My Toddler Taught Me About Death

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Betty Clark Ruff

I had always heard that one could learn many things from children, but not until we had a very precious experience with one of our own did I realize how true this could be.

This occasion took place when our first child, Alan, was just past two.  Alan had learned to talk very early, so by this time he spoke very clearly and could express himself with a sizeable vocabulary for his age.

Alan's great-aunt, Lida, had just passed away;  and I had been worrying about how I was going to tell him about "death." We had taken him to see her once or twice a week, so there had to be some explanation for the termination of our visits.

Mustering all my courage, for I was new at that sort of thing then, I sat Alan on the kitchen stool and drew up a chair. "Alan, Honey," I said, "Aunt Lida has gone back to Heavenly Father."   But, before I could say anything more, he asked, "Who took her?" I stumbled around for an answer, and then I said, "It must have been someone she knew."

Immediately his little face lit up as if he recognized a familiar situation. He said with a happy smile, "Oh, I know what it's like!  Grandpa Clark brought me when I came to you.  He'll probably take me back when I die."

Alan then proceeded to describe his Grandfather Clark, my father, who had been dead nearly 12 years. He had never even seen a picture of him.  He told me how much he loved his grandfather and how good he had been to him. He indicated that my father had helped to teach him and prepare him to come here. He also spoke of Heavenly Father as a definite memory.

Needless to say, this little conversation with Alan that I had been dreading turned out to be one of the sweetest experiences of my life. It left me limp with humility and joy.  I no longer felt sorry that my father could not see my children.  As each little soul has come along, I have felt that my father probably was better acquainted with the newcomer than was I. This has been a great comfort to me.

Immediately after this occasion, Alan's father talked to him; and Alan repeated the same answers to him.  He later told the experience to his Grandmother Clark.  For several months he talked about these things as a happy, natural memory of real experiences.  Then, suddenly, the memory was erased and he did not know what we were talking about when we discussed it.

But, he had taught us some great truths, for which we are most thankful; and had verified the inspiration in Wordsworth's lines: 
 

. . . Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, 
Hath had elsewhere its setting, 
And cometh from afar: 
Not in entire forgetfulness, 
And not in utter nakedness, 
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
From God, who is our home: 
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! . . .

(Instructor, February 1963. P. 61)