Questions of life and death

I’m stuck in a bit of a pickle at the moment and I’m not quite sure how to proceed.

You see, last week, my friend’s granddad died. It wasn’t entirely unexpected; he was 94 years old. But until his passing, he’d seemed physically fit and my friend is understandably shaken at losing his beloved grandparent so suddenly.

I have tried to support my friend as much as possible; there were shared tears and hushed conversations, and an airport drop-off so he could travel to Sydney for the funeral.


Throughout it all, my daughter has been silently absorbing the proceedings of the week with much interest. I hadn’t noticed that she was noticing, but she’s four; she doesn’t miss a beat.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me when I was putting her to bed and, seemingly out of nowhere, she asked me, “What’s heaven?”

We’re not a religious family. We don’t pray, we don’t talk about God, we don’t thank the Lord before tucking into our meal each night.

That said, we are spiritual. We believe in the universe; karma; energy; something. I definitely believe that what goes around comes around and that something happens regarding our souls when we shuffle off this mortal coil, I’m just not sure what… or to whom.

At four years old, I guess she’s old enough for us to start discussing concepts of death and the afterlife. But because we’re not religious, I don’t quite know how to go about it. The last thing I want to do is frighten her – but I also don’t want to lie.

Perched on the side of her bed and confronted with her innocent question, I answered with the first thing that popped into my head: the Frozen movie.

“Well, you know how you love the movie Frozen, and Anna and Elsa’s parents go on a big ship?” I said. “And you know how the boat flips over out at sea and sinks? Well, that means that they’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Her eyes widened. She looked scared.

“But don’t worry!” I added hastily. “Heaven is a lovely place. There are lots of beautiful angels with gorgeous wings and sparkly dresses, and it’s full of fun things to do.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment then said, “Does that mean I can get my face painted in heaven?”

“Yes. Yes it does,” I replied. This seemed to satisfy her and we haven’t discussed the afterlife since. But when it comes up again, I have no idea how I’ll expand upon my explanation.

Because really: how do you answer questions about life and death, when you’re not entirely sure of the answers yourself?

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