Last night during a pre-bedtime snuggle my 4 year old came out with an unexpected question- one I assumed was much father down the road. This is how our conversation went:
“What happens when our story ends?” At first I didn’t know what he meant so I had to ask more questions.
“What do you mean? ‘When our story ends?'”
At this point I was afraid my son was getting unusually deep with his questions. Could he really be asking about our own mortality? What happens when our story ends and we no longer exist? Death is not a concept my son is familiar with from a first-hand perspective. I was afraid to lead him into the question but at the same time I felt he deserved it answered if this was really what he wanted to know. Judging by how he asked it and the silence that preceded the question it must have been in his head for a while.
“Do you mean what happens when we are no longer here? In our world?” (He often talks about the planet and our “world”, meaning our little life and circle of family/friends/activities)
“Yeah. What happens?”
Deep. Breath. How in the world do I explain death to my 4 year old who has never lost anyone? He knows things “die” from reading books and watching movies. When it comes to our own deaths though, this requires a little more of an explanation. And sadly, it is my responsibility to explain it to him the way our family believes it and not the way most of the world thinks of death. It was then that I almost wished we were religious because telling a child death means going to a magical place full of angels and music and light is much better than what I told him.
“Nothing. When our story ends it is over. We get a certain amount of time here and then we are done.”
“How much time!?”
“Some people get a lot of time and live to be 60 or 80 or even 100!”
“Or zero” and he made a 0 with his little innocent hands.
“Yes, and sometimes 0. Sometimes it ends sooner. But sometimes we get to live a very long time and see and do a lot of things.”
“What about 5,500?”
“No… we can’t live to be 5,500. If we are really lucky we can live to 100. Maybe even a little longer, but that is it.”
“Awww…. I want to be REALLY old and be 5,500.”
That was it. A short conversation with my 4 year old about life. And death. And not living to be 5,500 years old. I am completely comfortable telling my son that there is a Santa Claus but I won’t be sharing about Heaven and Jesus, not yet anyway. Not until he can understand that it is something others believe, and that there are other deities that exist as well. If he then chooses to believe in a God then he can, and I’ll support that. I just want it to be his choice and not one that was forced upon him. For now we are happy to live religion free and to raise sons who are taught that being good is a lifestyle, not a chore to be rewarded. It may not be the popular choice but it is our choice to make. It is crazy to me that I have a little person capable of asking questions of this nature. He is no longer a baby. I’m sure there will be many more “deep” conversation to come, which is both a scary and exciting thought.