One of the most often avoided discussions in our times is death. There is probably more discussion on the topic of death and the afterlife in some circles, but death and coping with death seems to be avoided by and large. Many struggle with death when losing someone, and finding closure is a common theme. And indeed, another common theme is the difficulty in discussing death with children.
In What We Don't Discuss: Helping Children Understand Death by Laura Sanders, she writes "1. Death is universal... 2. Death is inevitable... 3. Death is irreversible... 4. Death occurs for definite, concrete reasons... 5. Death is not defeat or the enemy." In addition, according to the same source:
"Children are not born to fear death. Fear of death may be something that is instilled in them from a very young age. We naturally fear the unknown, and death has a lot of unknown aspects. I believe it is important that children not see death as failure, defeat, punishment, or losing a battle. Death can occur at any time, but is a part of life, not the result of failure, or evil. It is a natural occurrence."
I would add, a discussion on death that is conditioned to overcome the fear of death is essential. Living life in fear of something that is inevitable and in which we have limited control is neither productive nor healthy.
It is perhaps one of the saddest things you will ever see when a child loses someone he or she loves. Yet a discussion on death early on in a child's life may help one better cope with loss. Love and support mean open discussions on topics that are very difficult.
Children, nevertheless, will ask adults about death and what happens to us when we die. The various religious faiths will necessarily guide the discourse for many here. Those without religion or spiritual faith will approach the topic as well using opposing view points. However, when it comes to kids the discussion will often surround easing fears about death and giving hope or understanding no matter what one believes. It would be wrong to approach the topic otherwise. The problem lies in the lack of any meaningful discussion at all.
So then there comes the ultimate wonderment for children, and likewise for adults. And that is the afterlife: heaven and hell. Again, the religious and anti-religious and those in between will have their own notions and ways of teaching children regarding either route following death. This is where there is the most friction and/or difficulties for some. The enigma of the afterlife is a pervasive element of the human saga. Damnation or ascendance, eternal misery or paradise, non-existence, are mysteries that theologians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, etc. have tackled time and again. But no one has any concrete evidence of any of these possibilities after death. It has universally become a matter of faith.
One of the subjects that interested me when creating Netherworld Dreams: Little Dante's Journey to the Underworld has been the topic at hand being addressed in this blog post. Children's or youth literature is an outlet for various objectives. Themes and lessons are salient parts of the majority of children's and youth and/or young adult's genres of writing. Death and hell are woven into the poetic tale of my contribution to the above - children may very well have questions. One might be, why would there need to be a hell? Whatever the case may be, it would be my sincerest hope that if reading my work and the discussion of death and the afterlife comes up there is a meaningful discussion. Whereas, said discussion ought to help a child or young person to better understand death as well as to overcome fears. Moreover, fear of going to hell is not necessarily reconciled here given that Netherworld Dreams is set in such a place. The goals here are to come to terms with the subject, grow and nurture in understanding of the subject, and yet to imbue on the reader what is a lesson in ontological concerns.