15 Jun Spiritual Parenting – Dealing with Death
“MOM, WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE DIE?”
Shortly after my son turned 12, as he began entering puberty, he came to me with many deep, existential inquiries about life & death, finding meaning in life, and finding a balance between being a kid and growing up. I was expecting questions about the physical changes that were going on, sex, drugs, the social aspects of navigating High School and making new friends, but I did not expect questions about what happens after we die.
My son has grown up as a single child in a household with a single parent, me, and he’s been exposed to adults all of his life. I never shielded him from deep conversations that I was having with friends and mentors about my own spiritual awakening, and although I did not push spirituality upon him, I was hoping that he would absorb some of the concepts as it is very positive and builds awareness. I wanted him to learn at his own pace and was always there for him with the best answers I could give, and researching if I felt I couldn’t answer him fully. As a life long learner myself, I am always expanding my own consciousness and knowledge of the world through reading and studying. He is also an avid reader and has broad interests that span the gamut from comic books to world history. I have always encouraged him to ask questions, and especially to question authority. I want him to be a critical thinker and to be able to find answers for himself. I love when he comes to me with questions, but knowing my child was struggling with coming to terms with the finite nature of our being was a concern to me.
When he started asking me about death and dying, I was very curious about why he was thinking about such deep existential questions. I certainly was not thinking about death at 12 years old, but I have been thinking and reading about it for the past few years. I was inspired by the insights that I gained from such experts as Stephen Jenkinson who wrote a wonderful book called “Die Wise” that I highly recommend. He teaches that our society has become death-phobic. We spend billions of dollars on palliative care and medical interventions that extend our lives, avoiding the inevitable at all costs. We don’t talk about death in our culture, it’s a taboo subject, something to be dealt with only when the time comes. But how does all of that intervention honor the dying person? Where do we slot in celebration of the aging process if we run from it at every turn? Dying is treated with such care and dignity in many other cultures in the world. In Japan, for instance, life is seen as cyclical rather than linear, and the dead are remembered during a 3-day celebration in August called Obon.
So I have started the death conversation with my son and it’s been most rewarding for both of us. It has brought us closer together and it has opened the door to allowing any subject to be discussed, without fear, without judgment. As a spiritual person, I understand the interconnectedness of all things. I understand and embrace the unity of life & death as a process that is to be welcomed as a natural part of this material manifestation as human beings. I can find beauty in life and in death, as all parts of who we are, need to be cherished for the experiences they bring. I no longer fear death and I no longer fear aging, I am comfortable with both and my son is starting to see that. I have begun to read passages from Die Wise to him and also to research how death is treated in other cultures so that he may know how others deal with the angst of not knowing this mysterious part of life that lies beyond our knowing.
I still have so much to learn but I am grateful for the opportunity to impart some of my wisdom to my son. Being a parent is a gift and a great responsibility. I feel the importance of giving my son a multi-perspectival approach on life, to teach him to draw from many sources before making any decisions about anything. It helps to quell his fear and insecurities and also to know that throughout the history of the world, people have been asking such questions.
I believe it is important to be open with our children and to not perpetuate the death phobia that reigns supreme here in the West. As they grow, children who learn that death is a part of life and are not afraid to ask questions, will be better able to adjust to their own mortality, which eventually, comes to us all.
“Birth is okay and death is okay if we know that they are only concepts in our mind. Reality transcends both birth and death” – Thich Nhat Hanh