How To Talk To Your Kids About Death and Heaven
Death and Heaven. Not necessarily easy subjects to discuss, even for a Christian adult. While our faith rests in the hope of Eternal Life through Christ, for most of us, the death of a loved one who is a believer is still something with which we struggle to understand and cope with.
We may wonder how to protect the hearts of our children from pain when a death occurs in our family or circle of friends. How to do we tackle the subjects of physical death and the hope of Heaven, without totally scaring our kids, as we ourselves are dealing with our own plethora of emotions?
Several years ago, when my oldest son was only 5, our four-year-old nephew died after an eighteen month battle with brain cancer. We didn't know how to explain cancer to our son, so instead we told him that his cousin went to Heaven because he had gotten "sick". Little did we know that because we didn't give him enough information, he internalized that everyone he loved COULD die if they simply got "sick"; meaning a simple cold could take mom or dad away to Heaven, just like his little cousin. It became a pretty scary thought for him, which he internalized for about a year!!
I spoke to a friend of mine who is also a therapist, because I needed to figure out how to help my son deal with his own grief and console him that there was a better than average chance that my husband and I were not going to die if we caught a cold. She told me that just like discussing the "facts of life" with our kids has to be done in intervals that answer their specific questions, as their maturity dictates, we need to also have honest communication with our kids about death.
It may be perfectly acceptable for a three-year-old to hear that grandma went to Heaven because Jesus called her home. While we will miss seeing her at Christmastime, we know that she is now in Heaven with grandpa! This helps explain why we are sad that she is no longer here with us, but also rejoicing that she is in Heaven. But if you have an older child who needs more information to alleviate undue anxiety, it might be important to talk to them about grandma's heart being sick, or her cancer, etc.-- still reassuring them that Heaven is a wonderful place that Jesus has prepared for us! While a lot of kids may not need any more information than that, be open to their questions and pray for guidance as you answer them truthfully, yet carefully. Although I have no medical credentials, I would advise everyone to also enlist the help of a child therapist or pastor if the concepts of death and the afterlife are just too hard to explain. Surrounding ourselves with a trusted, like-minded support group during times of grief is always a good idea!
The Bible reveals a few facts about what happens after we die. We can turn to these following scriptures for comfort and use them as a resource to help our kids better understand what happens at the end of our life, here on earth.
Believer's can face death without fear! (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
We will enter into the Lord's presence at the time of our death! (2 Corinthians: 5-8) "Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Jesus, himself, has prepared a special place in Heaven for each of us! (John 14:1-3) "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."
Those who believe in Jesus are promised eternal life with Him after their physical death! (John 11:25-26) "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.""
If you've had to explain the death of a loved one to your child, how did you approach it? What additional resources would you recommend to other parents trying to explain this tough subject, while dealing with their own grief? Please share in the comments section.
Lisa Strnad is an independent contractor in Christian media as a writer, marketing consultant, and public relations specialist. She speaks to Christian women's groups on the issues of motherhood, home schooling and raising a child with special needs. Lisa and her family make their home in Nashville.