One of my favourite things about being a mom is when my kids share with me their deep thoughts. Wonderings about meaning, morality, death, and belonging start quite young, and it amazes me how insightful and reflective my children can be.
I have had several recent conversations with my ten-year-old about death that make me tear up and want to cheer at the same time. Talking about death with my kids is difficult because it makes me think about some really sad possibilities. It’s hard for me to keep my composure during these conversations.
“I Want to Believe in an Afterlife”
During one of these conversations, my daughter shared with me that she wants to believe in an afterlife because the thought of everything just ending makes her sad. Many people who have left their childhood religion struggle knowing exactly what to teach their kids about difficult subjects like death. Let’s face it, life after death mythologies exist for a reason - they make death less horrible, especially if a place of eternal suffering isn’t part of the belief system.
My approach with my kids has always been a mixture of teaching, sharing my own experiences and beliefs and giving them room to explore on their own. If I truly don’t fear truth and discovery, I have to live that out with my kids’ journeys as well.
In this instance, I shared with my daughter my own fears and sadness at the prospect of dying and never again seeing the ones I love, never again having the experiences that bring me joy. I shared with her how sad it makes me to think about the people I leave behind having to mourn my death. I told her that I can’t even think about her or her sister or their dad dying because it feels like my heart might rip out of my chest. I asked her a lot of questions and she shared her own ideas and hopes. Many of her hopes are whimsical. She has come up with some beliefs that provide her some measure of comfort, and I’m ok with that.
Living on in the Memories we Share
In the end, the experience reflected what I think living and dying are about. Being present, enjoying the moments that vibrate with life, creating safe space for a loved one to share her fears and hopes. That conversation was one moment I created with my daughter that is part of my afterlife - it will live on. It created a memory, and hopefully it communicated to her that her life has profound meaning and potential and that the mark she leaves on this world can be more beautiful than any eternal paradise.
What topics of conversation do you find difficult or inspiring to have with children? How have you navigated them?