Children seem to get there, all of them, at one point. Maybe it’s part of growing up and realizing that things are changing. Maybe it’s part of the letting go. I’m not sure. But they all get to the point where they start asking questions about dying.
I was expecting it. Frankly already for months now. I thought the passing away of my Dad would get my daughter to the point where she would ask the question. The question I believe it’s the hardest one to answer:
” What happens to us after we die?”
The interesting thing is, that I was asked this question mid last week by one of our kids very best friends. We were on an outing together and the little guy, who is younger than my daughter, was sitting in my lap, waiting for a show to start, when he suddenly started asking me a series of questions about death.
How does it feel when you die?
How does it feel to us after we died?
Do you think I will die soon?
Woah… I’m not going to pretend here! It felt like he had punched me in the stomach! Not that he wanted to hurt me, but those questions stung. I mean, it’s hard enough to answer questions like this when your child asks them. But coming from a close friends little son while we were out and about with them was a lot (note to myself: I need to mention it do his mom…).
So there I was, with my ideal to always answer questions truthfully and also with all I have read in one of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘ books about kids and dealing with death.
What to do? Do I pretend it’s just one of those easy questions like which flavor ice-cream I prefer and brush it off with a smile on my face? Should I pretend I totally have the answer and tell him something? Should I pretend it’s none of my business and tell him to talk to his parents rather than asking me?
Let me tell you something. This little guy is one smart boy and he will not let you get away with a simple answer. He would also not let me get away with telling him to better ask his parents. He wanted to hear MY opinion. I’m pretty sure he has asked his parents too or is about to.
But how on earth do you answer questions like this? As honest as possible of course…
How does it feel when you die? I don’t know. And I’m not going to pretend I do. Nobody truly knows. Nobody was in the situation. Otherwise you could not talk about it. We might think we know but do we really, do we really know what it feels like when we do pass away? Nope. We might know of close to death encounters but I guess that is it. So we don’t know. I told him that most probably nobody knows. It was not really good enough for him. So I told him that all I could say is that my Dad seemed very peaceful and relaxed when he passed away and this answer seemed to have been sufficient. Or he simply decided that I’m a lost cause and he would have to find someone smarter to get a satisfying answer.
I explained to him that nobody would be able to explain how it would feel afterwards. Because of course, nobody makes it to tell the tale. I didn’t go into theories that you could get in touch with the dead as I thought it might only confuse him… anyway. I explained to him that I was hoping we would feel good as we would all go to a better place and maybe catch up with everyone we had lost before. The answer seemed to be good enough for him.
And then he asked me again if I’d think he would die soon. He explained that he had no specific reason to ask this question but was only wondering what my thoughts are. I simply told him that I sure hope he would stick around for a while as we all had way to much to do still and he promised me he would.
My daughter was not close enough to hear what we were talking about. She was with the big boys talking about a crocodile at this point. But only a couple of days later she had a little breakdown.
We were getting ready to go to bed when she suddenly burst into tears. She was clearly extremely upset when she told me how scared she is of dying.
I’m scared, I don’t want this to end, I don’t want to ever die!
Who really does…
It’s hard when things like this happen out of the blue, don’t you think? I mean, you can sort of prepare yourself to give answers, prepare yourself for “the talk” if there is a lead up. But if it happens out of the blue you feel like gasping for air. At least I did. We cuddled, her brother and Dad came and hugged her too and together we were there and started talking about what we thought would be.
There is no “don’t worry, it will all be good.” We will all die eventually. If we like it or not. It’s how it is.
Again it’s about letting go. Letting go of the world we live in, letting go of a life we loved, letting go of people we love and letting go of the certainty. Of knowing where and what we are. It’s the unknown that’s so daunting.
Dying is not about the beautiful smell of roses and pink, soft clouds.
It’s tough reality.
I’m not a Heaven or Hell person. The concept just doesn’t do it for me. It’s part of a story made up and used as a tool of power. You don’t do as I please so you go to Hell… You do as I please and you go to Heaven. In my books this is all bullshit.
So what do you tell a child. A child very obviously worried and craving for answers that calm her down?
Again it’s about the truth. If I pretend I know the answers I lie. I can only tell the truth if I tell her what I believe in, what I think might happen…
So I told her that I understand her worries. That I understand it scares her. I told her that she is not alone with those worries, with those fears. I told her about my believe that this life is part of a bigger journey. I told her that it’s sort of like a year with its four seasons. That we go through it experiencing all the good and challenging things in all four seasons and learn. That we take what we learned over the year along with us until the year ends. That year will then be over. It will never come back. We will never find ourselves in this year again, will never be able to enjoy the same summer again. But we took something along. And we will head into a new year. Making new experiences in new forms, learning new lessons. And so we will move on. To where? Not sure. Maybe to a point where we have reached perfection. Where there are no more lessons to learn. Where we will be then and in what for, I don’t know.
I told her that this was just my way of seeing it. I explained to her that other people see it differently. I told her that Daddy might have another theory and that she will hear many different versions over her life of what death and life after death might be about. I told her that it’s totally fine to think about it and that maybe she would come up with an idea about how it might be and that I would love to hear it once she’s ready…
Was I able to conquer her fear? Not sure. I actually doubt it. But I for sure gave her something to think about.
We all fear our passing away, even if we see it in the most positive light possible. As I mentioned before it’s about letting go and letting go is the hardest task that challenges us over our life on a regular base.
The letting go in relation to death is final. There is no do-over, no correcting mistakes, no second chances, no moving on. We have to let go of our body, of our life, of what we know. And that’s scary. But it’s also about trust. Trus that we will be okay, that this circle of life is a circle and will keep spinning in one way or another. It’s about confidence. Confidence in having lived our life to the fullest and not have wasted time. Confidence in having left something good behind. Confidence in remaining somehow…
The one thing I told both kids and what I think was the most important message is, that we will find the answers to all those questions one day. Until then though, we should not worry. Rather then wasting our time worrying about something we cannot change or influence anyway, we should enjoy what we have. We should live the life given, make the best of every day and embrace every moment we have.