Last night we received the shocking news that one of our next-door neighbors had taken his life just a few hours prior. He was only fourteen years old. Though he was a boy who suffered from Asperger’s and a few obsessive kinds of disorders, he was still, by all appearances, quite a normal kid–a reclusive one, but one who was still a presence in the neighborhood. Yesterday, while out with his mother, he threw himself off a building and fell to his death. We grieve for the family he left behind–for his mother, his sister and his two brothers.
Later today, when my children return home from school, we will need to tell them the sad news. It is a difficult thing to have to tell young children–that a child who lived next door took his own life. As I lay in bed this morning, wondering how I could best explain it to them, I thought back to an old blog post I had written. Though I wrote it seven years ago, it seemed somehow fitting to post it again today since the issues will be the same as I explain death to my three children, all of whom have been blessedly protected from its harsh reality through their young lives.
My son is three years old and has recently begun to become aware of the existence of death. At only three he has far greater capacity to wonder and to ask questions than he does to understand. This makes it difficult and as his father I struggle to try to share with him what death is and how something so terrifying and so final can be made an occasion of wondrous joy.
Today while my wife was at a Bible study, Nick and I settled down to watch a movie. It was a children’s movie and at the end one of the central characters died. I watched Nick as this event unfolded. I could see his face fall and his eyes narrow as the character died. I saw tears form as he watched the loved ones gather around their fallen friend. He turned to me and with tears spilling down his cheeks sobbed, “Daddy, why did he have to die? When is he going to come alive again?” I pulled him to my lap and reminded him of heaven and told him that people who love God go to heaven when they die. I told him how heaven is a place where there is no more death, no more fighting and no more sadness. I told him that it is a place where we can always be with God and where boys and their daddies can be together forever. He tried so hard to understand, but how is a three-year old mind supposed to understand a concept as large and as unnatural as death?
And so we sat on the couch and we wept together. Nicky put his head in my lap and cried about something he could not understand and something he was not created to understand. Daddy stroked his hair and wept for this world–a world which was created for us to live in for all eternity with our Maker, but a world that has been defiled by death. I wept that a three-year old needs to concern himself with death; with things he cannot and should not understand.
I asked Nicky if I could pray with him and wiping the tears from his cheeks he said “yes” and closed his eyes. So I asked God if he would help Nicky understand that death is not something to be feared if we love Him. I asked Him to help Nick learn to love Him more and more. And of course I asked Him to give Nicky peace so that his young mind wouldn’t be troubled by concepts too difficult for him to understand.
I wish I could explain to my son about the death of death accomplished through the death of Christ. I wish I could make him understand that if he places his trust in Jesus he has nothing to fear in life or in death. I hope, I trust, I pray that such an understanding will come in due time, so that when someday Nick’s eyes close in death, he and I will be reunited in that place where death shall be no more, where there will be no more mourning, pain or sorrow and where God will have already wiped away the tears that filled his little eyes.