Talking to your son about death, ghosts, and other gaseous things

A few nights ago, while he was taking his bath, Ben asked me about Death. He looked me in the eye and said, "Are we all going to die?"

I looked around. No gas leaks. No ticking from inside a cupboard. "I think we're pretty safe," I reassured him.

"No!" he said. "I mean does everyone die?"

This was a momentous occasion. This existential moment was being brought to you by a six year old whose primary concerns sucking up bugs with this bug vacuum, playing tag at recess, and making rude armpit noises.

"Eventually," I said.

"Am I going to die?"

"Not for a very long time."

"What happens when I die?"

"I'll probably turn your room into an office."

"Dad!" he growled at me. Six years old and he already doesn't appreciate my sense of humour.

But, I was stalling for time, actually. Here we were, a father son moment in the making, having the big talk about Life, The Universe and Everything Well Not Really Just Dying But I'll Take What I Can Get. This was the type of moment Norman Rockefeller would paint on to a plate.

I did my best to convey how no one knew scientifically speaking, but everyone has their own idea of what happens after death.

"But don't listen to those people who tell you that nothing happens after you die," I warned him. "They're just buzzkillers."

"I don't know what that is," he said slowly.

"Let's hope you never find out, either," I nodded. "There are also those who will tell you that when you die, you come back as a porcupine or bug on a branch."

He frowned. "I don't want to be one of those."

"Don't worry," I assured him. "They probably got it wrong, too. Some people say that, when you die, you got to heaven if you're good, and you go to hell if you're bad."

"What's hell?"

"Think of it as getting a timeout for being bad all your life, except the chair is on fire, and you're on fire, and everyone is on fire."

"I don't want to go to hell," he said. "What's heaven like?"

"Warm, I expect."

"Am I going to be on fire in heaven, too?"

"No, heaven is a fun place. You're happy there."

"Are all my friends there."

"Yes," I nodded my head, then paused, thinking of a couple of his lowbrowed friends. "Probably."

"I don't get it," he said.

"Well, they probably don't got it completely right either."

"I thought that when you die," Ben said, "you wake up as someone else."

"Lots of people believe that. They think that your soul-"

"I don't know what that is."

"Think of it as a green gassy thing inside you and when you die, the green gassy thing lives on and -"

"Like a ghost?" he asked.

"Lots of people believe you can turn into a ghost when you die."

He was silent, thinking. I could see his brain working. I could see him trying to condense his wonder into a single question. He looked at me.



"Do ghosts fart?"

"That's another one of those things people don't know for certain."

He stood up, ready to get out of the bath.

"I think they fart," he said. "I hope I can be a ghost when I die."


  1. I think we all go to heaven. I also think that heaven is like a cloud, except you can talk to everyone else and do stuff you could do on land.

  2. Ghosts can't fart. I asked one that specific question one time. Imps and doppelgangers can. Nobody can tell with zombies because they don't smell very good at the best of times.