When I first understood that death is a minor transition in someone’s eternal life, I stopped thinking much about the prevailing view of death as something negative. My foremost failing has become the fact that my first thought now on hearing about a death is actually happiness for the decedent. What else can you expect of someone who once wrote a book called The Fun of Dying?
After a few embarrassments, I have learned to keep my joy for new decedents to myself. Now I focus on empathizing with the survivors. I will say, “I’m so sorry.” If the one with whom I am commiserating is someone I think could be receptive to more, I might remark that the loved one who has transitioned is now healthy and happy and waiting for us in our beautiful homeland where love never ends. At this point, I am hearing from grieving people nearly every day, and the fact that they are so distraught has become a sore point for me. When the truth about death is so wonderful, the fact that both mainstream science and mainstream religions still make such an effort to keep it from becoming more widely known is inexcusable!
I should add that many of the grieving people who contact me have lost a companion animal. In February of 2015, I wrote a blog post called “Pets in the Afterlife,” and just over a year later Google picked it up. At one point it was a first-page suggestion for people who asked about an afterlife for pets, so by now it has hundreds of comments and I still hear often from people for whom the loss of their pet is a fresh, raw wound. It’s a lucky thing indeed that the post-death news about our furry companions is actually even better than is the news about our human loved ones!
What brings up the topic of death right now is the fact that I have lately had a Seek Reality guest who talked about aspects of the period soon after death that I have never wanted to think about, but that you deserve to be forewarned about. I’ll have more to say about this in coming weeks. And then Michael Tymn, a friend who is one of the world’s leading experts on the afterlife, wrote a blog post in which he talked about how we might explain the death of a parent to a young child. His post was great, and it reminded me rather forcefully that my original calling was to study and teach about the afterlife. By now, you and I have ranged far afield! So, might it be time to get back to our knitting? Many children below the age of reason, which is generally seen as six to eight years old, are going to experience the death of someone close, most likely a grandparent or a pet. And since a parent’s first instinct is to comfort and protect, helping young children deal with death and loss can be hard for parents who may be grieving, too.
Michael Tymn says in his post, “I can still remember the anxieties and fears I experienced 76 years ago when my step-grandfather died. My parents didn’t know what to tell me, and I, just six at the time, didn’t know what questions to ask. It was all hush-hush. The trepidation multiplied 100-fold when we visited the crematorium and I struggled with grasping that what was left of my grandfather was now contained in a little metal box, one surrounded by hundreds of other little metal boxes with ‘people’ in them.” It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that Michael’s years of afterlife studies which have so greatly benefited humankind might have had their origins in the mind of that confused and frightened six-year-old boy.
If you have a young child in your life, it is important that you prepare to help that child to better understand what death is and how to process a loved one’s death, or even the approach of that child’s own death. Remember that you will be fighting the ghastly misinformation about death that is pervasive in our culture!
Each of these notions is altogether wrong! There is no element of truth in either the strictly Christian view of death, or the mainstream scientific view of it, but since children learn these lies in school and in church, you and I must be prepared to confront them directly. Here is what I suggest that you do:
When a young child is diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, the same general suggestions apply, but with some caveats. Many counselors suggest that you not bring up the subject of death to young children, since that discussion might frighten them; but when a child is hospitalized and his health is failing, the child may be even more frightened if there is a conspiracy of silence around him. If I had a very young loved one who was dying, I would offer to answer questions. If no questions were forthcoming, I would wait a while and then make the offer again. Some children don’t want to be told straight out what their ultimate fate might be, but over time you may be able to impart information in ways that feel less personal to the child. For example, when you and the child’s uncle are visiting the child together, you might briefly mention in an aside to Uncle Dave what a wonderful pet his cat was, and how happy you are that she is now healthy and happy again in a wonderful place. Or you might mention to Uncle Dave that Grandpa is clearly happy where he is now, since he sent you a butterfly just this morning. But that’s it! Sub-adults are especially well attended when they actually transition, so it is less important that they know what to expect than it is in the case of adults.
Another point to consider is the fact that very young children might retain some memories of where they came from, and they also may be receiving visits from dead loved ones. My oldest granddaughter had frequent visits from one of her great-grandmothers for several years; and when I was small, I briefly retained some pre-birth memories. If your beloved child seems to have any awareness of what came before, or awareness that the dead survive, it can be easy to add a little more information to that core understanding.
Death is meant to be an easy and joyous process, but there are things that can go wrong. And it is finally time for us to talk about that! But first, next week let’s summarize how things can go superbly right….