We’ve recently had the opportunity to walk with our children through the topic of death.
Two dear friends of ours—both elderly men in their 90s—have passed away this year. Both lived full lives and were blessed with a happy death, surrounded by family at the time of their departure.
The youngest of our children is in fourth grade, so they are all old enough to handle mature conversations about death. They have recent memories of interacting with both of these gentlemen, so our conversations took a concrete, tangible form.
One of the deceased was our neighbor, and we attended his wake together to view the body and comfort the family. We prepared the children for what they would see. Still, Simon and Lucy had some anxiety about seeing the body.
We spoke with them about how death is a natural process, and that we can be grateful that he died with his family at his side, after a long and fulfilling life. The family had a slideshow playing with photos from different stages of the man’s life. The kids all enjoyed learning more about him. We talked with the family, and we sat and prayed for his soul. We left with full and tender hearts.
The effect was to normalize death for us all, which is a great blessing. We all—even Stacey and I—tend to keep the topic of death neatly packed away in a box in the corner until we are forced to examine it. The reality is that death is a part of life—it is the end of one phase and the beginning of another.
Our faith transforms our view of death, so that we no longer have to fear it. We respect it, but do not need to fear it. Having death before us helps us to see that this life is not limitless—it is a finite journey, and the time we are given will run out one day, so we’d better make the most of it by loving generously and exploring new things in ourselves and the world. Both of these men certainly did that.
Some may think that it is macabre or grim for children to dwell on death, but we were intentional about articulating how we have hope, rooted in faith, that transforms our view of death. Jesus is risen—the tomb is empty—which gives us hope that we will share in his life in eternity and, one day, will receive back these bodies that we shed at our death.
Grieving the dead is actually fertile ground for conversations about faith because it is a rare opportunity to directly apply it. If our faith means anything at all, it has to make a difference when it comes to death. Kids get that—they can see that what we profess at Mass on Sunday in the Creed and the communion of saints, and the reality of God’s loving presence that we tap into each night with our prayers, are not abstractions or simply ideas. What we believe matters.
I hope our children come away from grieving these two magnanimous men with an appreciation for how to live well and how to die well. In the end, this is the most important lesson any of us will have to learn.