02 August 2008

From the backseat

There are so many trees in the world; I don't know which is the beautifullest.

I want to change my name to Chihiro.

Granny's going to go to heaven soon, right?

As you might imagine, the last one took me aback. Not so much because she understands that Granny is sick, and that Granny is going to die, but because we've never, ever talked about heaven. We're atheists. We don't go to church. Yes, we celebrate Christmas, but it's for all the pagan winter solstice trappings, not that birth of Jesus business.

I tried to find out where this notion of heaven had come from.

We learned about heaven when we learned about the planets. The planets are in heaven. How is Granny going to get there? A rocket ship?

I confess that I told her that we'd have to build a rocket ship in the basement, like Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out. But really? I don't know what to say. She's only four.


julochka said...

you must post pictures of the rocket ship. :-)

Her Grace said...

Wow... kids, huh? It's amazing how they put the pieces of the things they learn together.

Woman in a Window said...

We always say things like, huh? Heaven...maybe...no one really knows but we like to think that maybe they're still energy out there whizzing around and maybe one day they'll whiz by and take off your hat. Energy can't be created or destroyed, right? So, there's no arguing that...

Antropóloga said...

The things they pick up at school!

Rima said...

That is a tough one. I probably would have said the same in your situation.

Julie Pippert said...

Wow, rockets like Wallace and Gromit would not have occurred to me. very very clever!

We've had to deal with a lot of death. I don't know why so I can't explain why. So I quote the Bible because Dude, those people, some of them anyway, are very good and they pretty much cover every subject under the sun plus also as the daughter of zealots it's the book I've most been forced to read.

Thus I have said:

To everything there there is a season (I KNOW! Not The Birds originally, but the Bible!) and then elaborated that this means we all have a time for life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I've never hidden the cremation or going into the ground from the kids. This might not make sense or sound creepy but because we compost, we talk about how it is important to become a part of the earth again. And the kids get it.

Somehow, amazingly, this idea of continuing essence works its way into an idea of the spirit going on, in hearts and memories and in the earth continuing.

I hope this makes sense. It's longer and more complicated, yet in kid terms, and it seems to work.

It's incredible how my kids seem to grasp that although they've suffered a loss (and they do cry) they also get that nothing is ever really lost because a part is with us and affects the world, forever, and we see it if we know to look.

But I don't hide death from them.

And I know I'm judged for it---for not "protecting" them but in my mind, I am supporting them. I am protecting them, by teaching them how to accept this and deal with it.

As you see, there is no need to make it about religion; you can approach it organically. I like mixing it up. :)

Marmite Breath said...

Nick Park as Philosopher. YES!

You could also throw in Eddie Izzard (as James Mason) who is God.

I think your daughter has the makings of a stellar (!) education.

On a serious note, I'm so sorry about your Mum. I hope you find a way to talk about it comfortably with the kids. I hope you don't think I was being flippant.

RuthWells said...

My youngest was 4 when my grandfather died, and we are also aetheists. But he had picked up the notion of heaven somewhere, and it allowed us to have a very open discussion of how different people think and feel about death.

For G., one discussion wasn't nearly enough. Be prepared for many weeks of follow up questions and repetitions of discussions past (for months, Garrick repeated that "we're never going to get to see Great-Grandpa Ed again".) It's going to take her a lot of processing.

And I'm so sorry to hear that Granny is so sick.

S. said...

When Diva Dog died, Z. was 18 months old and very concerned. At that age, you don't fully distinguish between animals and people in your emotional life. Someone in her household was suddenly gone, and her parents were intensely sad, and it rocked her. She kept coming back to Diva Dog's death and what it meant, for...I was going to say months, but it's been two years now and she still brings it up with some frequency, in one way or another, so I shouldn't put it in the past tense at all.

It was about a year after Diva Dog died that she asserted that dogs die but people don't. That one was a little heartbreaking to have to correct, but in general I've been impressed with how matter-of-fact she is about taking it all in. I think she keeps coming back to it because as she gets older she sees there's something about it she didn't understand before.

We haven't talk about heaven because we're Jews, and heaven isn't really so much a part of the cosmology, but we talk a lot about memory and missing dogs/people and telling stories and keeping their spirit with you.

But it's hard, to meet them where they're at.

Julia said...

A few months before A died, great-grandma of one of Monkey's best friends died, and he told her all about it. Death, burial, thinking and remembering. No heaven, because his parents didn't go there. So when A died, she knew that it meant he doesn't get to be here in the flesh. We have talked about it many times (as you can imagine), and still no heaven, of which I am relieved. But it has emerged, at some point, that she thinks he is everywhere, though she can't tell me why she thinks that. Which is fine by me.
But this is also a girl who declared that she thinks people made up God since they say he is up in the sky, and we know very well that there is nothing there except clouds, stars, comets, and planets.
I guess what I am saying is that I think we lucked out in what was in her head by the time we had to confront the issue head on. Because let me tell you, I am not so much about heaven.
(Hm, since we are sharing. We had to tell MIL to eff off with her proposed explanation of the event-- that the baby brother decided (!!!!) not to be born just then, and that maybe he will be born in a year or two. Now that wouldn't have messed up her head at all. Hurmpf!!!! Still pissed? Why yes, I am.)

kathy a. said...

my kids lost their caretaker when they were 3.5 and 5. the advice we got was to be straightforward, but not overload them with information -- to listen and answer their questions. also that it was OK to let them see we were sad, too. they talked about it for a long time -- not constantly, but questions popped up every so often.

my son brought up heaven -- he heard about it from another little boy at the daycare. we ended up talking about how people believe different things about what happens after someone dies. that i believe we still have the person in our hearts; and some people believe their spirits go to heaven.

i'm so sorry about your mom. xoxo

Aunt Becky said...

Ben knows all about heaven too, despite never having learned of it religiously. He, which flips me the expletive out, always tells me how he can't wait to get there. Not something you really care to hear from your child.

the queen said...

Evidently when Mom died it had quite an effect on Friend #4s four year old child, who knows me only tangentally. She talked about death for two weeks after. "Dinosaurs died, so who got their stuff?" and the like.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I'll have to agree that not being religious makes it much harder to explain death. I'm always struck by what ready-made comfort people with strong faith have.

Mayberry said...

Don't forget the crackers then ...

I'm going to guess there aren't many kids' books about death that don't mention heaven. It's a tough one.

Look for "Dead Bird" by Margaret Wise Brown.

kathy a. said...

the tenth good thing about barney, by judith viorst, was helpful to my kids. it touches on the cycle of life, and is not religiously-oriented.

S said...

my kids seemed to come up with the notion of heaven spontaneously as well.

i never understood it, as in both cases they were preschoolers.

niobe said...

Heaven was never really an issue here -- maybe because like S said, it's not a big thing in Judaism. I was always all about "well, what do you think?" and not providing any ideas of my own. Because I don't really have any answers.

susan said...

Curious Girl has been full of questions and comments about death since her uncle died last February, with a fair bit of talk about heaven included (that bit unprompted by us). I take the heaven conversations as her way of working through "where is he now?" and have managed, with a fair bit of "what do you think?" and "sounds like you're missing Uncle Quiet" and "well, we don't really know but his body wore out but we can remember him all the time everywhere" sorts of comments, to just help her talk through her memories and questions.

I'm sorry your mother is so sick.

Janet said...

That is one of my most favorite movies :-)

I'm sorry about your Mom...

Kyddryn said...

There is a company in Texas that will launch cremains into space for a fee (they launched Timothy Leary)...perhaps you could tell her a derivation of that?

I just adore kid logic - it's so jumbled and perfectly sensible at the same time.

Shade and Sweetwater,

The Library Lady said...

I'm a secular Jewish agnostic, the Man is a Catholic who hasn't gone to church since leaving home. Except for Midnight Mass at Christmas when we are back home.

My 13 year old used to go to Mass with her grandmother when visiting, but we have raised both the kids in a secular way. And yet my 9 year old has taken comfort these last 2 months (is it that long already!)in the idea that "Nanay has gone to heaven to bake bread for the angels"

I'd let her lead. And (librarian that I am)I'd highly recommend Helen Fitzgerald's book "The Grieving Child" which has a lot of good information about how children perceive death at different ages.

As always, good thoughts for you and yours. I wish I didn't have a pretty good idea of what you're dealing with,but sadly, I do.

Anonymous said...

So tough to figure out. I know.

I told Jack that SOME people believe in heaven, but that nobody knows for sure. But he clung onto that notion, and talks about heaven sometimes. I am not a highly religious person either, so I'm not sure what to say. Do I let him think about heaven in the stereotypical sense so that he feels good about it, or do I educate him by reiterating that, in fact, no one DOES really know what happens after death?

I'm letting him have his dream of heaven, for now. The education can come later, I guess.