The question is not whether we will die but how we have lived. — Joan Borysenko, psychologist

Big Question: What happens when we die?

In one sense, all of us may one day know the answer, for death is surely our fate. Yet none of us can know it in life. Nor can we know whether, after death, we will have any kind of consciousness. Nevertheless, the inherent impenetrability of today's Big Question has not stopped humanity from asking it.

In this session, youth learn some beliefs about death, hear ideas from our faith, and explore their own beliefs. Be sensitive to the experiences of youth. Most sixth-graders have encountered death in some form. Some have grieved the death of a relative, a friend or a pet. If anyone in the group is struggling with a loved one's life-threatening illness or recent death, offer space for them to open up and speak in the group or to you alone; also convey your warm permission for them to maintain silence. Honor any beliefs participants express about death. The listening and support you offer might well be more important in a time of crisis than any possible intellectual processing of death's meaning.

This session may be beneficial to lead for youth and parents/caregivers together. Except for the WCUU activity, the core activities lend themselves to intergenerational participation; you may wish to videotape the WCUU broadcast first, then invite parents/caregivers to watch and discuss the broadcast. Alternate Activities 5, Death and Your Congregation, and 6, Another WIT Time — About Death, are suitable for youth and their parents/caregivers to do together.

If you do gather adults and youth together, make sure all youth have an adult family member who can join the session.

Goals

This session will:

  • Pose the Big Question "What happens when we die?" and explore Unitarian Universalist responses to it
  • Acquaint youth with a variety of religious ideas about death
  • Present the reflections of a Unitarian Universalist minister contemplating his own imminent death
  • Introduce ways your Unitarian Universalist congregation recognizes deaths in your community
  • Support youth in their current understanding of death.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Compare and contrast death beliefs of various religions
  • Learn the perspective of a contemporary Unitarian Universalist theologian
  • Consider the concept that we live on, after death, through our actions in life and in the love and memories of others
  • Reflect on their own ideas about death
  • Plan and/or experience a ritual to recognize the deaths of individuals in their congregation, family or community.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.