My father-in-law recently passed away suddenly. It was a shock to all of us and I dreaded telling my kids because it's a hard concept to grasp. My oldest, who is 7, understands death because he's lost 3 grandfather figures in the last two years. He understands that when someone dies, you never see them again. He's also not very emotional, so he tends to grieve quickly and move on. That doesn't mean he doesn't miss them, but his outward grieving is very short lived.
My youngest, who is 4, doesn't understand what it means to die. So he had a lot of questions! "What do you mean I won't ever see him again? Where did he go? Is he going to come back? What is your soul? Does everyone die? Can kids die?" It's so overwhelming and exhausting to go through all these questions because with every answer, just comes another question. And it's the first time that he's realized that life doesn't last forever, which has developed into worrying about when all the people he loves are going to die. He would hug me at night and say, "I'm glad you didn't die today." Ugh, that just yanks at those heart strings!
So, one night, we all cuddled into our bed and we thought about all the places Grandpa could have gone. I explained that some people believe there is a heaven and when you get there, you see all the other people who have died and that they can still see and hear you. I also told them that some people believe that souls get reincarnated and live in others. My youngest asked if maybe Grandpa could be an angel - absolutely!
As you can probably tell, we aren't a "religious" family in it's traditional sense. We believe in a higher power, but we don't limit our beliefs to "one right way." They seemed to understand that we don't know exactly what happens when someone dies because we haven't experienced that before. So they came up with what they wanted to believe in. My youngest believes Grandpa is his angel (if you knew his Grandpa, you would think this was hilarious!) and my oldest wants to believe he's in Heaven with his other Grandpas that have passed.
We ended the talk stressing that no matter what you believe, there was no "right or wrong," there's just "different" beliefs. In the end the boys seemed to feel better about "after life" and their questions about death have subsided for the time being. And hopefully we won't have to grieve another loss for quite some time!
Melissa Ash - mom of 2 energetic boys, wife, and business woman. Just trying to "do it all".