Helping kids cope with the fear of death
I’m five years old. I can’t fall asleep! I look at my mom who is still awake, sitting next to me, removing her make up and a wave of uncontrollable fear washes away my serenity. I realize that one day my mom will die and I’m terrified at a brisk thought: “How I am going to live without her? I don’t want to live without her! That moment I believed I was going to live forever ….
This is the first panic attack I clearly remember connected to the fear of death. I had many. When I grew a bit older, I realized I was also going to die and the possibility of non existence paralyzed and terrified me. Before going to sleep I was often afraid I would never wake up, I was listening to my heartbeat fearing that it would stop. Unable to control my fear I was running to the room of my parents begging them to let me sleep with them. I used to ask my parents: What will happen after I die? Is there God? Is there afterlife?” They told me there was no God and that we just died and seized existing. I don’t blame them for not comforting me and for not telling the truth. We lived in Soviet Union and there officially was no religion. It was not common to believe in God, or at least to openly declare that. Eventually, I remained alone and lonely, face to face with my dismay and I was the only one who could figure it out and find a way to stop fearing death.
Does it seem familiar! Did you experience something like that when you were a child? Did your parents help you overcome this fear? And now, when you have your own children how do you answer a very simple, yet fundamental question kids often ask: “What happens when I die?” My children do ask me this kind of question and I’m so happy I know how to give them a truthful and meaningful answer.
I am so happy I have access to Baha’i writings were the notion of death is eloquently and beautifully explained. We believe that the life of the individual begins at conception, when the soul associates itself with the embryo. When death occurs, the body returns to the world of dust, while the soul continues to progress in the spiritual worlds of God. I personally love most of all the allegory with a bird in the cage, given by Abdu’l-Baha, which I found extremely simple and comforting while explaining to my children how it is possible to die, but at the same time to continue existing in the spiritual reality:
“To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes,“is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit is like the bird…if the cage becomes broken, the bird will continue and exist. Its feelings will be even more powerful, its perceptions greater, and its happiness increased…
Talk to your children
My sons often asked me about death, and if there is life after death. My younger son was especially sensitive about the subject. Around the age of 7 or 8 he became very agitated and could’t sleep. After talking to him very calmly and openly he told me that he was afraid to die and that as soon as he thought about it, he would feel such panic that he couldn’t sleep. And this is when II started regularly talking to my kids about death and answering all the questions they could possibly have.
There is a number of questions my kids used to ask me about death and here are the answers that I usually gave them. May be you will find some of them useful.
1. What will happen to me when I die?
Answer: When you die, only your physical body stops existing. But your soul is not affected by death. It will continue existing in the spiritual worlds of God for eternity.
2. Will I remember my life on earth and will I remain myself?
Answer: Let us first answer the question: “Who am I? What makes me myself?” Is it your body? Or is it your thoughts, your feelings, your dreams and aspirations and your character that makes you yourself? And all of these are not manifestations of our physical existence, but rather the signs of our spiritual, our inner being, which is out true self. That is why, the death of the body does not affect your true self. It remains intact and you keep being the person you have become in this earthly life in all the other worlds of God.
3. Will I meet the people I love in the next world?
Answer: Of course in the world of spirit we will meet people whom we knew and whom we loved in this world, as the spiritual bonds we had are eternal and will never disappear. How often we think of those we love, and how often we feel the love, kind thoughts and prayers of our friends and relatives, who are far from us or even live in other countries. This is because we have a spiritual bond with them and it will never perish.
4. Will I go to hell or to heaven?
Answer: Hell and heaven are not a place, but a condition of the soul. If you are following the laws of God, if you are kind and merciful and generous, if you love everyone around you, then you are close to God, your soul is happy and you are in heaven. If you are breaking the laws of God, if anger, hatred, jealousy or animosity penetrates in your heart, then your soul doesn’t develop and you are far from God. During your lifetime you have a chance to develop all the beautiful qualities given to you, like: compassion, humility, trustworthiness, magnanimity, forgiveness, generosity and many others. And this is something that belongs to you and it is who you are, and when you die, these qualities remain with you and they become evident and shining and your sole gets close to God.
5. If death is not an end, why people are so afraid of dying?
Answer: Well, it is normal that people are afraid of something unknown. If you have to go to a place you have never been to, and no one actually has ever been there, it’s ok to be afraid.
6. How we can be sure that there is life after death if no one has experienced it?
Answer: It’s true. Nobody has actually seen the life after death, but no one has also seen God, but still everyone believes in Him. One of the missions of the Messengers of God is to educate human beings about the life of soul. And they all say that the soul is eternal. We should just believe them. There are many other things in this world which we don’t see, but they still exist. We don’t see the wind, but we feel it and we see the effect of it when it moves the leaves on the trees. We don’t see the electric current, but we know it exists and we use it everyday to charge our TV, phone, computer and other devices. We cannot see love, but we know it exists, because we feel it and we see how it influences our life.
Read with your children
I am sure there are many wonderful books for children which explain the notion of death in a clear and acceptable way. What I found extremely useful is to read with them a book called “The Light World” by Heather Nideros. I personally read that book before I had kids, and I found it enlightening and comforting, I discovered so many answers to the questions that perplexed me and once again it helped me conquer my fears. Here is one of the reviews on this book:
«This book was first published nearly 20 years ago, and it is as timely today as it was then. It talks about life after death. It recounts the author’s experience of losing her ten year old son, Eric, but it is Eric’s voice we hear. He tells his readers, young or old, how he died and what life and death are all about. Its objective is “to remove the fear of death from the minds of our children”. This could have been a very sad book. A child Eric who died in a car accident. But it is not. Eric tells us about his grand adventure of the spirit. Because it is a truly happy book it has helped many, many grieving families, and continues its healing journey”.
Pray with your children
We often speak with kids about those who are already in the light world. They know that the soul is eternal and it develops in all the worlds. I tell them that with our prayers and good deeds in the name of the people who left this realm, we can help them progress in the spiritual world. And we should pray for them not only when we visit their grave, but in our daily prayers and anytime we remember about them.
I really hope, that some of the examples and ideas from this post will help you being more open and comforting when you talk to your children about such sensitive subject. I totally believe that we can help our children overcome the fear of death and instill faith, tranquility and hope in their tender souls. And I would like to finish this post with a wonderful quotation form the Hidden Words:
“O son of the Supreme! I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?” Bahá’u’lláh