Death is a barbed topic. My advice is to attack this tricky subject by focusing on the joys of the afterlife. And no, I do not mean a discussion grounded in truth or fact! Seriously, how much do we really know about death and the beyond? Regardless of your background, join a church, synagogue, whatever immediately! If you’re already a member of one, then start going more regularly. No need to get carried away, though….
Also, make sure you choose the right spiritual construct for you and your family. Take Buddhism for example. It has its appeal but the prospect of coming back as an animal may be rather disturbing to my city kids who equate rats, feral cats and crows with the entirety of the animal kingdom.
Returning as any of those creatures feels like a real downgrade, if you know what I mean.
All of that aside, populate the afterlife with grandparents, pets and roadside kill. It won’t hurt anyone and will allow your children to ease into this angst-ridden topic as they mature. It is especially important that your “heaven” be a real paradise. Feel free to be authentic in your descriptions of your nirvana. As for me, I’m sure there will be a beautiful, shiny mahogany bar. Jesus was a carpenter, after all, and let us not forget that first miracle. Water into wine- what a guy! Where was He at my second wedding when I went thousands of dollars in debt due to an open bar for 40 drunks?
So, capitalize on every time one of your friends’ animals die, especially cats. No one cares about cats, really, and it’s a less painful way to exercise the topic. Make sure that the end result is always the same: the cat is in heaven- maybe not right there, downtown, but certainly skirting the edges, tying one on in fields of catnip. It is heaven, right?
The death of a dog is a horrible thing, and hopefully all your friends’ dogs will give up the ghost prior to yours so your kids can be prepared to handle the inevitable death of your own pooch. Check out the conversation below, which I had with my own children when their cousins’ puppy- a puppy, for God’s sake!- died.
“Puppy is dead?!?” But he’s a doggy baby!”
“Yes, he is now in heaven looking down on us.”
“He’s with other doggies?”
“Of course! The older ones are showing him where all the fun dog parks and treats are.”
“I like to think of them up there running around and chasing butterflies!”
“Ha! And cats! I bet they get to chase cats, too, huh, kid?” This is a perfect example of how you can get overzealous and step in it.
“Why would they chase poor little baby cats? Why does that have to happen in heaven?!?”
“No, no, no! Mommy got confused, sweetie, I forgot that in heaven everyone loves each other. The doggies are probably giving cats piggyback rides and stuff!” Unlikely. Dead or alive our Jack Russell would never pass up a chance to give a cat what for.
“Piggyback rides- funny!”
“Oooh! Let’s go draw that!”
“Can I have piggyback ride, though?”
“Absolutely, and we can pretend to be puppies carrying kitties!”
“Yippee, mommy is the best!”
“Yes, she is!”
As you can see, it’s important to really play up the paradise angle of heaven, putting in all the stuff we enjoy heartily here on earth. I wouldn’t go the way of Hieronymus Bosch’s vision of earthly delights- not sure how a flower or a flute up your bum is a good thing, but hey, clearly someone thought it was fun. Hieronymus Bosch must have been a total perv….
Finally, when confronted with questions about the nature of God, why bad things happen- especially to good people- try to find a children’s illustrated book of Job*.
Barring that, I got nothin’. What? I’m a philosopher now?!?
*not William Blake’s, not William Blake’s!