Aethiests - what do you tell kids about death?

(23 Posts)

I help out at a kids club. One of the boys (aged 6) dad died at the weekend. He has been told by his family that his dad has gone to heaven, and I will of course bear that in mind if I chat to him. To tell him otherwise would simply be upsetting / unhelpful.

But I don't believe it. I think we die, and that's the end of it.

Now, my Grandma is 96 and doing really well but will at some point pass on, and I have no idea what I'll tell our DSs (6 & 2) when that time comes. I should think kids will be welcome at her funeral if parents are happy with it (will figure that at the time) and it would be nice to be able to say something comforting to them.

What do you all tell your kids?

SittingBull Mon 17-Sep-12 15:22:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

kissyfur Mon 17-Sep-12 15:29:59

My DD asked about her great nan, who passed away last year, when we were looking at photos yesterday. I said she had died and gone back up to the stars. I don't believe believe in god or heaven, and I expect when you die there probably isn't anything else, but I don't want to tell my children that when they're very young. I believe in nature and life is one big cycle after all. We are all made of stars and maybe we go back to being stars when we die. That probably sounds a bit mad but hope you see what I mean smile

I think you're right about keeping it open SittingBull. DS1 has asked a bit and I've generally said no-one really knows but I don't think there's anything after we die, and that's why it's important to be nice to people and do good things while we're alive.

I like the idea about going back to the stars kissyfur, quite peotic. I like the idea of a green burial for myself when the time comes, or cremated and a tree planted for the same circle of life idea (found the Lion King was actually quite useful in explaining life & death in those terms).

When our great grandad died I told my little sister aged 6 at the time that he may have become a star or where ever he will be happy. She said he is probably playing golf.

She decided on her own and was happy with that.

ColouringIn Mon 17-Sep-12 16:07:09

There is a fabulous book called Waterbugs and Dragonflies (think that is the title) which explains death in a very child friendly way.....after death the Waterbugs is a dragonfly and can't get back to see his old Waterbugs pals. I think that's fairly non specific and not suggestive of heaven/hell or something/nothing.

Playing golf sounds like a good kind of afterlife (if you like golf that it is).

Melpomene Mon 17-Sep-12 16:16:52

Dh and I have told our dds that after a person dies they can't think, feel or do anything any more. They know that some people believe in heaven, but we don't. We've talked about how people 'live on' in the memories of everyone who loves them and how the good things they did when they were alive are still remembered.

I love the bit in the book 'No Matter What', where a baby fox (representing a child) asks the mum if she'll still love him when they're dead and gone and the mum replies by asking him to look at the stars and explaining how some of the stars still glow even though they died a long time ago. "Love, like starlight, never dies."

Himalaya Mon 17-Sep-12 23:03:12

That book always makes me well up.

I tell them that when we are dead we are dead. We haven't had to cross that bridge with anybody close yet (only pets), but the kids have talked about it in the general run of "why, what, how?" questioning.

I've seen that book at the library but never got it out - maybe we'll have a trip up there this week.

Our DS1 is ever so sensitive, I suspect he'd get a bit upset if someone close goes, but he's quite happy to talk about it for the moment.

mrscrocoduck Tue 18-Sep-12 13:42:08

My daughter's great granddad dies last week. She's 4. She knows that all living things will die and that dieing means to just stop. She's seen skeletons and understands that she has one so she has grasped that everything else goes back into the earth and your bones stay for a bit longer.

I think that you are avoiding honesty by keeping it open ended or fudging an explanation with extremely adult and abstract notions for other people's beliefs/faiths. Keep that for when they're teenagers.

Adults do their children a disservice when they assume that the things that upset them, like the finality of death, can't be accepted by a child.

mrscrocoduck Tue 18-Sep-12 13:42:25

spelling!

GooseyLoosey Tue 18-Sep-12 13:45:39

There is no spontaeous generation of matter (well almost). Everything that is has been here since the beginning of time and will be here to the end of the universe. All that my children are and that I am will go on to be other things and what is uniquely me will live on in the memories of those I love. When I die, my family know that I want a tree planted on top of me, part of me will then be in that tree and my family can see it.

That's it really. Death is the end, but I don't want to tell my children it is the end of everything.

Wigeon Tue 18-Sep-12 13:47:56

I like Melpomene's explanation.

Personally, I think the athiest explanation of what happens when we die is a whole lot simpler truer and easier to explain than the various religious explanations. You can just keep to scientific facts about the process. And "they live on in our memories" is the comforting bit.

My DD (4yrs) is very matter of fact about death. She said something a while ago which made me realise that she thought that when DH and I died, she could go and visit our skeletons in a museum. Because the local Roman museum is where she's seen other dead people grin!. We did disabuse her of that idea! And she wasn't the least bit traumatised.

mrscrocoduck Tue 18-Sep-12 13:48:31

well no, from a chemical/biological position it is not entirely the end. I've found myself wanting to explain the origins of carbon matter to my kid but haven't because it would be meaningless to her and also designed to give me comfort maybe more than her.

I say give them the stripped down facts and then answer their questions.

MrsTittleMouse Tue 18-Sep-12 13:54:00

Another vote for keeping it open.

My DD asked me what happens to us when we die (easier when you're not talking about a specific person, perhaps). I told her that some people (like her granny) believe that we go to a place called heaven, that some people believe that we are reincarnated, that some believe that we join a big spirit and that some think that nothing happens and that's it.

She thought for a moment and told me that she believes that when you die, that's it. It didn't really bother her (she's 5) and we haven't discussed it since, except our usual conversations of "X is really old he/she will die soon, won't they?", which are always a joy! hmmsmile

seeker Tue 18-Sep-12 13:54:49

My mother, who was 75 when my dd was born, so know she was unlikely to live until my children were grown up, told them from when they were tiny stories about the cycle of life, and people dying and becoming part of the earth and helping new life grow. And at her funeral, my brother read the Brian Cox thing about us all being stardust.

I've heard that Stardust funeral reading mentioned on here but never found it via google - does anyone have a link?

headinhands Thu 20-Sep-12 20:50:12

I've told my kids that everything suggests that the bit after death is the same as the time before we were conceived. We have no brain so can't feel anything so there is nothing to worry about. Can they remember any of the millions of years they weren't here for? No. It's the same after. They don't often mention it and so far it seems logical to them.

technodad Mon 24-Sep-12 20:26:01

I tell my kids about the religious beliefs (heaven, reincarnation, etc), but that the only thing we know is that our bodies will rot down and turn into worm food, which will then help the plants and trees to grow better. The brain only thinks because of electrical impulses just like in a computer, and when the brain is switched off, then it doesn't work anymore and the person's thought will stop forever.

I like the analogy that it will be the same as before they were alive. That is a relatively un-scary concept.

CoteDAzur Tue 25-Sep-12 11:13:13

My line on this is to be truthful but explain things in a way DC can understand.

DD (7) knows that all living things grow old and die, just like flowers in the vase. Or they can have an accident and die, which is why we need to be careful when crossing the street. And when we die we are no more.

When my grandmother passed away this year, my mum meddled again told DD she had become a star, to which DD answered "No, that is not how stars are born" [proud] grin That "stars die but we still see them" thing wouldn't work on her, either, because she knows that is because their light has taken so long to travel to us and would question me to death about the speed at which love travels.

To each their own, but my view on this is that I haven't kept DD away from mainstream religious myth & superstition to then feed her some other myth & superstition.

trice Tue 25-Sep-12 11:53:41

I explained that after your death you feel much as you did before you were born. Non existent. I then agreed with the dcs that that is not fair and that being alive was better than being dead. They know about death and decay and unfortunately have lost loved ones. Death is all around us and it has never helped me to try and dress it up with an afterlife that I don't believe in.

Tamoo Tue 25-Sep-12 12:04:25

I'm of an atheist/humanist persuasion and make no bones about the fact that death really is the end. However, when the subject comes up I emphasise the fact that this means DS has to make the most of life, take opportunities, try new things and enjoy himself, and also be the best person he can be.

When talking about his great nan who died I tell him that she had a long life and was much loved and that although you can be sad about not seeing someone again, you can be happy about the fact they led a loving and fulfilled life.

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