to the family:

  • Visitation or a wake, where family and friends gather to offer support to the family, and sometimes to view the body.
  • The funeral or memorial service.
  • The graveside part of the service at the cemetery.
  • The scattering of ashes, if the body was cremated.

Gathering after the services, which may include refreshments or a meal. This may be in a home or in a religious or community building.
Some people find it very important to attend the funeral. Although it can be sad and upsetting, these people feel better in the long run because they went. For these people, being a part of the service helps them feel closer to the person who died, and closer to the family and friends of the person. Some would say that they "need" to go.

Other people do not find attending the funeral or memorial service very helpful. These people will need to look for other ways to feel close to the person who died, and other ways to feel close to the person's family or friends. If the body will be present at the service, seeing the body would not be helpful for some of these people. For them, mourning may be done in a more private way.

If you have had a friend die and you're not sure whether or not you want to attend the funeral, find someone who knows about funerals and talk with that person. There are many ways to honor and remember a friend who has died, and attending a funeral may be a good way, but it's not the only way.

If you have had a good friend die with cancer, that then means that your friend had a good friend, too--that's you! Your friendship was a great gift that you gave to someone who needed a friend, and you helped to make your friend's last days better than they would have been without you. Your friend may not have been able to say "thank you," so we'll say it here: "Thank you for giving the gift of friendship to a young person with cancer. No matter what happens or happened, it is a gift that will not be forgotten."

The content of this article was contributed by Greg Adams, LCSW, ACSW, CT- Director, Center for Good Mourning, Arkansas Children's Hospital. The article was first published in the Fall 2004 on