When thinking about death we have so many questions and very few answers. It’s where the fear and disbelief stem from. Children say exactly what’s on their minds. They also have questions which we can find hard to answer, especially when our grief is so raw and we feel lost in our own cloud of uncertainty.
My children still ask about their sister’s death occasionally. They think about death and heaven, and what it means to die. Part of them is anxious about this, another part very accepting. They have normal and relatable feelings about death, just like we do, and we take their questions seriously.
In the early days, aged just 5 and 10, we kept our children sensitively involved in their sister’s death and memorials.
We didn’t hide from them what was happening and kept an open dialogue about it all. This we feel has helped them immensely to adjust to life without their big sister. They also chose to believe in God and that their sister was in heaven, but we didn’t romanticise this to them. She’s not turned into an angel or a star or a bird. She is in heaven waiting for us to one day join her and to live again in a perfect world without pain or suffering.
Yet five years on the questions still come – from our children who knew her and our new young children who didn’t. And I love it!
I love that they always ask why. That their questions mean that they are really trying to understand this life, this world, and our purpose. They are inquisitive and will not be ‘won over’ by empty phrases or ‘just because’. Jesus made it quite clear that us adults can learn a great deal from children, whose minds are open and willing to accept that which they can’t see.
The metamorphosis from death to life.
My own blog’s theme of dragonflies builds on this concept – of metamorphosing into something even better. Butterflies go through an amazing transformation. They start off as a caterpillar, they grow and have a life busy munching leaves, then they wrap themselves in a cocoon. Inside this cocoon, they, essentially, dissolve and then reform into what will emerge as a butterfly. When the time is right, they break free from their dark case and fly out into the light of the world, not as a ‘crawling grub’ but as a beautiful fluttering winged insect with colours and patterns, with more freedom than ever.
It’s perhaps why many people associate butterflies with a lost loved one. We see them often and they can appear in the most unlikely of places. A friend found a large unusual butterfly in her fireplace the night her husband died… it was early winter. It made such a noise, she was startled by it when it fluttered out. It then landed on a picture of quotes in the room and settled for two days on the words ‘You are loved’.
I was so inspired by the fable of the dragonfly that I wrote a version of the story based around the loss of a sibling.
This small fact of nature, I believe, is one of God’s clues to his promise of eternal life. Whether people have faith or not, there is no denying that to believe in the hope of heaven, at the least, is a harmless comfort. I wanted to create a book that was set around a real situation of a death in the family, but with bright colours and beautiful illustrations… a book that children, and parents, wouldn’t be afraid to pick up.
The Dragonfly Story now sits on our bookshelf among a small collection of other books that our children have found helpful in their grief. Giving them the space to look at these stories is just as big a part of enabling them to process their grief as us trying to explain it to them.
Children enjoy stories and I’ve been surprised by how their young minds can relate a simple story to their own lives. That was what The Dragonfly Story was to us, and my hope is that it is of use to others too.
Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash