What does it feel like to die?
A question my 7 year old asked me the other day. Posed just the same as any other question he might ask, like “Why is the sky blue?”. I guess it should have come as no surprise given the recent (and constant) tragedies in the news and the recent loss of one of our long time fur-family members.
When we had to put one of our family pets down he stayed in the room and wept little boy tears as he held his paw like a dear old friend and watched him whimper and take his last breath. Echo is a husky that my husband has had for 11+ years. My son had looked at me in that moment with fear, panic of “why cant we do something”, and with a deep sadness that is inevitable felt in this lifetime. As a matter of fact I encouraged him to stay right by his side as we spoke to Echo and told him what a good boy he was and how much we loved him. I told him there’s nothing to be afraid of. Death doesn’t have to be a scary concept. I felt how closely he watched me while we said goodbye to Echo. Children are extremely observant and will learn how they will react to a situation by observing your own reaction to it. I think nine times out of ten people aren’t afraid to die they are just afraid of the unknown. Or what happens after they die.
So when my 7 year old asked me, wide eyed and full of softness the other day, “Mommy, what does it feel like to die?” I had no immediate response ready. Never having died myself how could I answer that question? I felt curious myself. I didn’t want to just tell him some vague answer and then change the subject. Like any good parent I think if your child doesn’t know the answer to something it’s our duty to help guide them in finding the answers. This is what we found…..together…
We had talked about how there are medical things that happen when you die. There are some physical things that take place. Some people die with no pain and others are in a lot of pain toward the end of their lives. Dying is often times a process when it comes to natural causes. Clinical death is pronounced when your heart stops beating, you stop breathing and your circulation stops. However, your cells in your body continue to live on for about 4-6 minutes. Also your brain is doing some amazing things right about that time…”Right when your body starts to flat line, your brain does its best to prepare your consciousness for the jump to the great beyond. In their final moments, many people have out of body experiences, a rendezvous with relatives in a peaceful place, a feeling of greater connection with the universe, and of course, see the classic bright light at the end of the tunnel”. Your hearing and sense of touch are the last two senses to usually leave and many say those dying can still hear and feel you even 4-6 minutes after they have officially been dead. We were happy to know this because we stayed with our pet Echo for quite sometime after he passed, continuing to pet him, hold him, tell him we love him….
Death is a unique experience to each of us but there are also things that our body’s have been blessed to do for us in our final moments. There are many things your brain and body do to help ease you into your last moments on Earth as well as all of the medical care and medicine can also contribute to an easy transition.
I know some of you may not agree with me in my attempt to explain at least some of what science and medical studies offer in what it actually feels like to die but I think that its completely exceptable. Given that most people try to avoid the subject of death 99% of their lives up until the moment they find themselves with death knocking at their door. Then so begins a scramble to understand the physical, mental, and spirituality of dying. As it did in our case death can bring about a healthy discussion in your home that helps explore your personal beliefs and spirituality.
I offer all the reassurance in the world and in the end he seems confident and content with talking to me openly about death and hopefully anything else that comes across his curious mind in the future.
I researched information and offered it in a “kid friendly” sort of way weeding out a lot of the medical jargon and research statistical data. I think it was helpful in easing his anxiety and what happens to our loved ones when they (inevitably) die. We all will someday face death and to run from it and avoid speaking to our children about it is as ignorant and neglectful as not speaking to them about safe sex, peer pressure, or drugs. There are plenty of books out there on the subject written by authors who explain death in kid friendly books.
The most important thing for me was explaining that love doesn’t die when our loved one dies. Our love stays with us and we honor them by continuing to love them. One very special person conquered death and although that too can be a difficult concept to understand that Jesus conquered his own death he took that and didn’t skip a beat saying yeah Mom….”God is love. And love doesn’t die”.
Jenny Albers said it perfectly when she wrote “Grief should not be feared. It is a breathtakingly beautiful expression of love. We don’t have to avert our eyes from it. We can watch, appreciate, acknowledge, and empathize. It is normal, and to lean into it, instead of avoid it, validates the magnitude of a life lost.
There is no shame in grief. It doesn’t have to make others uncomfortable. Or cause them to disengage. Grief is universal. It touches animals and humans alike. It is natural. And its effects must be felt in order to understand the depths of true love.”
As a mom who finds it challenging to speak to my kiddos sometimes about topics such as death are there any pointers you can share that have worked for you?
~Fair Minded Mommy