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My just turned 4 yo has a bit of an obsession about dying at the moment. It’s not that we have anyone close to us that has died or is dying, but she must have picked up on the thought from stories, and now she wants to know when we will die, when granny will die, what happens to you when you die? Are you still around when you die, etc? And I am struggling a bit with some of the answers. I can give her basic facts like what happens to the body (obviously not in much detail, at 4) eg the body breaks down and goes back into the cycle of life in the earth, but then she wants to know what happens to you if your body is gone, and I think what she wants to know is a more spiritual answer, which is where I struggle, as I’m not entirely sure what I believe myself, although I do think that your life force must go somewhere. We don’t really have any specific religion in our household, but I guess we are most akin to a pagan belief - we respect nature and celebrate the elements and the cycles of the year (although that has lapsed somewhat since having children and is something I am trying to get back to this year).
So my question is, what do you believe happens when you die, and what would you tell a 4 year old (and thus by default her nearly 3yo sister)?
we tell ours that the body goes into the ground / or you get burnt and then all the goodness from your body/ashes helps the plants, trees, flowers grow etc. like you we try to point out the cycle of life. we also say that people remember you. tell stories etc when you are gone so in that way the person is still around in some way.
we explain that some people believe in god and they think that you go to heaven (or hell , haven’t bought that up yet) but we (mummy and daddy) don’t believe that but that she can decide what she wants to believe.
as for but where is the person , i’ve explained that when you die your body stops working so you can’t feel, hear, see, think anymore so it doesn’t hurt to be dead and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I explain about my nan who was very old and her body was too tired to keep working and she wanted to die to be at peace and then maybe she could be with my grandad in our memories.
we are looking at the human body at the mo and building a skeleton (billy bones) new kids magazine, comes every week with parts of a skeleton to put together, interesting but not cheap.
so hopefully this will give ours some idea what the body is made up of.
we are obviously not religious or spiritual, more science based i guess but do have strong belief and respect for nature.
SAHM to Tillie 21/09/2007 and Ivy 31/08/2009.
The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think - rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men. ~Bill Beattie
Sounds like you are going about it fine, just be honest but in no more detail than what you think they will understand. As far as what happens spritually - explain what some people believe, what others believe, etc - that way it leaves it open for her to develop her own belief. She may ask you what you believe and if you’re still not sure be honest and say you don’t know.
I personally believe honesty is the best thing for these sorts of questions, of which there will be many, and leaving things open for children to develop their own self and spirituality if they desire.
Thank you for the replies. I like the idea that we are still around in memories, and I think dd will like that too. The old thread had lots of useful ideas too, thank you, Nelly. Dawn you are right, I need to let her develop her own belief, sometimes I forget that even when they are so little they can have ideas about things as big as spirituality, etc. Children really are amazing, aren’t they
We have the books “Always and Forever” and “Badger’s Parting Gifts”, both of which do not answer the question about what happens to the person after they die, but sensitively deal with the reactions of those left behind and emphasises how people “live on” in our hearts and memories. In this way the books are suitable for people of any (or no) faith. If you want to know more about what the Christian view of heaven is (believe me, it is not the bizarre white-robed, harp-playing, grape-eating floating on clouds that was perpetuated by Greek philosophers and Renaissance artists!) then I would recommend reading Randy Alcorn’s book called “Heaven” which will give you more than enough to think about for yourself and decide if any of it is worth conveying (in a simpler way) to your children. FWIW our children are very positive about death, as we have emphasised our belief that God will one day restore this earth to how it was in the beginning and we will have new bodies that won’t grow old or feel pain. We know that our children will need to think through these things themselves as they grow up but it isn’t a bad way to start off life, with such a positive view on death.
Diana, DS (Sep 05), DD (Jan 08)
My own answer would be identical to Wandermob’s, as we’re not religious/spiritual either, but in general I would say: tell your kids what you really think. If you’re not sure what happens, I think it’s fine to answer “I don’t know” to some questions; I don’t think it’s necessarily unsettling for children to realise that we have questions too, if that’s communicated in the right way. You can even invite your child to speculate with you: “I don’t know what really happens; what do you think?”
The closest I’ve come with my own daughter is that when I was cleaning some whole fish the other day (sorry if this is a nasty image for some people!), she kept asking me if they were “real,” and then if they were “sad,” so we talked about how they were real, and how they would indeed have been sad at the moment when the fisherman caught them, but they weren’t sad now because they were dead and when you are dead you’re not happy or sad (because that’s what DH and I believe).
I also think it’s important and useful to emphasise the fact that those we love are very much alive in our memories and in the advice, habits, ways of thinking, etc. that they leave behind in us. We still miss them because they are absent, but we feel their presence in our daily lives.
At the age of 4, I would just stick to the facts. That you are buried into the ground. At that age, I wouldn’t go into cremation as I would worry that it would scare her. If you have no beliefs beyond that, I wouldn’t explain what others believe at age 4. Dd was 5 when her grandmother died & I explained the facts to her. At 7, she has asked other questions & I’ve expanded what I told her but still at what I think is appropriate for her. Trust your judgement. I know that dd1 would still be absolutely terrified at the thought of cremation.
mom to 2 girls age 8 & 3
Thanks for the replies again I think I will see if the library has those books, Diana.
I did try telling her that I don’t know to some questions, but she gets more upset that I don’t know!
She definitely needs some sort of answer or discussion on the spiritual side, as its that more than the practical facts that she keeps asking about, and she is never satisfied with a quick answer - she wants to know all the hows and whys (just like her mum!). She is really upset by the idea that we just stop being, so I think if I explain what some other ideas are she might like some of those. Next time she asks I’ll use it as a conversation starter.
We are also mostly pagan and we had the obsession with death and dying at around the same age, thankfully we’ve come through it as I’m not good with it myself.
So to the what happens when we die? question ....
I always said that although our bodies can no longer keep going at that point, our energy never dies and can live on in many different ways
for example: when the dead are burried (or cremated I guess though I didn’t know how to sensatively explain cremation, i just had an idea though!) their energy transfers to the ground, the old body turns to compost and can feed the flowers plants and insects. We go back to nature. Handily we found a dead bird amoungst a bramble bush at about this time so I was able to point out how it would directly feed the soil and so the brambles.
another example I gave him was that people can deffinitly live on in the memories of their famiy and freinds, we keep our elders alive by remembering them and telling stories of their lives.
and I also told him that our energy moves on to a different level ... where bodies aren’t needed to exist, I told him it’s a mysterious level as we can’t go there with our bodies to find out but there would probably be lots of other peoples energies there as well.
My grandma died last year so I could relate how she’s had a very long and good life and that her body would just have been exhausted.
Cliff’s mum died a couple years back and he asks questions about that even now - she died of smoking related illnesses so I’m able to tell him that if we don’t take care of ourselves our bodies can have enough.
I had to do some soul searching myself to try and reconcile myself with it all, I do every time the subject comes up. I don’t want him to be uneasy with the subject so I try not to show any discomfort myself, I try to be sensitive yet matter-of-fact and not show that it irks me. I know my irks come from my mum who is a nervous wreck about most things including this.
Hope that helps?
Much love X
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am
thankful that thorns have roses
Mamma to Zander River nearly 5, Gaia Arwen Sky nearly 3
Thanks gypsyrose, that is really helpful - similar to what I am telling her but with bits I think I will add She is still super interested in the whole dying/death thing - it’s made me do a lot of thinking about what I believe.
My 7 year old has always had an awareness of death as he’s been visiting his sister’s grave at the cemetery ever since he was born. The first time he lost someone we knew what my Grandad when he was 3 and (even though he doesn’t remember this now) he learned about the more practical aspects of death through Star Wars(!). He saw Yoda die and his body disappear and accepted that he “went back to the force” (read as “back to nature” to tie in with his sister being buried). When Darth Vader died he was cremated and we explained that that was kind of what happened to my Grandfather when he was cremated. I maintain that the Jedi philosophy used in the film was probably the closest teaching to my Pagan and Buddhist principles I could get for a youngster, it didn’t leave any discrepancies remaining.
The questions didn’t all come at once obviously, and I only told him what I thought he could handle at the time but because he’s always been used to going to the cemetery to visit the grave of someone he never met he has an extremely factual perspective.
The week after he started his new school following our house move last year a little boy from his class was knocked down and killed in a hit and run incident (the guy handed himself in eventually, just so you know). This sent shockwaves through the school and must have been an extremely difficult time for a 6 year old boy to enter a new school but I would like to think he was probably armed better than most to understand the physicality-aspect of it. There were counsellors on hand for a good while afterwards for everyone and it was dealt with very well indeed, although I was very quick to make sure Jake wasn’t fed anything religious as our views are vastly different to most of the other pupils.
I hope that helps hun, good luck xxx
Waterbirthed/cloth-bottomed/semi-BLW/co-sleeping/breastfeeding/wrap-loving tired and cranky Mama to my babies’ guardian angel Jaia (25/6/03 RIP), my gorgeous preemie Jakeybear (4/05) and munchable Little Roo (8/10)
They love you, relax into that