Where do we go when we die?
When the bodies of people and animals stop working and they die, there are so many big questions about what happens next.
There are many different things that people believe happen when we die and they are all OK. There is not one answer because people believe different things.
Some people believe that when a body stops working, and it is buried in the ground, that it is meant to decompose and be part of a cycle that renews the Earth, helping plants and trees to grow. When the body stops working, it no longer grows and once it is buried it naturally starts to decompose. "Decompose" means to change, to break down into smaller particles. We see things decompose in nature all the time. When the leaves drop from the trees in the Fall, they are no longer alive but begin to decompose, to change into part of the dirt and feed the soil around the tree which helps it grow new leaves in the Spring.
Other people believe that when a body stops working and dies, the spirit or soul of the person or animal goes on to heaven. Lots of people have their own definition for what a spirit or a soul is, but many see it as the non-physical essence of a person, the principle qualities that made them unique which can live on even after they are gone. Some people do not believe in heaven and some religions do not believe in heaven, but among those that do believe, it is usually thought of as a very peaceful place where the spirit or soul of the dead person or animal goes and is part of the universe.
There are lots of other things that people believe, too. Some people like to look at stars and imagine their loved ones, and this is OK. Some people like to look at the trees and flowers and imagine their loved ones, and this is OK too.
Our feelings and beliefs can change as we get older and that is OK too. Always let your parents know what you are thinking, because then they can share what they believe and help you decide what you believe.
By Sallie Sanborne (M.S.)
When there has been a death, whether it is a bug, a bird, a pet, or a person, always discuss these questions with your children. Please do not gloss over the details. Remember: they will go through these experiences with or without you, better with you. Children need adult guidance to help them grapple with different life issues. Sometimes these issues are not ones any of us like to face, but our children need to face these issues and we do them a great disservice by not providing them with accurate and caring information and support. When there has been a death, many adults must face their own belief and value systems. It is important to be honest. If you are unclear, you can say what the different beliefs are and where you are sure and not sure. Our children can certainly tolerate the ambivalence if we can. As adults, we model how to respond to loss, trauma, and grief. These are equally important to our modeling of joy, learning, and other value systems.