Last year when our family experienced dealing with the death of loved ones, including someone from our own family, it was a new road for us to travel on as parents. I was never really certain of our son, Gabriel’s understanding of death, even after explaining it to him. He had little reaction when he attended the funerals with us and asked only a few questions. Months past and I recall that after returning home from running errands, the first thing Gabriel said to me was, “Where did you go? Did you die?” This happened more than once. So, perhaps he thought death simply means you don’t see the person, but not in any permanent way.
More recently, I discovered that his understanding of death had deepened. No longer was he thinking of it in an unemotional way, but clearly, he was afraid. After putting him to bed one night, he sat up unexpectedly, and with a shaky voice and tears streaming down his face, he said to me, “I don’t want you to die.” What follows is the rest of our talk, as best as I can remember.
Me: “If I die, I know that can be hard. But, because I know Jesus, I also know that when I die, I will get to be with Him. Do you remember when Grandma A. was very sick?
Me: “She knew she was going to die soon, but she wasn’t afraid. She was sad to think about missing all of us, but she’s not sad right now. She is the happiest she’s ever been because she is with Jesus now. And she’s not sick anymore.”
G: “But I don’t want you to die. I don’t want to be alone.”
Me: “We will all die one day, even though we don’t know when. The important thing for you to know is if you know Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus and believe He is God and believe that He died on the cross for your sins, you will be with Him in heaven after you die. And, we will see each other in heaven.”
G: “But I don’t like dying.”
Me: “I know, son. Death is hard for everyone. But Jesus won the victory over death. Death and sin keeps us away from God. But when Jesus died on the cross, and then He came back to life again, it’s like He was a warrior king that won the war against the enemy. When you are on Jesus’ side, death can’t keep you away from God anymore.”
I prayed for him and laid down on the bed with him until his eyelids appeared heavy with fatigue. Sleep and rest was necessary for a boy so filled with anxiety. But more than that, the peace of Christ is needed to completely dispel all fears, especially the fear of death.
(Photo credit: Glen Van Etten)