Should a mentally challenged person attend a funeral.  This question is often asked especially if a parent or family member has died.  I am not a grief counselor and I certainly don’t claim to be one.  I am not an expert in matters of grief.  However, I have some experience in this area.  For two years before coming to Special Gathering, I published a small magazine devoted to persons dealing with terminal illness, death and dying.

After coming to Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, I’ve helped to guide people with disabilities through trauma that results from grieving experiences.  Again, I’m not and I don’t claim to be an expert.  However, I do have some opinions and I would be interested in entering into an conversation regarding this issue.

To begin the discussion, let me say that death, and especially the death of a parent, is an extremely personal matter.  Every person, every family will deal with this issue in a unique way.  There is no correct template that can be applied to every issue regarding death.  That being said there may be some guiding principles.

First,  I believe that if the family has gathered for a funeral, a wake or a dinner after the funeral, the mentally challenged person should be given the option to come. 

Second, the person may not want to attend.  They may refuse.  This should not be taken as a rejection.  One young man I love decided to not attend his mother’s memorial service.  I held a private service for him.  I did exactly the same thing for him that I’d done for the family and friends.  He was able to spend some time thinking about his mother and praying for his family.  HE wanted to do this alone. It was the right thing for him.

Third, if the family is emotional in their reactions to grief situations, the mentally challenged person will probably also be emotional.  This is totally normal.  Of course, there are limits but the family will know those limits. 

Fourth, it the family model is more subdued the mentally challenged person will probably follow suite.  If not, they will be urged by the family to remain calm and not cry.  This is also right for this family.  However, be aware that the mentally challenged person will express his grief in other ways, such as anger.  This is also normal.

Fifth, the person who is mentally challenged should be made to feel a part of the family.  Family members should look for times to include and hug him.  Smile at her and throw her a kiss across the room.  Do something that will insure that s/he knows they are included, wanted and needed.

In short, if the family believes something is a normal passage through the grief process,  allow the person the option to also do it or attend.  Like everyone else, and perhaps, even more than others, persons with disabilities struggle with the insecurities of being wanted and needed, especially with their family during trauma and time of grieving.  Including them in this special family time will help to bond them to your hearts and make their grief passage so much easier.

What are your thoughts in regard to this subject.  Do you agree or disagree?  What are some of the things you have found to be effective?