I'm at a loss for words on this subject, all I can express is grief. It has been easier to explain the death of our kitten to a hit-and-run; the death of the great-grandparents to old age; the freak accident of a family friend. It is complicated but possible to confront disease in the elderly. But when we visited the children's hospital recently when our infant was hospitalized (RSV), we were assaulted by the reality that not all children simply ...grow up. Many children suffer for a very long time, and still die. There is nothing fair about it. But as parents we're told not to talk to children like they are our friends...and all that comes naturally is tears and a lot of "I can't explain why things are the way they are, or what happens after these children die. I wish I could."
I wish I could. I was wondering what other people, atheists like myself, do.
Well, this IS a hard one. Most of us do our best to turn to some kind, any kind, of spirituality to try to make sense of our children's death. The best I could do when my daughter died at almost 21 in a senseles car accident (the driver, a friend, drifted off the road on a sunny day with little traffic while trying to change the CD, then jerked the wheel trying to get back on the road, hit a curb, and the car flipped 4 times and Peyton was killed while the driver survived) was to honor Peyton as an "old soul" who had lived so profoundly and deeply in her short time on the planet, and positively affected so many people, that she was simply done with her mission on earth and ready to move on. Believing that did bring me some comfort, and I still do believe it.
Yet, as an atheist, I'm imagining that you cannot find comfort in such beliefs. So what to tell your children? Here's my best attempt: Life is safe most of the time. Most of the time, bad things do not happen. Most people, especially in the United States, live out their life spans. Yet sometimes bad and sad things happen, and people die and babies die. Only sometimes, very few in comparison. The so sad fact that this baby died does not mean that you will die. Most probably you will live long and full lives. The odds are in your favor! Living in fear does not work--it just makes you scared all the time and can really mess up your life. So, as your Mother, I urge you to live in trust that you will live a long and full life, as will most of the people you know. Living in trust will allow you to be happy--just go for that!
Very best wishes to you and your family,
We're all energy. When we die, the energy merely returns back to the universe from whence it came. After you die is like before you were born, with a period of consciousness in between called "life." Life isn't fair.
I'm sure that could be sugar-coated a bit for a more sensitive child. I have always tended to talk to my children as though they were my friends, because they are my friends.
I found this on a UU pamphlet on helping kids deal with grief:
"Even though someone's body dies, the love we feel never has to die. Our love remembers them forever."
It could help to tell your kids that the babies and young children in the hospital who died were in pain, and now they are not in pain. Their parents remember them and love them with all their hearts, and that their short stay in life meant very much to the people that knew and loved them.
Signatures are sooo mainstream.