Thursday, May 15th, 2014
Whatever you want to know about death and dying, journalist Patricia Pearson explores the answers in her new book, Opening of Heaven’s Door. Ever heard of living relatives seeing visions of their deceased loved ones or receiving messages from them? Pearson believes these stories–and she’ll tell you why. She visits hospital nurses, dying soldiers and so many more people, including her own relatives, to bring you solid information on this vastly interesting and under-reported topic.
How do you explain death to your small children? And anyway, why do people die at all? Should your kids visit a dying loved one? Keep reading my Q&A with Pearson below to get some insight. And then go out and buy her new book!
KK: What is death, do you think?
PP: I think death marks a return of consciousness to a place we have been before, and that we recognize as a truer home. I hear this over and over from people I interview who have had Near Death Experiences. As one of them put it, “I felt like I had been lost for centuries and had found my way home.” How do you explain such a powerful feeling during a NDE unless it’s grounded in a deeper reality?
KK: How should I answer this question for my little kid?
PP: Children become aware of death at about the age of 5. Often, what they fear about it is the prospect of separation from their parents. I have some atheist friends who made a point of telling their kids that heaven doesn’t exist, and that death is a natural end. I wouldn’t do that. I think it was crucial for my daughter to be able to envision a place of reunion, because that’s really the issue for them. Being reunited with the people they love.
KK: Why do people die?
PP: One of the things that comes up a lot when you interview people who’ve had NDEs is that they were told to return to their bodies because it “wasn’t their time.” That suggests to me that we are all here to fulfill a purpose of some kind. From that perspective, death isn’t a tragedy for the person who dies: It’s a completion of their purpose. Time to go home. Children sometimes ask why God would cause pain for their family. “Why did so-and-so have to die?” But if you can explain to them that this led the person toward joy, they can feel a little better about it. In 2008, my daughter lost her beloved hamster, our dog, my sister (her aunt) and my father in a handful of months. She was reeling. Being able to believe that they weren’t suffering, and that she would one day see them again, helped her in really critical ways.
KK: What happens after death?
PP: People across cultures and belief systems report a similar experience when they have an NDE. They merge into what some call ‘an ocean’ of light. But it isn’t just a visual light. It is also experienced as a profound, comforting love, and as a kind of wisdom. It is a sentient light. Some people report having a life review. But what is interesting is that they don’t feel judged. Instead, they emotionally experience the impact they had on other people. It’s like they shift positions, and feel what others in their life had felt. So I guess that reinforces the wisdom of telling our children: Do unto others what you would have done unto you.
KK: What is heaven?
PP: Personally, I think it is that experience of merging into a sea of Light, of being reconnected to the divine. I don’t think it’s a place where you go and play golf, or that only Christians can enter, or that is reserved exclusively for well-behaved people! Over the centuries, children have been made just as anxious about Hell as they have been more recently about Godlessness. But people I’ve interviewed who’ve had NDEs speak of encountering unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness. If you read interviews with children who’ve had NDEs, they’ll describe feeling safe, protected. I think we need to tear down the barriers between religions and see that we are all children of the same God.
KK: Should young children be invited to visit a dying relative?
PP: This was a big question for me, when my sister lay dying. Would it be better, or worse, for my kids to see her, since her condition deteriorated so quickly. I didn’t want to distress them, but in fact, in the end, she was so calm and radiant that they were less frightened of the process of dying than they might have been if I’d sheltered them. They were able to say goodbye in their own way.