Explaining Death

Serena, Annika and I were driving to Trader Joe’s today, practicing spelling and talking about their names. We talked about how Serena’s middle name is after her Uncle Aaron and how Annika’s middle name is after Jim’s grandmother, Lummy – whose given name was Maxine. Annika asked where Lummy is and Serena explained that she died, “like Grandpa Bob.” Annika said, “Oh, yea! I know Grandpa Bob! I know about him!”

This started a series of questions about death.

“What is buried?” said Serena. “Do they put them in the ground?”

“Yes” I said. “They put the person’s body in a beautiful box so that their body has a comfortable place to be when they bury them.” (desperately hoping I wasn’t freaking them out.)

“What happens after that?” Serena asks.

“Well, we’re not really sure.” I said. “People believe all different things because no one knows for sure.”

“I know what happens! I know what happens after that!” Annika yells.

“What?” Serena and I chime.

“They take the beautiful box that has the person and they take it to the hospital and they fix the person at the hospital and they are alive again!”

“That doesn’t happen, Annika,” Serena says.

“What does happen, Mama?”, Serena persists. “Do people come back to life?”

“I’m just not sure, Sweetie. Some people believe that a person’s soul comes back to life as other people or living things. Some people believe that a person’s soul goes to heaven where God is and they and get to see all the people who died before.” Serena seemed pleased to think of this idea. There is something uplifting about the idea of this happening, I have to admit, too.

“What is God? What is heaven?” (whew – I am sooo in over my head, here! This is another one of those times when having a religious belief with clear stories about heaven, God and death would be handy. Unitarian Universalism, my religion, pulls from all religious traditions and holds the position that all other truths are relevant and, well, a part of truth. Truth is personal. Therefore, death, God, heaven, Buddha… is all a part of the story. No answers are spelled out. While I know that this religion fits my beliefs, it does not make for neat and tidy stories about these big life issues.)

While I was contemplating my explanation of God and heaven, Annika answered for me.

“We can’t know until we die.”

Then she said,”Mama, maybe you could take us there before you die.”

“Well, we can’t really go there before we die…”

Serena said,”Is that the end of the story, Mama?”

And before I could figure out what to add to that, Annika said:

“So, let’s go in to Trader Joe’s.”

Whew. Something tells me this is going to come up quite a few more times over the years.

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