On kids and death

When my son Graham was two and a half, my aunt was the director of an exclusive preschool program run by an Episcopal church in Beverly Hills. She let us join their weekly toddler group where all of the mothers were a decade or two older than me. Most had older kids, as well—5- and 8- and even 10-year old kids—some who were already in therapy. No one seemed to be there for religious reasons, no one but the teachers, who I now know had likely prayed each morning before class for an opening in which to plant a seed of light or truth in a willing heart. One day I made the mistake of asking one of them, privately, on the sidelines of circle time, about Death. Specifically, how to talk to young children about Death.

“Well,” she said gently. “I suppose it depends on what you believe. For me, personally, I believe that when we die we go to Heaven to be with God and Jesus and all the Saints and angels. And that’s not hard to talk to kids about at all.”

How nice for you, I thought. Returning to the circle of sophisticated heathens, I realized I was angry in a new, unspoken, unspeakable way. I hated her for that answer. I resented her kindness and her confidence. Despised the possibility that she and others like her could have the last laugh about the most important thing I’d ever endeavored to do in my life. I placed Graham’s hands in mine as we circled them around like wheels on a bus and affirmed in my spasming heart that I would do anything to do right by him. Like a g-force drop in a cable-slackened elevator, the first seed gave root to an even more terrifying thought: was it possible, despite all my brilliant, enlightened ideas to the contrary, that the people—those people— who believe in God were actually the ones who had the edge when it came to raising kids?
–From Elijah & the SAT

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