What Happens to a Child's Body After Death
Memorial Opportunities and Burial Options
The thought of death is disturbing to say the least. So that's why, the question of what happens to a child's body after death may not always be asked with the thought of a clinical answer in mind. No, rather than a thorough discussion of how quickly a body decomposes and just what it may look like at various points either buried in a grave or as it goes through a cremation process, what someone asking that question is more likely to be inquiring about is the social process for how a child's body is handled after a death. Are there special caskets, that a deceased child needs? Special procedures that funeral directors and cemetery personnel follow? Are there any unique types of memorial services to which a child's body may be key in the days immediately following a death.
These and other practical concerns -- as opposed to the former, more scientific, discussion -- are our focus in this article. The death of a child is usually far more emotionally hazardous than the death of an adult (simply because it is usually not expected, and it works against all the great dreams and plans that a parent (and many others including friends, family and even teachers) may have had involving the child. At the death of a child, strong questions are often asked, even of God! Faith and families are put to the test, and friendships become more important than, perhaps, had ever been realized before. So we hope this article can help take some of the mystery and discomfort out of an exceedingly difficult time for any parent and family. We believe that a good grasp of society's expectations for what will happen to a child's body after death can lead to a grieving process that is as healthy as can be despite the presence of much emotional turmoil.
The death of a child leaves many memorial opportunities that may not be immediately apparent, but are nevertheless even more plentiful than those that are available after the death of an adult. This phenomena comes about because of the very nature of the dead of a child. Entire communities can typically be counted upon to rally around the family of a deceased child simply because people realize that a child's death is particularly traumatic. Charity bank accounts are often set up to collect anonymous donations that are many times publicized by free ad space and air time given by local media. And this leads to people coming forth with offers of help for other matters, things that do not necessarily involve money but are nevertheless important in caring for a body of a deceased child. It has been known to happen, for example, that funeral directors may actually come forth with quick offers of free help for the family even from the very first hours of a death. Whereas in the case of the death of an adult who passes away in a hospital, staff members may wait for the family to take the lead on matters of, say, which funeral home will handle preparations of a body and transport to a morgue or cemetery, when a child dies, the proverbial wheels can move much faster and easier as hospital staff often have more license to act unilaterally. Nurses have been known to contact a funeral home on the deceased's child's family's behalf and arrange for free (or very low cost) memorial services and burial. Funeral directors often are able to make such donations because of the extra, free, publicity that will typically come to a child's funeral, can often result in a bit of a financial boon to the funeral home that is selected to handle the services. While it is not universally the case, it does often happen that parents and other family members of deceased children are spared many of the toughest decisions and expenses related to memorial services and burial. Arranging for a memorial can be for these people simply a matter of agreeing to proposals that are submitted unsolicited by funeral director and cemetery personnel within just a few hours of the death. In these cases, a family can just take advantage of many helpful, normally expensive, memorial opportunities (such as, for example, multiple memorial services, extended viewing ceremonies, highly sophisticated headstone engraving in a seamless fashion, without any worry or hassle or complicated decisions to make. The child's body in such instances is handled with the greatest of care and respect that professionals in the death care industry can muster. “Routine” services that often cost thousands of dollars when performed for adults who have passed away can end up being a a great, very inexpensive blessing for a family who has lost a beloved child.
Cremation for a child is very similar to the same service as performed on bodies of deceased adults – except, for children, a smaller cremation urn may be needed. This is not to say that a large cremation urn cannot be used for a child; in fact, many families will order large cremation urns and use them to hold the ashes of several people in a family (notice we did not say “buy”; that is because, as we say above, it is often the case that families of deceased children are not required to “buy” anything – all goods or services are donated, either by the funeral home or cemetery itself or others in the community). These specialty urns are called “companion urns” by retailers in the memorial products industry, and they can be designed with separate compartments so that one or more set of cremation ashes can be stored separately in the urn, or the ashes can be co-mingled. The urn can be re-opened and ashes can be added any time there is another death in a family. For many parents of children who have died prematurely, this is a comforting option that might not be considered if the the family were not able to receive a little extra financial support that is not always available to families when a adult passes away. Whatever the choice of a family who has lost a child, family members can be assured that there is definitely an option that suits there needs quite readily.
The same can be said to apply to burial options for children who have passed away. It is possible, in fact, that many children who have died well before their parents can be buried in the same grave their parents indent to use for their eternal resting spots. Many cemeteries today are set up to bury a child's smaller grave either below a parents or right next to it in the same plot. This option is often a great comfort to a family. To accept these offers (or to take advantage of policies by which these policies are availble) a family may have to arrange for a child-sized casket for the child's body, and, fortunately, these products are readily available in the memorial product's industry – usually in just as many varieties and materials as those intended for adults. Of course, children can be, and often are, laid to rest in traditional human sized caskets as well. But these full-sized pieces can often be too large for appropriate display of a body in a viewing ceremony or a at funeral service. Nevertheless, depending upon the choices and tastes of a family, the larger caskets can be outfitted with extra cushioning that make the large caskets a good fit. But, often, such modifications do not make practical sense, given the child-sized caskets are usually less expensive than the full-sized versions.
All that we say above caskets also applies to headstones for children. Headstones or other grave markers are available in both large sizes intended to be used, in most cases, for adults, but they can also be made much smaller as a way to mark the graves of children. In some older cemeteries, with bodies dating back to the times in the 19th century and even early 20th century when child mortality was much more common than it is today, smaller grave markers for children are, sadly, common from a practical matter. If a family loses 2-3 children to childhood diseases and other maladies, it just makes sense for some families to bury all of the bodies very closely together in, perhaps, a single family plot that is marked by multiple small headstones. (In many cases, future generations of these families have replaced several small child headstones with larger single headstones that simply list all of the children buried in a single plot.)
The bottom line to our discussion about what happens to a child's body after death is this: there is not much different, in all actuality, from the memorial options and burial needs of an adult and a child. But, in the case of children, the options can often be less expensive – at least for the families themselves, thanks to discounted prices from death industry professionals and donations from community members looking to be supportive of a family in one of the most trying times that it will ever know.