QuestionHow do you explain what happens when you die to a small child? This came up at a discussion group I recently attended. We agreed that it's easy if you happen to be religious, but if not it becomes more complicated.
      – Melchior, 2009-12-05 at 11:21:40   (9 comments)

On 2009-12-07 at 22:49:28, Lee J Haywood wrote...
What's so complicated? Once you're dead, your cells stop being nourished (stop getting energy and oxygen) so they die as well. Bacteria and fungi speed up the process by consuming your corpse, and at some point some superstitious people put it in the ground and say irrelevant things. (Okay, so that last bit might be slightly sarcastic). Of course, once you've passed the point of brain death there is no 'you' any more - you've already ceased to exist, so nothing happens to 'you' once you've died. Surely the religious explanation is the complicated one, since it assumes that something extra does happen other than the simple act of death itself?
On 2009-12-08 at 04:43:32, BorgClown wrote...
Maybe the difficulty is making the child understand that death is the end, the cessation of existence, the nothingness. Even adults struggle to accept their own impermanence, it's no wonder they want to shield children with fantasies.
On 2009-12-08 at 18:11:46, Lee J Haywood wrote...
I'm not sure I've ever struggled with it. It's a fact, so you should accept it - anything else is simply a delusion.
On 2009-12-08 at 21:27:11, BorgClown wrote...
I did wonder frequently when I was younger, probably because of my religious upbringing.
On 2009-12-09 at 18:07:21, Melchior wrote...
Perhaps I should elaborate. The original (real) situation brought up was a small child who had been pretty ill all her life. Her condition became particularly serious, and while she was in hospital she asked one of the staff if she was going to die. His personal belief was that you just die and that's it, but he was reluctant to say "yep, you're just worm food" to a dying child. So what do you say without being callous or reverting to religion?
On 2009-12-09 at 19:12:06, Lee J Haywood wrote...
@Melchior: It depends on whether you think it's okay to be more dishonest with a dying child than with a healthy adult, for instance. I think the focus should be on the way in which the child is going to die, addressing what they will feel, rather than what happens next. I'm not sure how you'd handle telling a child that they will suffer as they die, but being dishonest about that is clearly equally disingenuous. I disagree entirely with the idea that you should lie by telling a story about an afterlife of any kind. It's a common mistake to think that you cannot be honest and tactful at the same time - there's a big difference between your distasteful "worm food" remark and simply explaining how the child will live on in the memories of others.
On 2009-12-09 at 19:19:30, Melchior wrote...
@Lee J Haywood: Of course, I would never suggest actually using the worm food method, I was merely illustrating the point. I guess you could say it's like going to sleep?
On 2009-12-09 at 19:24:01, Lee J Haywood wrote...
@Melchior: You could say that for a painless death. Perhaps a slow, agonising death can be avoided with a large dose of drugs. Certainly there's a precedent in fairly tales of princesses going to sleep and failing to wake up.
On 2009-12-09 at 21:00:46, BorgClown wrote...
Melchior: You'll be like the sleeping beauty... Child: Save the fairy tale bullshit mister