Saturday, March 08, 2008

When We Go to Heaven

How do you speak to your children about death? Really, how do you? Please comment.

I find this subject extremely difficult, yet it has been unfortunately quite common place lately. I'm unprepared and often searching for simple words or terms to use in the depths of my brain.

Death is familiar to my children. We talk about it so much that it runs a close second to "What did you do at school today?"

I remember the exact day it started. It was April 14, 2004. On that day, my beloved cat, Eeyore, died. From that day forward, Grace began to ask me questions about death and heaven. Eventually Meghan added her own spin on death inquisitiveness.

What I say usually entails this:

"When we go to heaven, our body stays here on Earth, and the part of ourselves that thinks and feels and knows who we are goes up to heaven. It is the part of us that knows our name is Gracie or Meghan. That part of us is called our soul. People go to heaven, hopefully, when they are very old. Sometimes, children and young adults go to heaven too. When people die, we are very sad because we won't be able to see them again. At least, we won't see them again until we die and go up to heaven.

Heaven is a wonderful place. It is a place where no one hurts or feels sad or is lonely. Heaven is the most wonderful thing ever. God gave it us so we can feel special. One really great thing about heaven is that all of our family and friends who died before us will be there. When I go up to heaven, I'll be able to see both of my grandpas.

We are very sad when someone dies, but we also know that we'll see them again when we get to heaven."

Recently, our best friend, Tante, lost her daughter, Mary Carol. Next, my sister-in-law's father passed away. Then, Charlie's friend from college lost his 1-year old to neuroblastoma. Last week, the girls attended two funerals. There has been so much loss for people we know and love, and Grace and Meghan, in typical fashion, have been inundating me with questions.

Where did Mary Carol go?

Why didn't Tante have a funeral?

Is Aunt Patti sad her dad had to go to heaven?

Why is he cut-in-half? (Clue: One half of the casket was open, and the other was not.)

Why is Patti's daddy sleeping?

Why does the baby look so sad?

Why did God want the baby with him?

Why are there so many people here?

Why do we have to wait in line again?

Why are there so many pictures?

Why do I need to be quiet?

Are they going to put his bones in the ground?

Will he see his mommy and daddy again in heaven?

Will somebody get his liver cuz he doesn't need it anymore? (Yes, we've explained organ donation out of need. We know several people who've had lung and liver transplants.

Perhaps I've shared too much? Perhaps I haven't?

What I do know is that my children don't seem to be afraid of death. I wish I wasn't so afraid of their deaths, whenever that may be.

Their Alpha-1 is morbidly real for me...a little too real. My old friend, denial, has to be around here somewhere. Come out! Come out wherever you are!


Childlife said...

Jen - I think that the fact that your girls feel so comfortable asking you questions shows that you are doing a wonderful job on this topic. It's a tough one, and not one of my favorites either... but like you, I think it's important to answer their questions honestly and to anchor them in love. Conversations at our house are very similar to the ones you shared here and I think you're doing an amazing job with your girls.

Tante said...

We did have a service for Mary Carol, but it was just the two of us. Her casket was no bigger than a shoe box. I couldn't bare to have anyone else there.
It does bring a smile to my face to have Gracie thinking of her in heaven because I know that Grace believes she'll play with Bubbie (Eeyore) when she's there. As a teacher I think it is wonderful how honest you are with the girls. It is disheartening to see the bubble that some kids live in. They need to learn how to cope and manage when they are young, so they can be responsible and compassionate adults. This summer I'll take Grace, Meghan and Hailey to visit Mary Carol. She has a big tree all to herself.

tafkalorelei said...

I think honesty is best. At some point all kids will face a death of someone..whether it be family, friend, or a pet. I've done the same thing with the boys (Hunter, mostly..since Dalton just has turned 3) just in telling him that death is just another part of life..everyone is born and everyone dies..that most of the time you don't die until you are really old but sometimes people get sick or hurt and they die. We talk about Heaven being a wonderful place where there is no pain and no sickness. Hunter experienced two deaths fairly close Nana in 05 and my mom's brother back in July and he coped amazingly well with it all. I think you are doing a great job answering their questions.

Mama said...

it's great that your girls are comfortable asking, and I like your answers. We've gotten away with "it's when you go live with God." I have no idea what people without a God explanation do with this stuff...

caseyleigh said...

I think you are doing a great job. It's so important to remember that we create our children's reality. They take what we say for the 100% truth so I think being as honest as is developmentally appropriate is the best thing. I'm sorry that your family has had so much death to deal with, but it will help your kids cope as time goes on. I agree with "Mama"- I don't know how people without a God teach their children about death with out scaring them terribly.

Meggie Mom Fantastic said...

You did what good parents do, you answered their questions the best you knew how. *hugs*

As for the alpha1, I have to ask because I need your do you tell them? My older son just turned 3 in Dec and he knows he has "alpa 1" and sees all these docs but that's it. I am teaching him slowly that there are things he can't do or be near or he will get sicker, but it's hard to explain to a 3 yr old why he can't see his gramma because she smokes, ya know.

Jen said...

I, too, think the things you are saying to the girls are wonderful, Jen, and just right for the situation and their ages, etc. We struggle with this, like all parents do, and maybe even a bit more because Andrew is soooooo emotionally sensitive and even "fragile" sometimes. Just the thought of something sad will make him tear up, even if it's just a hypothetical conversation. So I've had to keep him shielded a bit from the realities of this (probably more so than most 6 1/2 year olds)....and have been able to b/c we've been lucky to have had no deaths in our family or among our friends' families recently. But of course, that can't stay true forever......

He learns about Heaven in Sunday school, of course, and we talk about it as well. The other morning, as we're driving to school, he looks up at clouds and says "I think Heaven is up past the clouds"....and I just told him that I agreed, and thought it was too.

((((((hugs))))) Jen, you are amazing, as usual. :)

Katie said...

I don't have any children (yet) but death has been very real in my life. I don't think you shared too much and I also think the explanation you gave to your girls was perfect. You did a wonderful job of putting it into "little people" language. Death is tough, even if you've been through it dozens of times before. My friend denial still visits me often...trying to convince me also that certain things couldn't have happened.

:-) take care, Jen!