How to answer your Child’s Questions about Death as an Atheist – 3 Sep 15

Apra

I have told you before already sometimes that we talk a lot with Apra. She had started talking very early and has always been very quick to understand what you tell her. This encouraged us even more than we had already planned to explain her everything that is happening around us. And that includes the question of death – which already came up quite a while ago with her.

You know that my mother died suddenly when Apra was eleven months old. We immensely value these months that our daughter could spend with her grandmother. In Babbaji’s room, there are big pictures with Ammaji and her and one day when looking at these, Apra asked: ‘Where is Ammaji?’

Most people in India would reply something like ‘She went to god’ or ‘God took her home’. I heard from European friends that there, too, such impressions are used, even by those who don’t really believe in religion and just are a member of the Christian church for going there once a year. They think it is the easiest way to explain death.

Obviously, that was not an option for us. I also sometimes wonder if that doesn’t have the opposite effect for children than what believers actually intend: I guess a child would be angry at god for having taken her grandmother along to his home instead of leaving her to play with the child! It sounds just cruel! God takes your loved ones from you and you will never meet them again! It’s no wonder children will get afraid of god!

That’s how we tell Apra that everybody gets old and at some point dies. Then they won’t come back anymore. It is sad but that’s how it is. Animals also die like this and plants do, too. She has watched this happen to flowers, she heard stories of animals and she understood that her grandmother, my mother, has died and won’t come back.

She also really understood it. The next thing she realized was that Naniji, my grandmother, was also old. She knew this before but now she had a new aspect to this fact! So she went to Naniji and asked: ‘Are you old?’ And when Naniji confirmed this, she continued asking: ‘So you will die soon?’

Oh, my grandmother was surely wondering where this thought had come from but she confirmed also this: ‘Yes, I will probably die soon but nobody knows exactly when.’

I believe when this day will be there, this will actually have already prepared Apra as far as in any way possible. It will be better than if we had evaded the question and not answered to her curiosity. Death is a part of life and even though it is always sad when a loved one leaves, it is something we all have to accept.

Apra is on the best way there. She nodded in agreement on Naniji’s statement but then she answered matter-of-factly: ‘We will miss you. I will cry.’

Naniji said ‘Of course’ and in a funny way, was happy about that, too!

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