Chapter 3: Funerals, memorials, and other rituals

Explaining cremation

I've been there
Neenu describes her son's involvement in his father's cremation.(3:22)Video transcript
The expert says
Andrea Warnick, children's grief therapist, shares how to explain cremation.(3:22)Video transcript

Jack and Alexis really wanted to see their aunt's ashes. I wasn't sure I wanted to see them, but I felt better about it when I saw how interested and comfortable the kids were.

Many adults are uncomfortable talking about cremation with children and are often surprised to discover how matter-of-fact they are about it.

Steps for having the discussion

  • Start by making sure your child fully understands that when someone dies their body doesn’t work and does NOT feel anything anymore. 
  • Explain that the body is placed in a special little room that gets very, very hot. The room gets so hot that it makes the body break down into very small, soft pieces called ashes. 
  • Explain that the ashes are usually put in a small container called an urn. 
  • Let them know the plan for the ashes if there is one. Will they keep the ashes, bury them or scatter them in a special place?  
  • Try to avoid using the word burned as children can easily misunderstand and believe the body will feel the intense heat of cremation.    

The ashes

It’s common for children to ask to see the ashes, and it’s okay for them to do so. Some children may want to keep ashes in their own rooms or easily accessible. This, too, is perfectly fine.