Almost everyday Emma (4) talks about her baby brother Jairus. She is retelling his story. She's reassuring herself, her brother Hazen and her parents of what has happened to him. She colors Jairus pictures at preschool and talks about him to her dolls while she plays. Emma has wonderful faith, and it encourages me greatly. Usually it goes something like this...
(Emma walks into a room and Mommy is crying or staring out of a window)
"Mommy, are you sad?" "Yes, Emma, I am." "Mommy, Jairus is with Jesus, and you miss him?" "Yes Emma, I am happy for Jairus because I know he gets to live with Jesus but I miss him very much." "Yeah, its ok. Jairus is happy with Jesus, it's fun. Someday we'll go to heaven too." "Yes Emma, someday Jesus will come back and bring us all to heaven with Him. That will be a wonderful day." "Yep. And we'll go to Disney world someday too."
Emma's faith that God is good, that He is in control, and that her brother is in perfect relationship with Him in heaven is a great comfort to me. She reaffirms basic truths to us. God is good, He is in control. It will not always be this way, someday Jesus will come a restore this fallen world.
Children experience life from a concrete point of view. Emma doesn't get bogged down with philosophy or abstract ideas. She knows heaven is real. Just as real as her preschool or her grandparents house, or Disney World :) She trusts. She has faith.
There has been one major part of death that I had put off telling the kids though. Because their perspective is so black and white, so practical, how would they understand burial? We told them that their brother went to live with Jesus. So...why did we put his body in the ground? I've been tossing this over and over in my mind since the funeral (both kids were there, but played in the nursery during the service and napped in the van during the committal at the cemetery). Trying to figure out how to explain cemeteries and burials and souls...makes my head spin a little. I talked with a bunch of people about this, and continued to put off the subject. I figured we'd bring them to the grave this spring when we get a headstone and after there is new grass and not 3 feet of snow everywhere.
Saturday we were getting ready for a morning adventure to IKEA and planned to stop by the cemetery on our way home (assuming the kids would be asleep and we could go without having to talk about why we go there). Emma saw me pulling flowers from our bouquets on the table to bring with. She wanted to know what they were for. This is how we explained it to her (this is not my own idea, I got nothing.A dear friend offered this explanation and I think it is a very good, very honest and practical way to explain burials to a child.):
When Jairus died, where did he go? Right, he went to heaven to live with Jesus! When people die, they take off their bodies the way you take off your dress-up clothes. And their soul, that's their heart, their personality, everything that makes them 'them', goes to heaven if they know Jesus. So Jairus took off his body, he doesn't need it anymore in heaven. We took his body, and we had it buried at a cemetery. Someday, when Jesus comes back to earth, He's going to make that body new and make it rise again to give back to Jairus in Heaven! Remember how Jesus rose to life after He died? Just like that. Its confusing, but it is going to be wonderful. So Jairus is not at the cemetery, but his body is. And we go there with flowers to remember him and make the place look pretty.
And after all of my worrying about putting it off, Emma's only response was "ok, I'll bring the flowers."
She's a great big sister.
The Bible uses a very similar analogy to taking off clothing. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul (the author) talks about our bodies as tents we live in on earth, and that in heaven we will have instead of a tent, a building made by God. Our heavenly bodies will be permanent, whole, perfect the way God desires His children to be.