Does Pop-Pop Live in the Rainbows, Daddy?

Eli PondersThe last thing a father thinks about when he looks into his young son’s eyes is death. A toddler teems with life, curiosity and joy, and the realities of aging seem impossible to fathom.

Death lurks all around fathers all the same, from the content we watch with the kids (“Bambi,” anyone?) to the personal losses we suffer along the way. My wife lost her beloved brother in 2011, and two Christmas ago I said goodbye to my Dad. I’m still learning to process the loss of my father, clinging to the warm memories while trying to let his final, frail state fade from my mind.

My oldest son Elijah can’t help but ask questions about his late uncle and grandfather, who we called Pop-Pop. My wife stepped forward on the issue, telling my son they now live “in the rainbows.” Elijah isn’t satisfied with that answer, and whenever the subject comes up he always has more new questions: “Can you sleep in the rainbows? Talk there? Where is it?”

We tell him we don’t know, or we think so, or we’ll all find out in a long, long time. It feels right to keep the subject vague, to let his imagination fill in the blanks in a way that works best for his evolving mind.

There’s also the matter of religion, but while my son enjoys some faith-based books at bed time it doesn’t seem appropriate to explore spirituality with a boy who just turned four.

I’ve always had a Woody Allen-style obsession with death, but it’s gotten much worse since Elijah started asking questions about it. When he brings the subject up I quietly panic and try to distract him. He can be as stubborn as we are, though, and rarely lets us divert the discussion until he’s good and ready to say something else.

We should have researched the subject of death before embracing the rainbow connection. It just … happened, and for now it feels like the proper way to treat the subject.

What about my fellow fathers? How have you addressed the issue of death with your children?


  1. Beth Trapani says

    We had to deal with this from very early on when we lost our dog when our son was 28 months — but a very verbal 28 months – with lots of questions about where she went. We introduced the concept of heaven, which really can be secular if you want it to be. Basically it’s a nice way of saying there’s a kind of ‘magic’ place people go when they’re no longer on this Earth. It’s been hugely helpful because there’s been several instances where death has been an issue/question for him. And, if he’s like our kids, he’ll start asking soon when he will die, etc…. That helped us figure out a way to make it less scary. Tons online from psycholgists about this if you want to research ‘best’ ways to discuss it from those with experience!

  2. Ronco says

    How parents view death and eternal life is the key. Before our youngest passed away in ’10, I knew she had been given a strong impression of what God has in store for each of us beyond this life. I can’t say she asked an inordinate amount of questions about it, but we all had a comforting view of things, and she was also given the impression that even pets and animals could be represented in the afterlife. That doesn’t mean that the subject – or the reality – of passing on won’t give one pause or moments of grief and fear, but it helps. What helps the dad will help the child.

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