“As far as what your child can handle, you know your child
the best. Even with all that is happening, you are the mother.
Stay confident in your knowledge of your child.”
I have been advised to be very concrete in explaining to my children what is happening to me and our family. How can I also talk about our faith, and more abstract ideas?
As Catholics we believe that we are created to be with God, and to be in relationship with God. You can talk to your children about your own conversation with God – that you have always been in conversation with God, and you have listened for God, and now, you are asking God for strength and courage, and your child can do that, too.
I would rather talk about my relationship with God than how my body is doing. What is appropriate?
It is really important to talk about both, and be honest with your child. You can explain your illness, and that God does not want us to suffer, and Jesus came into the world to give significance to our suffering, to prepare us for everlasting life.
How do I answer questions about why this is happening?
These are big questions of theodicy – why there is evil in the world, suffering, death. Theologians have grappled with these questions for thousands of years, and we don’t have answers. We do know that God does not put evil in the world. You can remind children that even when we are sick or suffering or sad, God has not abandoned us.
What should I tell my children about what to expect after I die, about eternal life? What is a good way to talk about Heaven?
The scripture tells us that we are made for everlasting life, that that Jesus said he was preparing a place for us of joy, happiness, total fulfillment, and peace. You can explain that, of course, we don’t know that place, literally – Heaven is the one place no one has come back from to tell us about. A child’s concept of place is very concrete, and one image we do have from both the Old and New Testament is that it is like a banquet, a feast. And we do know that place is outside of time, and takes us away from suffering and sadness.
How do I answer questions about if I will be able to “see” my child from Heaven?
It’s okay to say you don’t know, you have never been there, but you do know there will be a connection, and that is your hearts. You may want to say that how you are together with your child is in your heart.
What matters most to a young child who can’t fully understand either religious concepts, or the medical terminology?
What matters most is that in the midst of all of this, family and friends support and surround you, and that they know Jesus is walking with you, all of you. You may not feel it, but you can know it. As far as what your child can handle, you know your child the best. Even with all that is happening, you are the mother. Stay confident in your knowledge of your child.
Monsignor Thomas P. Nydegger, Ed.D. is the Associate Vice President for Student Services at Seton Hall University, where he is a professor of the core curriculum and on faculty in the Pastoral Ministry Department at the School of Theology.