I just watched part 8 of the web series, Fatherhood, with Hank Azaria. Have you been following along, too?
This week the topic is “big questions” involving God and death.
Is there a God? What does God look like? Does everyone die? How long will I live?
As adults we can’t answer all the questions our kids have definitively – whether we are religious or not – so imagine how confusing it must feel to a child when he wonders about these things and doesn’t get an answer as clear as Yes, the sky is blue and No, we can’t live without oxygen.
My son is at the age now that he’s beginning to ask deeper questions and sometimes has emotional reactions to the answers. Like the other day when we were driving home and I don’t how on Earth this conversation began but Luke began asking about his great-grandmother, Nonna. She passed away 3 years ago and occasionally he’ll ask questions about her, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Mom, is Nonna in heaven?” he asked.
“Yes, she is.”
“But, why?” he asked, and I could hear in his voice he was becoming upset.
“She lived a long, happy life and then one day God asked her to come up to heaven to become an angel. Because God needs angels to help him.”
This didn’t go over well.
“I don’t want her to be in heaven!” he began to cry. “I want to die then, too. I want to be with her!”
At this point I thought he might be tired or even that this was an attention-getting strategy.
I wonder if his reactions are influenced by what he hears my mother or me or my aunt say about my grandmother, since she comes up in conversation regularly. She was an important person in our family beyond words and she is missed each day. Anyone who had the chance to know her would say how kind she was and how she did everything with such grace – but does he actually remember any of that? Luke wasn’t quite 4 when she passed away so in an adult’s mind, in my mind, I think, Does he still feel grief? Did he ever feel grief at all?
These are things I can’t ever be certain of because when I ask him questions about Nonna I don’t know if he’s repeating things he’s heard recently about her amongst adult conversation or if he truly remembers. Does she come to him in his dreams?
In this case, I could only offer Luke comfort and reassurance until he felt better and went galloping off to play video games with his dad.
Perhaps the meltdown-preventative approach would be to start a conversation when Luke is feeling calm and happy, before he even asks a question.
Yet another parenting crevasse to be crossed.
How do you talk to your kids about important issues like these?