Saturday, 6 March 2010


It's odd.
Although I have seven children, all of whom should have had to face the same inescapable facts of existence, I cannot remember how I helped each child how to cope.
Did I help them all in the same way?
What worked best?  I can't remember.
For example, each child - except Colm - has had to face the inevitability of death.
Somehow, Colm's autism has spared him the anxiety normally associated with the realisation of one's mortality.
I do remember Joseph being extremely worried that I was going to die.
I told him that he would be grown up before I died and he wouldn't need me then.
That didn't work.
I told him that I wouldn't die until I was 100 years old.
I was trying to put off the day he was fearing so far into the future that it didn't matter right now.
That helped him, but didn't completely remove his fears.
Then I told him that after I died, I would become a star and would always look down on him from the sky.
He liked this.
I got quite a lot of questions about stars, but in general, he liked that idea.
He has slept soundly ever since.

Now it's Orla's turn.
She was crying sorely, in my arms, at bedtime.
What would happen if I died and mummy died?
Who would look after her?
Who would love her?
Joseph, who was nearby, told her "Don't worry, daddy will be a star.  You'll be able to see him in the sky."
Joseph was being kind, trying to help.
He brought no comfort whatsoever.
I told her that I wasn't going to die before she was a grown up woman.
That is working.
For now, anyway.
She slept soundly.

All parents have to face this problem.How have you dealt with this?
All help gratefully received.


Gary-The Fairweather Blogger said...

Hello Robert, your post got me thinking how we had discussed this issue with Emily. I thought it would be difficult - but Emily, being the inquisitive little girl she is, made it so much easier for me. Our "life and death" conversation is posted at my blog ( My next major conversational hurdle will be the "birds and the bees." but I'm hoping Lesley will do that one!!


♥ Kathy said...

Sadly my kids had to deal with death quite a bit growing up. The people on my side of the family just don't live very long. My father passed away when he was 56 when my children were 10, 7 and 5. That's been a little over 10 years ago. They lost their grandparents (with the exception of my mother...the women don't seem to have the high mortality rate in my family, just the men) and great grandparents before that so we talked about death often. The main thing I always told them was that when people died all their pains went away and they were comfortable again. When my father passed away my youngest came to me and said "I guess grandpa is in heaven now with everyone else whose gone. I'm glad he doesn't hurt anymore". That made me feel a little better. I'm not sure if that helps you with Orla or not. All I know is I've always been very open with talking about my kids about everything. Not knowing is scarier to me. Have a great day Robert. I hope Orla is ok now.

Nechtan said...

Hi Robert,

I know how hard that is. At the moment its just the oldest that asks but I have two more to go. My wife is a Catholic and the children are attending a Catholic until they are old enough to make their own choice in what they want to believe. For now my daughter is content with the idea of heaven even if her dad has to bite his tongue but I'm also glad that she has solace for it. They get fed it at school by the big dripping spoon load so it has been easier to be honest.

I think all we can tell them in some way is that we will always be there watching over them even if they can't see us. It is a big weight for a young mind.

All the best


The Nakamuras on Saipan said...

t's really difficult isn't it? When my children were little they were often afraid of me dying or daddy...We talked about the afterlife a lot. It comforted them to think of a heaven where I would be waiting for them should I leave them. Whether you believe in this or not was not really the point - it comforted them. We had so much trauma in our home from a daddy who was alcoholic and on drugs that I didn't know what else to tell them. I want so much to believe that after this life there is something...not nothing. Today I took some of my grandchildren to the movies. The little one sat on grannys lap. As I held her, I was overcome by love for her and strange as it may seem I was afraid that I might loose her. I love her so much. There was no rational reason for me to feel this way but I think sometimes we all must feel this way about our loved ones....I don't have anything useful to add here just that I really understand how you feel.

Ethereal Highway said...

Robert, when one of my twin daughters was little (she is 14 now), she claimed to remember what things were like before she was born. If it is possible for very small children to remember what things were like in the womb, then perhaps that is what she was describing, but I decided to keep my idea about that to myself. She claimed that she lived in a 'bucket full of souls' and that this is the place she came from. She said it was warm and happy there and she felt very good and was surrounded by love and peace and everything good. She said she was not alone there (she is a twin!) and that she feels happy when she thinks of that place. She went on to describe how it was dark there, but not at all scary, and she knew there was light somewhere nearby. I think this 'bucket of souls' might be where she believes she will one day return to.

My littlest likes the idea of the conventional heaven. (And she said she remembers what it was like in my tummy. She said she heard a lot of thunder and loud noises while she was in there. I was horribly plagued by gas and very loud tummy rumblings with that one, so it gave me a chuckle when she said that!)

James Goodson said...

This reminds me of my friend's kid. He was more afraid of not waking up in the morning rather than someone else dying in the family. His mother would simply hold him and say he'd be alright and that would calm him. After, I think, a couple weeks it wasn't even an issue anymore.

Which is interesting because he grew up kind of introverted.

Robert said...

Thanks everyone for your input.

As a non-theist, I try to explain things to my children as honestly as possible, and with hard facts. So I don't do "heaven" or eternal life, etc. Orla is going to hear about those concepts at some stage and we can discuss them then. However, I cannot find any way to allay Orla's fears about the death of those close to her without resorting to imaginary explanations - eg turning into a star after death.

Now that Joseph is older, we have been discussing how everything around us, whether living or not, comes into existence and then deteriorates, finally crumbling into dust. In this way, the building blocks of the material universe never die, but change into new substances, over and over again. Joseph can understand this concept (he's 8) and he is reassured to know that when I die (or his mum, in the unlikely event that she dies first) he will be old enough to cope with the loss.

It may be that one day we will discover a way to prove that our consciousness exists outside our physical existence, and passes from one type of existence to another (bucket of souls, reincarnation, ghosts, etc.). I'm open to all new provable information!

It is quite difficult trying not to indoctrinate my children. I don't want them to accept my point of view without question. I try to help them to question the believability of "traditional" belief systems and why people continuously try so hard to force their own beliefs on the world at large. In the process, I hope that they can arrive at their own truths.

Nota Bene said...

Oh oh oh. Well my boy understands death as his mother died when he was eight...but then he doesn't because he seems to think I'm immortal...even if he keeps threatening to take me to Switzerland on a one way ticket...we have conquered it with a morbid sense of humour...

Em said...

such a different topic to reply to robert. what do you say to a child, you dont want to scare the wits out of them. i think you did the right thing. such sweet pictures. hope your all well. xxx

Michelle said...

There is a story I heard once that I like. The mark above your lip under your nose? When you were about to come into the world, an angel put her finger against your lips and told you, "Shhh, don't tell anyone of the wonders you have seen."

Fictional, yes, but no more so than saying you will live till a hundred (most likely). ;-)

We are Christian, and do believe in an afterlife. That is comforting to my son. I have also asked him if he remembers before he was born. He doesn't. I asked him if he was scared before that time. Of course he wasn't. I tell him that dying will be like that, only better, because he'll get to live in God's house. He has not expressed worries about his parents' dying so much. I think your bit about the star is really beautiful. I would say angel...same idea, really.

Ethereal Highway said...

I did not know that you are non-theist, Robert. My husband and I are also non-theist and though we handle things differently to varying degrees from child to child, we are not the ones who gave the littlest the notion of heaven. We do though, think it would be unwise due to her age, understanding and fear to challenge the notion. Also, we really don't have any proof that it is not true just as theists have no proof that it is. It might be that there is some form of afterlife. Just because it seems unlikely to be the conventional heaven does mean there is nothing. I think adults have a greater ability to live with the unknown than small children do.

I knew there was something different about your attitude that I recognized, Robert. :-) And I must say that I deeply respect and admire you as a person, a parent and grandparent for even blogging about this. Many, many people, even adults, feel that they absolutely must create or accept stories of things instead of saying that they do not know.

You know what? I think you're a star right now.

Robert said...

NB - Growing up without a mum since age 8 must have greatly affected your son - and is probably still affecting him. (You know I'm not criticising your parenting skills here.) However, it is my experience that worrying about an unknown event is much worse than coping with the event itself. I suspect that your lad finds it impossible to even contemplate losing you as well as his mum... Gallows humour is always a great escape route!

Robert said...

em - All are well here. Thanks for your support.

Robert said...

Michelle - Thanks so much for commenting. My parents were Christian during my childhood, and my upbringing was quite fundamentalist. The prospect of an afterlife scared the sh*t out of me. Would I be good enough to get to heaven? What if I got there, but my family got sent to the other place? What would burning in hell for all eternity feel like? You have obviously dealt with these issues better than my family did!

My children go to Christian schools, so they'll learn about Christianity there and make their own choices later in life.

I did think about angels, but of course you can't see them. That's why I went for stars, in the end (not my idea, btw, I stole it from someone else).

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Robert, came, went, back again and still don't know what to say. How did I manage to bring up two lovely children!

Robert said...

E Highway - Sorry it's taken so long to reply to your last comment. Marie was away for 5 days leaving me to look after the little ones, our home and my business all on my own. So, as you can imagine, I had very little free time.

I'm in a similar situation to you regarding the little children. They attend a Christian school, so they learn about Christian beliefs. I could have them excused from all things religious, but so much of our culture is based on Christianity of one form or another that I think it's a good idea that they learn the basic principles of it. When the children are older and learn about older English religions and those religions born in foreign countries, they can make up their own minds what to to believe (if anything). As I said in an earlier comment, I want them to find their own truths.

It's precisely because I don't hold any dogmatic beliefs that I am free to tell the world that I don't know everything! But I appreciated your compliments anyway ;0)

Robert said...

GOK - "How did I manage to bring up two lovely children!"...perhaps like all the best teachers you gave them enquiring minds and the confidence to use them?...