“Ask a Priest: How Can I Explain Heaven to a 4-Year-Old?”

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Q: My brother recently died. At the funeral my 4-year-old grandson asked, “How did Uncle David die? Where is he now?” This is a child who hasn’t been to church. I answered that my brother had been sick and went to sleep and didn’t wake up. I also said he was in heaven and was asked, “Where’s that?” I said, “Everywhere” but I think I’ve just confused this little boy. Help! Are there answers to those questions for a 4-year-old? – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Please accept my condolences on the death of your brother.

This might be a good teaching moment for your grandson. You mention that he hasn’t been to church. It is not good if he isn’t learning about Jesus from an early age.

Perhaps you might look for an opportunity to speak to your grandson again and explain that we are body and soul, and that when our body dies, our soul lives on. We hope that the soul goes to be with Jesus in heaven.

Heaven is where we see God. It is a realm of perfect happiness. But it is not a place in the same way we think of places in this world.

You could explain that heaven is a venue of perfect happiness, since it is there that we are united with God. People who live good lives have the hope of reaching heaven. (Read more at Peter Kreeft’s webpage on heaven.)

We can also pray for those who have died. They might be in purgatory and thus in need of our prayers and sacrifices.

By praying for the dead we continue to show our love for them, and we can help them. They can pray for us, too.

Perhaps you might want to get a copy of the YouCat for Kids, and read it along with your grandson. This might be a golden moment to teach him about the faith. And maybe his parents, too.

And let him know that the Catholic faith gives him reason to hope that he can be reunited with Uncle David someday.

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