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© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Where all roads lead (2)

[Back to Part 1]
laneybeach
We’d had the conversation before, but this time a new dawning crossed Laney’s face.

“Sweetie, what is it?” I asked.

She began the deep, aching cry that accompanies her saddest realizations, and sobbed:

“I don’t want to die.”

Now let’s freeze this tableau for a moment and make a few things clear. The first is that I love this child so much I would throw myself under Pat Robertson for her. She’s one of just four people whose health and happiness are vital to my own. When she is sad, I want to make her happy. It’s one of the simplest equations in my life.

I say such obvious things because it is often assumed that nonreligious parents respond to their children’s fears of death by saying, in essence, Suck it up, worm food. When one early reviewer of Parenting Beyond Belief implied that that was the book’s approach, I tore him a new one. I am convinced that there are real comforts to be found in a naturalistic view of death, that our mortality lends a new preciousness to life, and that it is not just more truthful but more humane and more loving to introduce the concept of a life that truly ends than it is to proffer an immortality their inquiring minds will have to painfully discard later.

But all my smiling confidence threatens to dissolve under the tears of my children.

“I know, punkin,” I said, cradling her head as she convulsed with sobs. “Nobody wants to die. I sure don’t. But you know what? First you get to live for a hundred years. Think about that. You’ll be older than Great-Grandma Huey!”

It’s a cheap opening gambit. It worked the last time we had this conversation, when Laney was four.

Not this time.

“But it will come,” she said, hiffing. “Even if it’s a long way away, it will come, and I don’t want it to! I want to stay alive!”

I took a deep breath. “I know,” I said. “It’s such a strange thing to think about. Sometimes it scares me. But you know what? Whenever I’m scared of dying, I remember that being scared means I’m not understanding it right.”

She stopped hiffing and looked at me. “I don’t get it.”

“Well what do you think being dead is like?”

She thought for a minute. “It’s like you’re all still and it’s dark forever.”

A chill went down my spine. She had described my childhood image of death precisely. When I pictured myself dead, it was me-floating-in-darkness-forever. It’s the most awful thing I can imagine. Hell would be better than an eternal, mute, insensate limbo.

“That’s how I think of it sometimes too. And that frrrrreaks me out! But that’s not how it is.”

“But how do you know?” she asked pleadingly. “How do you know what it’s like?”

“Because I’ve already been there.”

“What! Haha! No you haven’t!”

“Yes I have, and so have you.”

“What? No I haven’t.”

“After I die, I will be nowhere. I won’t be floating in darkness. There will be no Dale McGowan, right?”

“And millions of worms will eat your body!!” chirped Erin, unhelpfully.

“…”

“Well they will.”

“Uh…yeah. But I won’t care because I won’t be there.”

“Still.”

I turned back to her sister. “So a hundred years from now, I won’t be anywhere, right?”

“I guess so.”

“Okay. Now where was I a hundred years ago? Before I was born?”

“Where were you? You weren’t anywhere.”

“And was I afraid?”

“No, becau…OMIGOSH, IT’S THE SAME!!”

It hit both girls at the same instant. They bolted upright with looks of astonishment.

“Yep, it’s exactly the same. There’s no difference at all between not existing before you were born and not existing after you die. None. So if you weren’t scared then, you shouldn’t be scared about going back to it. I still get scared sometimes because I forget that. But then I try to really understand it again and I feel much better.”

The crisis was over, but they clearly wanted to keep going.

“You know something else I like to think about?” I asked. “I think about the egg that came down into my mommy’s tummy right before me. And the one before that, and before that. All of those people never even got a chance to exist, and they never will. There are billions and trillions of people who never even got a chance to be here. But I made it! I get a chance to be alive and playing and laughing and dancing and burping and farting…”

(Brief intermission for laughter and sound effects.)

“I could have just not existed forever — but instead, I get to be alive for a hundred years! And you too! Woohoo! We made it!”

“Omigosh,” Laney said, staring into space. “I’m like…the luckiest thing ever.”

“Exactly. So sometimes when I start to complain because it doesn’t last forever, I picture all those people who never existed telling me, ‘Hey, wait a minute. At least you got a chance. Don’t be piggy.’”

More sound effects, more laughter.

Coming to grips with mortality is a lifelong process, one that ebbs and flows for me, as I know it will for them. Delaney was perfectly fine going to sleep that night, and fine the next morning, and the morning after that. It will catch up to her again, but every time it comes it will be more familiar and potentially less frightening. We’ll talk about the other consolations — that every bit of you came from the stars and will return to the stars, the peaceful symphony of endorphins that usually accompanies dying, and so on. If all goes well, her head start may help her come up with new consolations to share with the rest of us.

laneypianoIn his brilliant classic The Tangled Wing, Emory psychologist Melvin Konner notes that “from age three to five [children] consider [death] reversible, resembling a journey or sleep. After six they view it as a fact of life but a very remote one” (p. 369). Though rates of development vary, Konner places the first true grasp of the finality and universality of death around age ten—a realization that includes the first dawning deep awareness that it applies to them as well. So grappling with the concept early, before we are paralyzed by the fear of it, can go a long way toward fending off that fear in the long run.

Laney, for better and worse, is ahead of the curve. All I can do is keep reminding her, and myself, that knowing and understanding something helps tame our fears. It may not completely feed the bulldog — the fear is too deeply ingrained to ever go completely — but it’s a bigger, better Milk-Bone than anything else we have.

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This was written on Wednesday, 20. August 2008 at 10:22 and was filed under critical thinking, death, fear, My kids, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting, wonder. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. [...] [Go to Part 2] [...]

    Pingback: The Meming of Life » Where all roads lead (1) Parenting Beyond Belief on secular parenting and other natural wonders – 20. August 2008 @ 10:23 am

  2. This reminds me of the lyrics to one of my favorite Bad Religion songs:

    “There’s a place where everyone can be right
    Even though you remain determined to be opposed
    Admittance requires no qualifications
    It’s where everyone has been and where everybody goes

    So please try not to be impatient
    For we all hate standing in line
    And when the farm’s been bought
    You’ll be there without a thought
    And eternity my friend, is a long ****ing time”

    -Bad Religion
    “You”

    That’s just the second verse. The first verse is a really sardonic description of heaven.

    Comment: Greg W. – 20. August 2008 @ 11:06 am

  3. The more I hear about Bad Religion, the more I think I need to check them out.

    Comment: Dale – 20. August 2008 @ 11:16 am

  4. This is a beautiful post, Dale. This way of thinking about death is new to me, even as an adult, since I just recently realized I am an atheist. Second to telling my evangelical family, the worst part of becoming an atheist was that my fear of hell was reignited (no pun intended!). On my slow journey away from faith, I felt okay in my position as a progressive, non-literal Bible reading Christian. After all, even if I was wrong about gay people being created and loved by God, I was still saved and would still go to heaven. And I could never lose that. UNLESS I committed the #1 sin: blasphemy. Becoming an atheist falls under this heading, I reckon. I guess what I am saying is that admitting I was an atheist took away my eternal safety-net. Because of that, death became a little bit scarier for a time. But your line of reasoning is very simple and comforting. I can only hope to be as poised as you when I have conversations like this one with my boys.

    Comment: maiasaura – 20. August 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  5. Thanks, Maiasaura. I’ll bet you will. And you described that Catch-22 perfectly. That fear keeps countless people hooked into belief, even if only as an insurance policy.

    Comment: Dale – 20. August 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  6. Thank you, Dale. I know I will need that sometime soon. So far, my daughter (5yrs) has been concerned only with the death of others — a great-aunt, in particular. We’ve talked about the beauty of the cycle of life — all living things die, their bodies break down into tiny pieces and those pieces are used by other living things to grow and make babies/seeds, which grow and and make babies/seeds and die and it on and on (five or six iterations put her to sleep one teary night). She has been satisfied by this explanation of what happens to the physical body.

    We also talk about remembering people who we loved who died and holding them in our hearts (even great-great-great grandpa Henry who died in the Civil War). Remembering them helps us deal with our sadness and honors their lives but they don’t know we remember them because they don’t exist anymore — I can see her chewing on this but she isn’t there yet. I’m happy to see your way of explaining so I will have something ready when the time comes.

    Comment: AmyS – 20. August 2008 @ 11:58 pm

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I have been pondering how to approach death (the idea of death and the thing itself) ever since I left faith behind a year ago and began the long process of re-thinking my life. I know that one day I will have to speak to my own children about death, and hope that I will be able to do so with such honesty, courage, and consolation.

    Comment: michellegalo – 21. August 2008 @ 11:52 am

  8. Wow, I think even I will sleep better tonight after this post! Thank you for the wonderful post, I love seeing how you interact with your children. I hope I can do 1/2 as well as you and Becca with our new son, Ronan! (5 mos) I am so excited to get your new book!!!!

    Comment: KristenMary – 21. August 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  9. You’re all so very welcome. I’m thrilled that these posts were helpful. And I’m also relieved that the conversation went so well. I know we’re far from finished with the topic, but I guess we never are.

    Comment: Dale – 21. August 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  10. [...] never forget your first meme (Two serious posts already this week! Who’s up for some Friday blog candy?) [...]

    Pingback: The Meming of Life » Ahh…you never forget your first meme Parenting Beyond Belief on secular parenting and other natural wonders – 22. August 2008 @ 10:17 am

  11. Love the story Dale, really touching! Your kids are fantastic!

    I think you’re doing a really responsible job, and it is brave to tell your kids how it really is, that shows a respect for them and their intellect that can only be good in the long term.

    Now here’s the catch – I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic. I hope you have mentioned this alternative viewpoint to them as well as religion!

    Although not an atheist, I do sometimes call myself areligious – I believe it ~is~ possible to know that religion is complete nonsense, and no intelligent person who gives it any serious thought can come to any other conclusion. Religion is man-made, it’s fiction, end of story. It’s really only of historical and sociological interest nowadays.

    That’s quite different to saying that the universe is nothing more than physical matter that obeys purely mechanical laws however. I think there are big grey areas where we know nothing. Vast, awesome grey areas, and those will probably always be there. I’d like to try to highlight one particular grey area if I may! Please bear with me :)

    In the blog, you mention your never-to-be-born siblings, you imply that these unfertilised eggs and sperm are potential individuals, as unique and different to you as your children. This begs the question, what makes you ‘you’, and not somebody else?

    Do you think DNA and molecular biology can answer this question, and that our individual experience of existence arises purely from one particular pattern of chemical atoms?

    This view would suggest had the DNA in your cells been different, ‘you’ would not exist, and instead ‘someone else’ would.

    So what if you were to undergo gene therapy now, which replaced your DNA with altered versions? Would you cease to exist, and a new person come into being? Surely not. Similarly, if scientists in a lab were to create an exact, functioning, atom-for-atom duplicate of your body, would ‘you’ suddenly exist in two places at once?

    The response of many rationalists is to say, ‘Therefore I don’t really exist, ‘me’ is just a mechanical illusion that confers survival advantage’. I think this is a dangerous line of thought, not least because it is so bleak. I think it shuts us down to a lot of the wonder in the world, the potential that we have, and it also rubbishes much of our own personal experience.

    Curiously, it also suggests that reincarnation is possible, as it is of course possible (very unlikely but possible) for atoms to arrange themselves in the exact same way as they are in your body at another time and place in the universe. Worse though, it doesn’t actually answer anything – after all, who is it that is experiencing the illusion of existence?

    I think we must acknowlege that ultimately none of us knows anything (this is the literal meaning of agnostic). Science uses this as its starting point, and from that starting point it has built all the impressive accomplishments that we know today. Unlike religion, science doesn’t claim to be, ahem, gospel, and will adapt and change to more closely match our experience. But it never does match and maybe it never can: it is only a continually improving approximation. Even if we manage to come up with a ‘unified theory of everything’, it would not be able to answer all questions, which arise from how things in the world interact, such as will it rain on this day next year, or will my daughter like the birthday present I bought her. We shouldn’t pretend the grey areas don’t exist, and that we can answer every question.

    So apologies for my long post! To sum up, I think we should not be afraid to admit our ignorance in front of our children. We don’t really know anything about life for 100% sure. About death (and pre-life), well… we know even less than that! So it’s wrong in my view to say to our children, ‘After death and before birth we will be and were nothing’. What I have said to mine (when they asked in that way that means they really want to know) is that no-one knows what happens, but I believe {insert speculation here}.

    Thanks for your post, and thanks for letting me put my point across.

    Comment: Compton – 23. August 2008 @ 6:16 am

  12. Funny you should mention these questions of identity! My son and I were just having a similar conversation about cryogenics. If it were possible to reanimate my dead body 100 years from now, would it in any meaningful way be me?

    As for the agnostic/atheist distinction, I think you may be making too much of it. I have never known a single atheist who claims to be certain. Atheism means “I believe God does not exist.” In short, I am an atheist and an agnostic.

    Most atheists feel agnosticism is too commonly misunderstood to be a “don’t know, don’t care” position, which it rarely is, as you noted. Bertrand Russell famously said that he described himself as an agnostic when speaking to philosophers, who know what that means, and as an atheist when speaking to the general public.

    Rest assured that my children know that all of my expressed opinions are prefaced with agnosticism. We have talked endlessly about the tentative nature of knowledge and the fact that people believe differently. In other words, when I say “X,” they hear “I believe X.”

    Comment: Dale – 23. August 2008 @ 11:03 am

  13. Your posts this week were very helpful and comforting for my wife and I while discussing death & funerals with our nephew – thanks for writing what you write. It was like a balm.

    Comment: Glendon Mellow – 23. August 2008 @ 12:53 pm

  14. Apparently great minds do think alike. :) I wrote this some time ago in response to a theist’s remarks. It’s very lightly edited to correct an infelicity of expression.

    ===========

    Karl repeats a common remark that I hear from Christians and other religionists, that an atheist must feel very alone, very isolated. Not a chance.

    Late every night, rain or shine, I walk my big dogs, Sherlock and Watson, usually between 1:00 am and 3:00 am. I live out in the country on 3.5 acres, and while there is some light pollution, the meadow up on the north end of the place is shielded by trees and there’s a good view of the north and east sky from overhead to the horizon. When it’s clear the stars are bright. The Great Bear circles around its smaller sibling with Polaris at the end of its handle. Depending on the time of year Casseopia swims in the Milky Way. Thousands of stars, occasionally with a meteor, the moon, or some planets.

    And every night that I see the stars I think — consciously think — that I am made of star stuff, to steal Carl Sagan’s phrase. Every atom in my body heavier than helium (and virtually all the helium, too) was manufactured in stars by the fusion reactions that produce their heat and light. At the end of those stars’ lives the heavy elements — carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and so on — were flung into space when the stars went nova. Later, another star and its planets — our solar system — condensed out of the clouds of elements generated in those earlier stars and in the end, after millennia of chemical and biological evolution, those elements made me and my dogs.

    So I am literally part of the universe: I am made of elements manufactured in stars. And I am aware of that fact every night when I walk my dogs.

    And then there are my dogs, Sherlock and Watson. Both are strays — they chose us, coming to the house out in the country without identification. In spite of our best efforts to find them, their previous owners never appeared, and so Sherlock and Watson have stayed with us.

    Sherlock is a Doberman/Rottweiler cross, the best-natured dog I’ve ever had. Watson is a setter/something cross, and a goofball. Sherlock was in very good shape when he showed up, with a brand-new collar but no ID. Watson was full grown but was starving to death — he weighed just 40 pounds and every bone in his body was visible. Now they’re both around 70 pounds, sleek and healthy.

    And they are my cousins. That’s a fact of biology: My dogs are my cousins. Many times removed, of course, but we are family in more than the pet/master sense: we’re “blood” relatives. So when I walk them up north every night, we’re a genuine family walking together, three cousins, all of us made from the same star stuff. And I am consciously aware of that fact every night.

    When I die I’ll be cremated. My ashes will be scattered somewhere, maybe in a bit of virgin forest that still survives about 40 miles south of here. The atoms of which I’m composed will re-enter the earth’s cycles, some being incorporated into plants or animals, some sinking into the earth. And then, billions of years hence when the sun goes nova, all my atoms will be flung into space, riding the waves of matter and energy that the sun throws out in its spasm.

    So I am connected to the universe on both ends, from the creation of my atoms to their final journey to the stars. And I’m connected to my animals and to all life on earth. How much more connected can I get? I am directly connected to the physical universe, made of atoms manufactured in stars, and I am an integral part of the family of all life, cousin to everything that lives.

    I’m not sure that’s what Karl means, but it sure does get rid of any feelings of being isolated that I might have.

    Comment: RBH – 23. August 2008 @ 4:49 pm

  15. I should add, by the way, that obviously none of the core ideas in that bit above are original with me. Only the specifics are mine. :)

    Comment: RBH – 23. August 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  16. So I am connected to the universe on both ends, from the creation of my atoms to their final journey to the stars.

    Ohhhhhhh, I am SO stealing that! That is just magnificently put. As for “my dogs are my cousins”: this is the transcendent implication of evolution, as you obviously know. We are good at trumpeting the evidence for evolution, but we don’t often enough point to that transcendent implication and swoon. It changes everything, doesn’t it?

    Comment: Dale – 23. August 2008 @ 8:00 pm

  17. Yes, it does change everything. I regard the internalization of that realization — that one is not dissociated from other life but is an integral part of it, related to all life — as the single most important lesson one can learn from the theory of evolution.

    Comment: RBH – 24. August 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  18. [...] [Link to the fictional conversation] [Link to the nonfictional conversation] [...]

    Pingback: The Meming of Life » Finks ahoy! Parenting Beyond Belief on secular parenting and other natural wonders – 25. August 2008 @ 8:27 am

  19. Thank you so much for your posts. My child is two, and I know we will be dealing with these questions sooner than I’d like.

    ATL-Apostate

    Comment: ATL-Apostate – 27. August 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  20. [...] ‘n bietjie op The meming of Life – on secular parenting and other wonders en vertel my wat jy dink van sekulêre onderrig (en ouerskap!).  ”Sekulêr” is [...]

    Pingback: Skoolgee beyond belief « mnr.muller – 03. September 2008 @ 9:28 am

  21. Dale, when my daughter begins to grapple with this, I hope I can have the presence of mind to respond as you did. Thank you.

    Comment: kathryn – 06. September 2008 @ 11:39 pm

  22. This post is good, and helpful for helping me and my 9 year old daughter through her sad nights where she ponders death (she just started having these thoughts). I like your approach to explaining death as being just like before birth. I think that will help her deal with the concept of her own death. What I’m having a hard time helping her with is when tears flow and she cries, “I don’t want you and mom to die. I love you so much I want to be together forever.” I think the concept of heaven & afterlife were partially conceived so parents could give their children a security blanket in moments like this. I don’t want to lie, but I also want to provide comfort. Do you have any words of wisdom on how to have a comforting conversation that will help my daughter deal with the concept of separation due to death? How can she feel better today when she knows the inevitable end of our being together must come?

    Thank you!

    Comment: MF – 10. September 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  23. My son JUST went through this. It’s heartbreaking.

    You can provide comfort in several ways:

    1. By being there, holding her, assuring her that you understand and that you know it’s difficult to think about. It is also helpful for kids to know that you had the same difficult thoughts when you were young — that everyone does, in fact. Knowing that their fears are common, even universal, is helpful.

    2. By assuring her that it’s a long, long way off. (This works well for some kids and not at all for others.)

    3. By talking about how precious it is to be together now, and how much more you can appreciate it knowing that it doesn’t last forever.

    These are genuine comforts. They do not cure the sadness, but they soften it, and though kids will return to these thoughts, it’s very rare for them to really get “stuck” in these contemplations for long.

    It’s also important to recognize that religious kids have the same concerns, and that many people who grew up in religious homes report feeling much less comfort from afterlife ideas than their parents assumed. Fear of mortality is universal.

    Comment: Dale – 10. September 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  24. Dale,

    Thanks for the “real life” ideas. I figured that this is relatively common. That doesn’t make it less heartbreaking, but it does help to know others have lived through this parenting experience.

    I just thought I’d respond and let you and your readers know that I tried your approach last night. Here’s how it went…

    Comfort topic #1 helped. Having her realize that everyone has questions and fears about loss and death made her feel like we could deal with them together. IOW, I could help her and she could help me…a team effort.

    Comfort topic #2 wasn’t a big success. In fact, she cried about how time seems to move so much more quickly for her now. (I thought that was funny to hear from a 9 year old.) She was already sad about how short this summer vacation felt, which, I suspect, has a great deal to do with her current separation fears (i.e. going back to school).

    Comfort topic #3 helped a little in that it provided a launching pad into itemizing what we’ve recently done that was fun and memorable. She was really seeking a vivid memory that she could refer to when she started thinking sad thoughts. She has a good imagination, so we talked about trying to take control of her imagination by actively “turning on” a good memory, then letting it play out under her direction.

    I think this will turn out to be good tool. It’s like changing the channel on the “imagination TV” in her head. We’ll see how that works.

    The final positive spin on this I thought I’d share is how our heart to heart conversation turned into an unplanned lesson the birds and the bees. Our conversation about how death is like pre-conception turned into questions about how babies are made. So…I got that talk out of the way now!

    Thanks again for your help!

    Comment: MF – 11. September 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  25. Thanks for the personal article, I found it very meaningful and helpful.

    Comment: jim – 11. September 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  26. You’re all very welcome.

    MF: I’m glad you had some success with it. I think it’s important not to count it a failure if there are tears. Comfort is a good goal, but a little honest sadness is not a bad thing.

    Comment: Dale – 11. September 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  27. And – as atheists – we can take it one MAJOR step further. Recognising that no deity is going to come to our rescue we can turn our attention to solving the problem of death ourselves. This is beginning to happen.

    In a sense it began to happen about a century ago. Life expectancy, globally, has roughly doubled in the last hundred years. We can reasonably expect it to double again in the next hundred years.

    This, of course, doesn’t eliminate death, it merely postpones it. But that’s a good start.

    The real breakthrough will come when we migrate from our organic platforms to the digital alternative which we are just beginning to build. The first major step in that direction will be recognised when we finally achieve the ability to backup the brain. I am optimistic that we’ll reach that milestone within 30 years, which gives me personally a 50-50 chance of storing my mind before my organic brain starts degrading the data and finally gives up altogether.

    The next major step after that, of course, will be the ability to revive that mind in its new digital environment. That might be a further 30 years down the road. We should by then also be able to allow that revived mind to inhabit new physical bodies, albeit artificial “robot” style. It will be a while longer before we can use “nanoclouds” to recreate organic bodies of our own choosing but that is certainly a long term possibility.

    Personally, if I make it past the migration stage into what I call “Omortality” (Optional Mortality as opposed to Immortality, which seems to frighten people with visions of being compelled to live forever) I expect to spend more of my time in the digital environment than the physical, if only because our future Virtual worlds will have ALL the features we want from the real world PLUS all the other features we can imagine. That is, inevitably, a much more fulfilling world than humdrum reality.

    It also constitutes the first Atheist description of Paradise and it is one we are far more likely to get to than any religious version. So what I say to anyone under 40 today is that, as of now, and assuming that the human race doesn’t go up in smoke (which is, unfortunately, a distinct possibility) you have a better than 50-50 chance of personal Omortality. If you can live past the year, say, 2040, there is now a very good chance that you’ll be able to choose either to live forever or at least to live as long as it still seems like a good idea.

    (All of which is the basis for the play I am writing (slowly), the first part of which can be found here: http://www.fullmoon.nu/Resurrection/PrimarySpecies.html )

    Comment: HarryStottle – 23. October 2008 @ 4:31 am

  28. Dale,
    Thank you and those who contributed by commenting. I’ve searched the internet for guides on how to deal with the issue of death, but none have been so candid and helpful as this one. I have a 5 year old son who since the age of 3 has regularly contemplated death and demanded explanations from me that have truthfully at times overwhelmed my emotions. I imagine part of our shared pain stem from me not being at peace with death, not knowing what really happens, wanting to spare my son’s pain, and hating the reality of not seeing each other afterward. I thank you because I see how it is a process , and one that we all go through, and that there will be the ebb and flow of emotion. Perhaps because death can be a taboo to talk about, I haven’t discussed this with others – but I see I am not alone. Unfortunatly, my worst fear is my son’s biggest topic. I hope to hear you when you come to WA in April…take care and looking forward to new insights.

    Comment: AMORELAND – 31. March 2009 @ 12:51 am

  29. Thank you for this wonderful post. Just a few weeks ago my 7 year old son was (out of the blue!) sobbing that he didn’t want to die because then he’d be “alone and scared”. He’s brought it up once more and I comforted him both times but still didn’t really have much of an idea of what to tell him. I told my husband about it and remarked that this is why religion was invented in the first place wasn’t it? I’m glad to hear other parents have conversations like this too.

    Comment: Shannon – 12. July 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  30. TEARS IN MY EYES

    Comment: William Russell – 17. February 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  31. My mom is dying. Cancer. Thus we face questions of death, again. My sister and I have both journeyed quite far from the traditional/original form of religion we grew up with, I thought we’re mostly on the same page. In this confrontation though, of mom slowly wasting away, not wanting to leave us behind, and also thinking of my father who she would much want to meet again, my sister says she wants to believe that. Wants to believe my mom will get to take my father’s hand.

    My own views are incurably naturalistic. I recognise she is going to “the same place” my father went, i.e. away. A place in which she lives on in our memories and our actions, how we are to one another, how we are to the others around us, and how we are to our children, if we ever get married and have kids, that is. In fond memories and good actions motivated by memories, in continuation in this matter, that’s the heaven I can embrace – the heaven of knowing her influence on this life, on the people around her, was positive and amazing – and continues to be so through the continuation of her legacy. Something like that.

    Just some thoughts, as I also grapple with death in the context of a naturalistic worldview. And thanks Dale, your positive influence and help offered to those that have chosen to switch to the path of naturalism, it’s invaluable for helping people deal with these questions and challenges that they don’t have any prior experience with, no tradition in thinking to pass on.

    Comment: Hugo – 21. September 2011 @ 2:40 pm

  32. Oh Hugo, I’m so sorry. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Comment: Dale – 21. September 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  33. Dale, your writing is fantastic and the way your family handles this stuff is truly worthy of envy. When my kids get old enough to ask questions that smart, I can only hope to handle them as you do! In fact, I would do well to recall this blog right that instant when the question hits me.

    (I don’t know if you’re on Google+ but I shared your blog post there: http://goo.gl/Ka6oD)

    Comment: torbengb – 30. December 2011 @ 3:16 pm

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