Afterlife and a 4 yo: Sparkles and stars (and robots)

A few weeks ago I had a very memorable chat with Hawk while he was on the potty.  Pooping, naturally.  It was Halloween time and he'd been fascinated with the blow-up creatures in all the yards, particularly a Dracula arising out of a coffin.

"What's a coffin?" soon followed.

"Well, it's what we put dead people in before we bury them underground."


Yeah, so that loop had been going on for several days.  Add to it The Iron Giant to the movie mix (for those of you unfamiliar with this animated flick, Hogarth, the young protagonist, befriends a giant robot from outer space who happens to have a soul) and you get the potty question:

"Mommy?  Where do we go after we're dead?"

I wasn't expecting this deep, beautiful, complex question yet.  And certainly not in the bathroom.  I was just thankful we were at home where this moment could be captured and held private.

"Well, we have these things inside of us called 'souls', and souls make us think and feel and wonder about things.  Remember The Iron Giant and how Hogarth thought he had a soul?"

He nods.

"It's like that.  And when we die, our bodies stop working and our souls sparkle up and out of us and fly up to mix with the stars with all the other souls."

He seemed to really love the idea.  But he still wanted to make sure that there was absolutely no part of "us" that was buried under ground.  I can't say that I blame him there.

I'm not religious, but I guess you could lump me in with the millions of others that now consider themselves spiritual.  I've been in a church less than 20 times in my life and I'm pretty certain I'd burst into flames if I did.  I'm not interested in dogma, archaic mythologies and ideals.  I'd sooner subscribe to the church of Oprah than anything else.  My views are really exactly what I just described.

When Dad died I was forced to confront my beliefs (or lack there of).  The way I saw it, I could either a) Think finitely and scientifically: when a dude dies, he's dead, game over.  Which would mean I had shit tons of unfinished business with my father and a lifetime of regret; or b) Think fluidly and magically: the second Dad died, he KNEW.  I didn't have to explain anything else, worry about what was or wasn't said, or have a moment of regret over What If.  I was good.

I opted for choice B.

I admit it serves me well, but honestly, it was always lingering there under the surface: do I or don't I believe?  Belief in what, exactly, wasn't really the point.  I just needed an anchor from which to pivot.

I hope that this is sufficient for Hawk.  I had no guidance when it came to the afterlife or souls or anything like it growing up (I didn't even know my mother believed in Jesus Christ until I was 22).  I want this kind of thing to be part of our lives and ongoing discussions.  I want my baby to feel connected and protected and part of something bigger than himself.  I want him to believe in the magic of robots with souls and in his own.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate your thoughts here. We had a similar discussion the other night (what is it with four-year-olds?), because Mikko'd heard about mummies and was worried about them. I said, "It's all right; they're just dead bodies wrapped in cloth. They can't hurt you. They're dead." Which, duh, led into, "What's dead?"

    Now, we'd talked death before, because our cat died last year. But this was not concrete enough for him, because he keeps asking when she'll be able to come back from the vet, what medicine we can give her to make her better, whether more sleep will help (hint: the euphemism "put to sleep" doesn't mean much to a four-year-old).

    This time, as I fumbled once more through the explanations, we both ended up in tears, and I didn't know what to tell him. I fell back on the concept of heaven, even though I have no idea (anymore) what waits beyond. I hoped it would be comforting. It was not. "Can we go there and see God and then come back here?" Well…no. It's hard for me to understand, and harder still to deal with. I'm not surprised it made my four-year-old have nightmares all that night. :(

    I like your explanation, and I'm glad it comforted Hawk, too.