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“Mom, when am I going to die?” How to answer truthfully and hopefully

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St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus helps us form the difficult words.

Sometimes after the death of a loved one, children, even at a very young age, might start asking questions about death, particularly their own. They want to know if they, too, will die. We do our best to tell them the truth indirectly, probably dancing around the issue a bit and using some gentle euphemisms, but they want a straight answer: “But when?” Given their age and comprehension, if we’re smart, we won’t try sharing with them the latest statistics from the CDC on life expectancy. We’ll just have to decide between a reassuring: “Not for a long time, sweetie!” or the harsh reality: “God only knows!”

Don’t hide the truth

Psychologists all agree on one point: it is important to not hide the truth from children. If they ask the question, first of all we must understand where it is coming from. This is where we need to take the time to listen and to be frank with our answers. Our credibility is at stake. Their questions about death are a testament to a need to know, but also to be reassured. Children will be less worried if we tell them the truth than if we leave them in the dark.

Lessons from the young Thérèse

Christians are lucky to be able to give a reply full of hope concerning the question of death. Death is the gateway to eternal life. It’s this faith that St. Thérèse de Lisieux demonstrated when she wrote to Abbe Maurice Bellière in June 1897 (she died September 30th 1897): “Dear little Brother, I would like to tell you many things that I understand now that I am at the door of eternity; but I am not dying, I am entering into Life.”

It was this same intuition she had as a young girl, when, in a surge of tenderness, she would innocently wish for her parents’ death. Thérèse quotes a letter that her mother, Zélie Martin, wrote about her when she was just age four: “Baby is a little imp; she’ll kiss me and at the same time wish me to die. ‘Oh, how I wish you would die, dear little Mother!’ When I scold her she answers: ‘It is because I want you to go to heaven, and you say we must die to get there!’ She wishes the same for her Father in her outbursts of affection for him.” Thérèse learnt from a most tender age that our true homeland is heaven. And thanks to this faith, she didn’t have any fear of death. Could we, as parents, instill a little of this confidence in our children and help relieve their worries and concerns?

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