Today we witnessed my dear grandfather to be laid to rest. It was a difficult decision, but we took all the kids with us, Calvin mostly for the reason that he cannot be by his own again, the girls because we wanted to give them the chance to say good-bye and face their grief that way.
I told Violet the news on Friday morning after breakfast. Violet was home from kindergarten because she was feeling sick. Her reaction was a startle. Then not much more. She asked some questions later, but seemed weirdly detached, even though this is probably normal for a 4-year old.
Lily was told by Richard after she came home from school; I was sleeping with Calvin to get my feet under me again after a sleepless night. She started crying, but Richard managed to calm her down, talking with her about Opa's long, rich life.
This was luckily the first death in the family, which the girls consciously experienced, and it came with a lot of questions. What happens afterward, why do people die, etc.
As children, growing up in a somewhat Christian family, we were told that the dead will rise into heaven and live on there. I admit that it was a comforting thought that death does not really exist. Now, as Atheists, we do not believe in an afterlife. Everything ends with death. It sounds final, but makes life itself so much more important to us, as there are no second chances or a better life afterward.
So what to tell little children to console them in their grief without introducing ideas that we do not believe ourselves?
Why do people have to die? We get all older, and when our bodies are too old to support us in our daily activies, we eventually fall asleep and die. Sometimes, younger people die because a disease destroys their bodies or it is hurt so bad in an accident that it cannot live any more, so this person dies as well.
What happens when someone dies? They fall in a very deep sleep and never wake up. The body is then buried (or cremated and then interred) and continues to sleep there.
What happens to the bodies then? (Life) energy cannot die, so in a way, one lives on. Whether it is as fire during cremation creating heat that spreads out to warm our hearts or whether it is our life force to feed grass and flowers, everyone lives on in one or the other form of energy.
The girls loved the idea of grandpa turning into a flower and it did help them over their initial grief. Both of them cried at the funeral; Lily kissed her little rose before she threw it on the coffin in the grave, wispering "good night" to her grandpa.
I am so proud of them dealing with the loss so well. I expect them to have throw-backs in the weeks and months to come; I will make a photo-book of pictures of Opa, which they can look at, and which will be a prompt of all the fond memories he have of this wonderful man!