Over that past 30 years, I have found that what children say when they're dying can often bring peace and comfort to their grieving parents.
Do children know they are leaving their parents and loved ones when they are dying? Do they talk about it? Are they afraid?
I have been asked these questions many times over that past 30 years, and my answer is always the same. From my own experience—but more importantly from the experiences of pediatric nurses and physicians—the answer is yes, they know on some level they are dying; yes, they often talk about it in differing ways; and no, they are not afraid.
As 3-year-old Donny was dying of leukemia, he told his nurse, “Jesus comes to me all the time now and He told me that on one of His visits, He would take me to heaven with Him.” Donny was excited about the prospect of going with Jesus. He died soon after.
When 12-year-old David was dying, his only concern was that his mother not be alone when it happened. He asked his nurse to take him to the hospital as soon as he told her that Jesus was ready for him. On an early morning visit, David said, “Jesus told me in a dream last night that He is ready for me; please take me to the hospital now.” She called for an ambulance immediately. David died two days later, in the hospital, surrounded by all the nurses and doctors who had loved and cared for him. His mother was not alone; David trusted Jesus.
Joni, 5, was dying of leukemia but she knew her mother was not ready to let her go. Joni was known for her beautiful smile, a gift she gave to everyone she met. As Joni declined, her mother realized more each day that it was important to give her permission to go. How any parent comes to that most unselfish place, I do not know. One evening, while she rocked Joni in her arms, her mother told her, “Honey, when you feel Jesus is ready to take you, you can go.” Several minutes passed and Joni remained still. Suddenly, she opened her eyes wide and said, “Mama, He’s here. Jesus has me by the hand; I have to go now.” She smiled that special Joni’s smile and closed her eyes. Her mother shared Joni’s last words at her funeral service.
The night before he died, 5-year-old Joseph asked his nurse if she could see the angels and the beautiful gold lights shinning from them. “The music is so beautiful—can you hear them singing too?” he asked. He told her that his dad was going to the store to buy him a new blue suit to wear when he went to see Jesus. Do you think Joseph was afraid to go to heaven? I surely don’t. He died just a few hours later.
If we believe that God is love and that, when our life is over, we go back to love, why are we afraid? I have often thought that children, who are so fresh from the Father’s arms and have not yet been jaded by the world, know and recognize Him so much better than the rest of us. Yes, children do not want to leave their parents or see their families hurt or sad, but they know something we do not yet understand: God is love and going back to Him is wonderful.