Explaining death and heaven — The Bump
School-Aged Children

Explaining death and heaven

Hi Ladies,
I haven't posted here, I'm from Sept 15, but also have two children aged 5 & 7.  Looking for some advice on how to speak with my children about death and heaven.  In the past 5 years we have lost my father, step-father, grandfather and DHs grandfather.  My great aunt passed last weekend too.  My kids have been to all of the viewings and the funerals for immediate family members. They are not scared and we are very realistic with them.  But when it comes to questions about the afterlife we have trouble.

DH and I are agnostic and have conflicting viewpoints.  I believe in heaven and spirits, DH does not.  We no longer tell the kids that the deceased person went to heaven because they started to glamorize it, asking if they could go.  To the point where my oldest (when she was 5) said she wanted to touch the grey box in the basement (circuit breaker) so she could see her grandpa.  We deadbolted the basement door immediately.  Really scary stuff!

I'm unsure what to say anymore, and hope we don't lose anyone else soon.  My kids are so accustomed to losing people now it's sad.  I didn't experience death until I was 18.  And my mom is freaking out that my DH is telling the kids that there's no heaven.  Stressful all around.

So...any thoughts are appreciated!!
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Re: Explaining death and heaven

  • i don't think there is anything wrong with telling them that different people have different beliefs about what happens after you die and nobody really knows for sure. you can tell them mommy thinks x and daddy thinks y and some people believe z. open up a dialogue about it, ask them what they think. no matter what they believe now, it seems really healthy to me for kids to get comfortable thinking and talking about deep topics like that.
  • Thanks.  I am just trying not to confuse them.  Your thought makes sense.   @dufferoo
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  • I agree with duffaroo on this, and I have a similar situation.  My DH is an atheist and I'm a believer.  

    We had to tread pretty carefully on this topic because we didn't want to say anything that contradicts either his or my beliefs.  When my kids were 6 and 2, my grandmother died and my grandfather passed away the following year. It didn't feel right to either of us to present our kids with an idea that Granny and Grandaddy were floating around in the sky, playing harps with wings on their backs and halos on their heads.  Even if we didn't specifically plant that image in their heads, we knew kids can have a pretty simplistic idea about what "heaven" is.  You saw this with your DD's request to touch the circuit breaker box!  Kids are just so concrete that it's hard to deal with.

    We didn't focus on where the dead people "went" after they were gone.  If I recall, we explained it basically like this:  People believe that we have a body and a soul.  Your soul is your thoughts, your feelings, and your personality.  A lot of people believe that when a person's body dies, their soul goes to be with God.  We can't talk to a dead person's soul anymore, but we can still love and remember that person.  We can look at pictures and think about that person, we can talk about the good times we've had with that person.  When we do this, we can feel close to that person once again.  I will always miss Granny and Grandaddy, and I may feel sad when I think about them.  I may even feel like crying, and that's okay.  Even if it makes me feel sad sometimes, I still like to remember them and tell you guys about things that happened with them before you were born.  I think it would make Granny and Grandaddy very happy to know that we still care about them!

    Good luck with this! I'm sorry your family has experienced so many losses in such a short time.   

    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
  • @neverblushed thank you for your feedback.  I like your approach! 
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  • @neverblushed said it perfectly.  We took the same approach by telling our boys that there are lots of different ideas about what happens after death.  My sister passed away when she was 18 years old and my oldest was 2.  We still talk about her a lot and have had family losses since then so we have kept an open dialogue with them.  At one point my son, who is now 7, told me what he thinks heaven is like and even drew me a picture.  

    As for you dd wanting to go to heaven, I suggest a book called "Water bugs & dragonflies".  It's about water bugs that go to the surface and turn to dragonflies once they get to the lily pad.  The other water bugs make a pact that the next one that goes up will come back to tell them what happens above water.  But once they are dragonflies they can't come back because they have wings now.  The story helped our kids realize that once you go to heaven you cant come back.  

    I think you are doing a great job being open and honest with them.

  • I just read the posts and I love how you ladies explained this to your children. I have 4 children. My eldest is 7.5 and he's asked about heaven. It's been to explain it. I'm catholic and my husbands Christian but we haven't forced our kids into believing anything. 
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