When other mothers find out that I am an Atheist one of the first questions they ask is always “But what are you going to tell your kids about death and what happens when you die?” For completely unrelated and non-religious reasons it concerns me that we focus as much as we do on death and dying but that is another issue.
It’s funny to me that any religious person can feel confident explaining this question at all. Heaven, or the afterlife, is not really addressed in most religious texts. An afterlife is promised, sure, but it is never described (the Koran excluded – but I do wonder who would want that version of heaven anyway). The religious really don’t have any better idea of what happens after we die than I do.
Having said that, I will not have a problem telling my kids the truth. To me, the natural world and its humbling and amazing level of inter-connectivity lends itself well to an explanation that even a young person can understand. We are made up of atoms and when we die, those atoms stop being a part of us and become a part of the greater world. Parts of who we are today will become parts of grass, trees, sky and even stars. While we do not live on as we are today, our elements continue to live forever. Now isn’t that nice? It isn’t scary, it is comforting and above all, it is far more likely than anything else I’ve ever heard.
Comfort and honesty – now there’s a novel concept.