What I say to kids about DEATH

Are you picturing the crazy old curmudgeon snarling at children about death, as he shakes his cane at them from his front porch?

I’m referring to what I said when my youngest son asked me about death, and life after death, years ago; and roughly what I said to a student asking about it when I taught remedial reading as a volunteer. And…my own thoughts on how I would explain it to other kids. Something like this:

“No one knows for sure what comes after death, or if anything happens at all. But I can tell you about some possibilities.

“The process of dying can be pretty hard, but not always, since lots of people die peacefully, some even in their sleep. As for death itself–there are different stories. I think of them as ‘models’ or ‘ideas’ about what happens after death. One is the common story you hear about heaven and hell, the judgment of your soul, that sort of thing. I don’t know for sure but personally I doubt if that one’s true…Then there’s the reincarnation story, the idea that you leave your body at death, your soul passing into a baby’s body, somewhere. In that model you forget your past life and start a new one. I have no way to know if that’s true. There might be some truth in it. But if it’s in any way true I personally suspect it’s more complicated than that.

“Then there’s the idea that lots of people have–and they are smart people–that it’s basically like a light bulb burning out. Where does the light go, when the light bulb is broken? It’s just gone. But there are always other lights; there’s always light in the universe. I don’t know if that’s all there is to it, but I don’t think that explanation sounds so bad, really. Mark Twain said, ‘I was dead for billions of years before I was born and it never gave me a moment’s discomfort.’ Where were you before you were born? Not existing doesn’t hurt! It could be like just the deepest part of sleeping. Not so bad at all! All worries are gone forever.

“Then there’s another way to think of it. Look at this rosebush. The flowers on it fade and fall off. They ‘die’. They go back into the ground, to become part of it. But the bush they were part of keeps going. Eventually other flowers bud out from it. Those die, in time, and after awhile the bush again makes more. It could be that we’re like those roses, an expression of life. We grow out of nature. We go away, eventually, as individual blossoms, but the bush continues. We were part of that bush–so what were we, the bush or the flower? If your identity is with the bush, then you go on even after your blossom dies.

“Related to that idea is the idea that our minds, our consciousnesses, are like waves that come out of a big sea of consciousness. The wave rises up from the sea, it has some individuality, it sweeps along in its life, then it sinks back down into the sea. That sea is also called ‘the ground of being’ in some teachings. That sea is forever; the wave is just temporary. If you think of yourself as the sea, then you are forever.

“There is another possibility that people I respect told me about. This is the possibility that one can work hard to be more and more conscious and awake and free in this world, and that has the effect of creating a body that survives death. It’s sort of like we’re a seed, and many seeds don’t make it to growing up and being a full plant. But some push hard enough, and fall in the right places, and they grow up into souls. Then they try to help others grow these individual souls. The ones who don’t grow them don’t go anywhere bad when the die, they just become part of the world and start over again, in some way.

“That’s a model of a possible life-after-death that I like, but even if I do all the work to grow a soul, I won’t know if it’s true till after I die. I have working theories but, personally, I don’t definitely believe in things I can’t confirm for myself.”

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