Planning your child’s funeral is something that no parent ever expects to face. Many of the parents we have spoken to have said that they were still in a state of shock and felt completely unequipped to make the difficult decisions that needed to be made in such a short space of time. The information below may help you to make some informed decisions about planning your baby’s funeral. A member of staff at the hospital, a chaplain or your funeral director (if you arrange the funeral yourself) will be able to provide you with advice and support in making plans.
Do I Have To Organise A Funeral?
If your baby died before 24 weeks of completed pregnancy, you do not legally have to have a funeral for him or her, but you are of course able to plan one if you want to.
If your baby was stillborn after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, or died after birth, then he or she must be formally buried or cremated by law.
Most hospitals can arrange and pay for a funeral for your baby. Usually you can choose whether your baby will be cremated or buried. Please speak to your hospital to find out whether they are able to arrange a funeral for your baby, and ask them for clear details about what will happen to your baby’s body and whether there will be a service that you can attend.
Many parents choose to arrange their baby’s funeral themselves. If you have never had to arrange a funeral before, you may feel that you don’t know where to start. The first step is to get in touch with a funeral director. They will be able to guide you through the process of arranging your baby’s funeral, and will be able to help you make informed choices.
Cremation or a Burial?
No parent should ever have to think about whether they will cremate or bury their child, and we are so sorry that you are having to face such an unthinkable task. Many of the parents we have spoken to have told us that they wished they had known more about their choices when they made their decision. Below are some things that you may want to think about, to help you decide.
- Bear in mind that if you choose to have your baby’s body cremated, there may be very little or no ashes, especially if your baby was born very early or was very small. Your funeral director will be able to advise you.
- If you are religious, you may wish to speak to a trusted member of your place of worship, or to a hospital chaplain. They will be able to advise you if your religion suggests you should plan a cremation or a burial for your baby.
- Is there a special graveyard or crematorium where your family members are laid to rest? Would you like your baby to be in the same place as them?
- Would you like your baby to be buried in the same plot as a family member who has previously passed away?
- Is there somewhere special you would like your baby’s ashes to be scattered or buried?
- Would you prefer to buy a special urn for your baby and keep his or her ashes at home?
- You can buy jewellery that holds part of your baby’s ashes. Is this something you feel you may find comfort in?
What Will The Funeral Cost?
If you decide to arrange your baby’s funeral yourself, rather than letting the hospital arrange it, you will sadly need to think about the costs involved. Generally arranging a burial is more expensive than a cremation. Please speak to your funeral director who will be able to advise you of all the costs involved in arranging your baby’s funeral – whatever you decide.
If you are on a low income, you may be able to get help with paying for your baby’s funeral. Your funeral director will be able to give you more information about this.
How Do I Plan a Service?
If you arrange your baby’s funeral yourself, you will be able to make lots of choices with regard to what sort of service you would like to have for him or her. When an adult dies, their funerals often include stories about their life, pieces of music and readings that were special to them and reflections on what they were like as a person. When a baby dies it can be very difficult to know how to go about arranging and planning a service. The information below may help you to think about things that you might like to include.
Would you like to hold a religious or non-religious service for your baby?
If you are religious, you may like to ask a religious leader to hold your baby’s service. You may like to have them present to lead the service by your baby’s grave, or in the crematorium, or you may wish to attend your place of worship for a service after your baby’s funeral. If you are not religious, you can still have a ceremony for your baby at the funeral. Please speak to your funeral director about what your options are.
Do you want a small, private service, or would you prefer to invite a larger amount of people?
Some people decide to invite a large number of people to their baby’s service, and others decide to only invite immediate family or only attend the service themselves. Do what you feel is best for you – now is not the time to worry about offending people. Most people will understand if you feel the need to keep your baby’s funeral very small and will support your decision. It is worth bearing in mind that if you want to keep your baby’s funeral very private and want to avoid people turning up unannounced – it may be advisable not to have notices of the funeral in local newspapers, and it could be wise to let people know what your wishes are regarding a private service.
Do you have any special poems, quotes or pieces of music you would like to include?
Choosing special music/poems/readings for your baby’s funeral can be a daunting task. When an adult dies, usually they will have had favourite pieces that you know of and can include. If you are religious, a member of your place of worship should be able to advise you on religious readings that may be appropriate. If you are looking for non-religious readings and/or music, very soon we will be posting a page that includes words and sounds that would be appropriate for a baby’s funeral and/or memorial service.
Would you like to have flowers?
Your funeral director will be able to advise you of a reputable florist, if you do not already know of one. Some people choose to put a small arrangement of flowers on their baby’s coffin, regardless of whether the funeral is a cremation or a burial. Most florists have specific arrangements for children’s funerals which are smaller than adult arrangements. They should be able to show you photographs of arrangements and help you to choose something appropriate. If you are inviting family and friends to the service, think about whether you would like them to bring flowers, or whether you would prefer to only have the flowers you have chosen. If it is common-practice in your culture for people to bring flowers to a funeral and you would prefer they didn’t – you could suggest that they make a donation to a charity in lieu of flowers. You may like to dry or press your baby’s funeral flowers as a keepsake. If you plan on doing this, speak to your florist about which flowers are best for drying/pressing. If you choose to have flowers at your baby’s funeral, you will need to think about what you would like to do with the flowers after the service. If your baby is being buried, you will usually be able to put the flowers on your baby’s grave. If your baby is being cremated, there may not be anywhere for you to place the flowers. If this is the case, you may have a family grave that you would like to put them on, you could take them home, or donate them to the chapel of rest at the funeral home. Your funeral director will be able to talk to you about what your options are.
Do you want photographs to be taken at the funeral?
Many parents we have spoken to have said that they remember very little of their baby’s funeral and that it seemed ‘all a blur’ – they have expressed great regret at not having taken photographs at the funeral to refresh their memory. It may seem like a ‘strange’ or ‘morbid’ idea to other people, but when a child dies you have limited opportunities to create memories and many parents understandably want to take every opportunity possible. If you are unsure about whether you would like photographs taking or not, remember that if photographs are taken – you do not have to keep them or look at them, but if they are not taken you will not have the opportunity to take them again. If you decide you would like photographs taking, we would advise you to talk to a close friend or family member and ask them to take photographs for you. Be specific and tell them what you do and do not want photographs of.
Do you want people to sign a guestbook at the funeral?
Some of the parents we have spoken to said that they included a guestbook at their baby’s funeral, and asked people to write a message to their baby. This book has become a treasured memento, containing messages of love for their child. Many parents then use the book as a scrapbook to keep photos of their baby in, or as a journal to continue writing messages to their baby. If you would like to use a guestbook at your funeral, let your funeral director know so he or she can arrange to have the book placed somewhere appropriate. He or she should be able to advise people to sign it, or you could mention it to people yourself. You can use any sort of book as a guestbook. The Memory Tree sells Memory Albums which would be perfect for using as guestbooks.
What will happen after the funeral?
It is common in many cultures for people to gather at the bereaved family’s house or meeting place after a funeral. You might decide that you want to have all your family/friends together after the funeral, or you might decide that you would prefer to be either completely alone, or alone with your immediate family and/or very close friends. Don’t feel that you need to do what is ‘usually done’. Attending a child’s funeral is not something that is ‘usual’, and there are no rules for what you should or shouldn’t do. Whatever you decide to do, let your funeral director know and he or she will be able to advise everyone at the funeral what to do after the service is over. Usually, if there are no plans to gather anywhere after the service, people will go their separate ways. You may like to end the service by doing something special such as releasing balloons for your baby or giving out packs of forget-me-not seeds for people to plant for your baby at home.
Please remember that the information we have written is designed to help you think about relevant information so you can make informed decisions about planning your baby’s funeral. Many of the parents we spoke to said that they felt completely unsure what to do or how to go about making plans. We understand what a difficult time this is – we have been there ourselves. The most important advice we can give you is to ask for help when you need it. Your family and friends will more than likely be glad to help, if you tell them how they can.
If you have any advice for parents who are planning a funeral for their baby, or would like to share some information that you wish you had known in the early days after losing your baby, please leave a comment below.