This year alone, Zoey has experienced two different deaths that were very different in so many ways. These deaths have presented some opportunities for us to talk to her about the subject, and while it has been very awkward at times, I feel it’s extremely important to share with her what we believe to be the truth and to not overly sugar coat it. It’s no secret that we are Bible believing Christians and we are raising our daughter to know the Lord. For us, as believers, death isn’t something we’re afraid of.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly wait a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ Philippians 3:20
In January, we respectfully celebrated the short life of baby Jocey Turnage. I’m sure many of you remember – it was the most difficult post I had ever written and it required way more revisions and thought than anything this blog had ever seen. It was Zoey’s first “at home” experience with death. My grandmother passed away two years ago, but Zoey was too little to even notice and I traveled out of town for the memorial, so it was something we didn’t really have to talk with her in depth about. However, baby Jocey was a whole new ball game. It was extremely important to me that I explained to Zoey why we were having this memorial, why people would be crying, but also why it’s important that we have faith, hope, and joy in the life that Jocey had, even if it was short lived. That day, she witnessed me sob, which was something she had never seen before. I held her close and just wept for my dear friends. Zoey didn’t know what to do or say. So she dried my tears with a cloth I had brought with us and just let me hold her as tight as I could without complaints. I explained to her that Jocey was now perfectly healthy and whole, her heart was no longer sick, and that she was with Jesus, where we plan to be someday.
She still talks about that day. But more importantly, I think she loves Jocey’s big brother Jordan even more than ever.
That was her first real experience with death.
Most recently, my step-Grandmother-in-law passed away. She had lived a very long life, and we got to spend some time with her during holidays. She was a really funny, spunky old lady and we loved her personality. We only got to know her for about two years before her passing, but she was still very much family. Besides the fact that this was a completely different person of age when it came to the time of death, this memorial service was completely different from Jocey’s. This one had a casket. An open casket.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to allow Zoey to go up to it. But she was curious… very curious… and she asked if she could. Reluctantly, I let her. Up to this point, I had explained to her that our bodies are only a shell. What’s inside the shell is our soul. Miss Louis’ body was going to be present at the funeral, but her soul was with Jesus. She loved the Lord and He called her home. Seeing the open casket did not bother Zoey at all, actually. Maybe four is a great age for this sort of thing, I don’t know, but I think the way we explained things to her helped a lot. What she saw wasn’t a “dead body”, but the shell of a woman she got to know briefly, and she knows where her soul lives.
“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”~Romans 14:8
We feel it’s extremely important to use life experiences as opportunities for ministry to our daughter. Yes, we used this experience to really talk to her more in depth about the Lord and who He is. We told her that we have faith that we will see miss Louise and baby Jocey some day because we love the Lord, we live for Him, and someday He will call us home like He does all his children.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'” ~ John 11:25-26
And yes, we are raising our daughter to know Him and believe in His word. When it comes to death, we have nothing to fear. We are instilling this in her at a very young age. I have no reservations about that, all the while the world is telling me I shouldn’t believe it, I shouldn’t share it, I shouldn’t teach it.
Teaching my four-year-old about death is something that can be awkward and weird sometimes, but it’s a part of life. These two death experiences she has faced were complete opposites from one another, but both presented awesome opportunities to teach my little girl the truth that we believe about death and life. We told her what the Bible tells us, and that it’s okay to be sad for someone who has passed because we’ll miss them, but that we don’t have to be sad forever because we will reunite someday, and it won’t even matter because we’ll be in the presence of our Lord. He is all that matters.
Death can be such a taboo subject, but it really doesn’t have to be. When I was a kid, my parents shielded me from it and didn’t allow me to go to my grandfather’s funeral. To make things worse, they waited until after the funeral to even tell me he actually died. He had been sick for a long time so I knew it was coming. I was so angry about that and to this day I wish they had let me go and had told me the truth the moment they got news he had died. I was eight years old when this all happened and I should have gone to say goodbye. I won’t do that to Zoey.
Some may think I shouldn’t be this open with my daughter about death, but it’s not like it’s something we can run from, right? We can pass any moment… we’re not promised tomorrow. Who am I to withhold this from her? I could die tomorrow. I could die today. Next week. We don’t know. I just want her to have comfort at a young age… comfort that she doesn’t have to fear it, and she can know that someday we’ll be reunited in the presence of our Lord, and nothing in this life can top that.