"What happens when we die?"
Maybe it is asked while we were looking at old photographs, or had a conversation with an elderly person, or saw a dead bug on the sidewalk. My children are full of those questions which are the essence of life. They ask these questions, the questions we all ask, and I – without intimate knowledge of previous or future lives (at least that which I can remember) – answer to the best of my ability: I’m not sure.
Yet, my job as a parent is to know things, to educate my children, to share my understanding and experiences of the world, and to guide them on their path of understanding. Even if --- I’m not actually sure about what I know. Uncertain as I may be, I feel the need to delve a bit deeper. (Because, around here, unless everyone is REALLY tired, “I’m not sure” as an answer, just doesn’t cut it.).
So from the depths of my 35 years of quasi-understanding come some frazzled bits of semi-certainties, which start my conversation: When we die, our bodies stop working. (Why?) They stop working because they are very old, and when things get very old, they start breaking down, and eventually don’t work any longer (I usually reference some bit of concrete “evidence” of the toll of age – like a rusty bike wheel that doesn’t spin well or won’t hold air any longer).
Okay, so far so good. And to this, I think most people, regardless of belief system, can agree – people, and animals, and plants, die when they are old. So, I could leave well enough alone, and let the concrete “certainties” suffice.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Because… death. See, I’m just not so sure that death IS so concrete. Our body yes; bodies die. Yet, to me, there’s more than just a body in life. And as such, as we are here now, in life, in the living, I feel there’s more of an explanation needed of what happens when we die that my children should hear from me. Because I believe there’s some explanation of life; implicit in a full definition of death. If you can’t explain life how can you explain death?
I believe there’s something MORE to life than just humans mindlessly (or even mindfully) wandering the earth, aging out of their bodies, and keeling over once spent. I think (therefore I am) that there is more.
So I endeavor to explain this --- more. I tell my children that we are not just body, but bodies filled with energy – a life force. This energy is something that ties us all together as humans, animals, creatures on this planet. This energy is something we have some control over which allows us to affect others by being positive, negative, joyful, or sorrowful. This energy is why when you are feeling sad or hurt; sometimes just a hug from a friend is all you need to reconnect; and accordingly why it’s important, when you see someone feeling down, that you offer them YOUR energy through a kind word, a “gentle touch” as we like to say, or just being there to listen. And this energy is why a walk in nature is all it takes to re-charge when we’re feeling depleted – the life force of the mighty trees, the connection of your feet to the immensity of the earth, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the air in your lungs – this is why it is so important to care for the earth – because she cares for us. This energy and strength within us is so important to our own everyday lives and the lives around us – animal and plant alike – and it’s the something MORE that transcends our existence in this body.
So, what happens when you die? Maybe the energy in your body, the amazingness of YOU, goes back into the earth, the air, the trees, and gives more life to the people around you. Maybe it becomes another life. Maybe, just as in life, you continue to enhance other lives after death (like the way bugs and leaves decompose and fertilize the earth for the next generation of bugs and plants).
Or. Maybe there’s nothing after death – I’m sure that too is entirely possible. But I’m not quite ready to believe the necessity or benefit in accepting that possibility. So, at this point, I don’t share that with my children. Their positivity is so inspiring, I see no call to dampen it with cold uncertainties. None of us are certain of why we are really here, nor what happens after death; so why not believe that life can be wondrous – the now and the hereafter? The belief that there is reason to be here – that I am connected to everything around me helps give me purpose. The promise of continuing life beyond the limits of our frail bodies is motivation to me to continue living, sharing, and giving the energy that I have, in hopes that it will continue to foster those who live beyond my body. Maybe it’s not a concrete energy or force – but maybe if my children simply internalize my belief in the power we have to affect everyone and everything around us – and pass that on to their children – that is enough hope for life after death. I can’t be sure. But simply answering, “I’m not sure” leaves too much to be desired. So I give them more.