Friday, September 3, 2010

When We Go to Heaven

How do you speak to your children about death? Really, how do you? Please comment.

I find this subject extremely difficult, yet it has been unfortunately quite common place for my daughters who both live in the world of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, liver disease, and lung disease. I'm unprepared and often searching for simple words or terms to use in the depths of my brain.

Death is familiar to my children. We talk about it so much that it runs a close second to "What did you do at school today?"

I remember the exact day it started. It was April 14, 2004. On that day, my beloved cat, Eeyore, died. From that day forward, Grace began to ask me questions about death and heaven. Eventually Meghan added her own spin on death inquisitiveness.

What I say usually entails this:

"When we go to heaven, our body stays here on Earth, and the part of ourselves that thinks and feels and knows who we are goes up to heaven. It is the part of us that knows our name is Gracie or Meghan. That part of us is called our soul. People go to heaven, hopefully, when they are very old. Sometimes, children and young adults go to heaven too. When people die, we are very sad because we won't be able to see them again. At least, we won't see them again until we die and go up to heaven.

Heaven is a wonderful place. It is a place where no one hurts or feels sad or is lonely. Heaven is the most wonderful thing ever. God gave it us so we can feel special. One really great thing about heaven is that all of our family and friends who died before us will be there.

We are very sad when someone dies, but we also know that we'll see them again when we get to heaven."

Grace and Meghan are so familiar with dying that before they sleep, they name a list well over 40 of acquaintances, loved ones, and pets who have passed on. We send all of them blessings in heaven. With birth, there also comes death. They are aware of so many disease processes, and unfortunately, the death process, too. Grace and Meghan, in typical fashion, often inundate me with questions.

Where did she go?

Why didn't they have a funeral?

Is she sad her dad had to go to heaven?

Why is he cut-in-half? (Clue: One half of the casket was open, and the other was not.)

Why is her daddy sleeping?

Why does the baby look so sad?

Why did God want the baby with him?

Why are there so many people here?

Why do we have to wait in line again?

Why are there so many pictures?

Why do I need to be quiet?

Are they going to put his bones in the ground?

Will he see his mommy and daddy again in heaven?

Will somebody get his liver cuz he doesn't need it anymore? (Yes, we've explained organ donation out of need. We know several people who've had lung and liver transplants.)

Perhaps I've shared too much? Perhaps I haven't?

What I do know is that my children don't seem to be afraid of death. I wish I wasn't so afraid of their deaths, whenever that may be.

Their Alpha-1 is morbidly real for me...a little too real. My old friend, denial, has to be around here somewhere. Come out! Come out wherever you are! Denial, that is. Alpha-1, you stay as dormant as possible for the longest possible time.

Pretty please with sugar on top. Mama Jen likes her precious daughters to have working lungs and livers.

Jenabur shares her photography and blogs about life with the Alpha Girls at Unique But Not Alone.


  1. What good questions your daughters ask! Many are the tough ones I'm sure most adults who have lost a loved one have asked.
    After my dad died a year ago I read a lot about hospice nurses who have spent years caring for the dying and listening to their experiences. I also read about people who have had near-death experiences, and people who have had an experience with someone who had died returning (in a dream, a vision, or some other symbolic way that convinced them of the continued existence of the loved one's spirit).
    Most of what I read described death as being a shedding of the body (like a butterfly shedding a cocoon) and being immersed in luminous light and unconditional love. Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote a book called Life after Death about her beliefs based on years of sitting with people as they were dying. There's another more "pop" culture book called Hello from Heaven which recounts experiences where people felt they were contacted by by a loved one who had died. You might find these interesting and helpful.
    I think it is wonderful that you are so open about how you talk with your children about death. We live in a death-phobic culture.
    I look forward to checking out your blog!

  2. We are very open and honest about death around here and we don't have the concerns that you all do. But, I believe in being honest about everything. My boys are 4 and 5. We've talked about sex (in terms that the boys can understand and that answer their questions). We've talked about death in reference to their great grandma dying and my sister dying. Sometimes they worry that they will die soon. But mostly, I find it comforting that they understand what we believe about death. If something should happen to me tomorrow I feel confident that they would know where I went and that they can see me in their dreams (we also believe in spirits - ghosts if you will - that we are able to see and talk to). I think your definition is fantastic and your girls will be all the better that you shared this with them. If they may face an early death at least you've taken a good part of the fear out of it. How could it be bad to die if there is such a wonderful place to go!
    As an aside... I have said goodbye to 3 children myself so I know some of your pain. I miss them like crazy but as long as I continue to believe that I will see them again someday and that their deaths were a part of a bigger plan then I can move forward with love in my heart.

  3. I am so sad that you have lost so many close to you.
    I am a nurse that took care of a medically fragile little boy for his entire life. He died before the age of seven. Along with his family and friends I grieved too. Before he died he was able to go to kindergarten. I went with him. He had many friends so you can imagine the pain his little class felt at his passing. Plus the pain of his family and his siblings especially. I wanted to give his family and friends a special gift so I looked for a book to help young children feel some peace with death. Most of the stories were too much information for a young child to understand, or too sad. One night I woke up in the middle of the night and instantly knew how to communicate a story that was sweet to explain death. It was a great healing process for me to create the book for them. The family loved it and encouraged me to share it with others. You can access "Max the Happy Caterpillar," on YouTube and at I have received so much support for this book that I decided to self-publish it. The book form of "Max the Happy Caterpillar," will be out by about Thanksgiving 2010. I hope this helps you.
    It is a special opportunity to care for these children who are medically fragile. Max taught me many wonderful lessons about God.