Joey (7): a case study

Joey was 7 when his big brother Alex was killed in a house fire. This sudden and traumatic death left Joey with a lot of questions: Did Alex suffer? Did he know what was happening? What caused the fire? - and the most pressing of all - Do you think he is in heaven? Joey wondered: How could Alex get there by himself? Was God waiting? Suppose he needed medical help?

I think Alex is in heaven. What do you think heaven is like?

What do you think about heaven? I bet we each have our own idea. Lets both draw a picture about it and share our ideas. We can draw the people and things and animals that are there and what they are doing.

OK. I think heaven is a place where everyone has a friend. Theres a golden palace that only special people live in. Alex loved coffee so much. Do you think they have coffee shops in heaven?

They might. Nobody really knows exactly what heaven is like. Its really nice to imagine a person we love and care about is safe in a nice place like heaven. We can think of them having fun and doing all of the things they love.

My brother loved pizza and playing soccer. Do you think he is scoring goals in heaven?

He could be. I can imagine him running around the pitch and when he scores the winning goal, the angels hand him a big pizza. Can you remember a time you ever ate pizza and played soccer with Alex? Tell me about it.

Alex coached my soccer team and we always got pizza after the game. I think Ill wear his soccer shirt the next time I come. Is that OK?

Thats perfect. I would love to see it. We can remember Alex together. Maybe he is wearing his soccer shirt in heaven.

I worry about my brother a lot. I have nightmares and cant sleep. I keep seeing his house on fire. If he was very injured and died, how did he get to heaven?

Joey, I know you have had a hard time sleeping and you wake up with nightmares. You see the house burning over and over in your mind. Children will often have bad dreams after someone they love is killed in a scary way. All of this is normal. Maybe you can tell me how you would like your dream to end. Can you think of a plan for Alex to get to heaven?

I think a huge fire truck with God as the chief lifted Alex into the clouds and took him to the Alex Rescue Medical Center in heaven. Doctors and nurses gave him bandages, medicine, and his favorite licorice and potato chips. Do you think God is taking care of Alex?

It sounds like you think heaven is a pretty special place. You loved your brother so much and said he was such a good person - it seems to me God would take wonderful care of him.

I think God is hugging Alex in heaven. He is happy and laughing and has all the medicine he will ever need to feel good.

I bet that it can help you feel good to picture God and Alex hugging. You can feel he is being taken care of. Its nice to imagine Alex having the medicine he needs and being healthy. In that way, you wont need to worry about him suffering anymore.

Sometimes I think Alex could get lonely in heaven. I hope he has company. Do you think our dog Maxwell is with him? Thats our dog that died.

I dont know. I hope so. Some people believe when you go to heaven all of the people and animals you love are there to greet you. Everyone looks and feels great and has fun with each other. Others believe heaven is filled with angels. Still others think heaven is a happy place in your mind. The great thing about thinking about heaven is that there is no right or wrong way. Heaven can be whatever you imagine. What do you imagine?

Concluding thought

It is common to express hope in seeing a loved one again and finding a place of connection, whether it is the cemetery or Dads office. Many children also locate their person in a place called heaven. It can be reassuring to envision Mom or Dad surrounded by angels, or friends and relatives doing something fun. They may be eating their favorite pizza, dancing to disco, or catching a giant fish. Sometimes it is helpful for children to draw a picture or tell a story about heaven. It helps children feel comforted and safe if they can hold a positive image of where their person is that died.

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