I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seed every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to the future life. It is the tree's way of being. Strongly rooted perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind. — May Sarton, American poet and novelist, in Recovering: A Journal
The children learn that religions and cultures honor a death in different ways which are shaped by different beliefs about death and what comes after it. They learn that a Unitarian Universalist memorial ritual is created by family, friends, and a minister to show our reverence for life; our intention to remember our loved one so that something of them will live on; and our feelings about the loss of the loved one's physical presence.
Unitarian Universalism holds that how we live our lives is a more important question than what happens to us once we die. This session encourages children's questions about an afterlife, while teaching that our faith does not give us a specific answer. If children express beliefs about a heaven, simply say that people have different beliefs about an afterlife and we do not need to agree on this. We do agree that it matters how you live your life. We agree that the people who knew and loved you and whose lives you touched will remember you long after you die.
Be prepared for a participant who has recently experienced the death of a loved one. Ask your religious educator and the children's parents or caregivers about any particular issues or reactions you should anticipate. You might have a minister or chaplain join the group for this session.
The session tells the Christian story of Jesus' death and resurrection from the perspective of the seminal Unitarian Universalist religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs. The story affirms that when someone important to us dies, their spirit lives on, inside and among us. Be ready to clarify, as needed, that Unitarian Universalism draws on Christian teachings for wisdom, but does not espouse a literal resurrection of Jesus.
In Activity 4, Remembering Our Loved Ones, participants share pictures of loved ones who have died. A week before the session, ask parents to talk with their children about their remembrances of a loved one who has died and to give children a photo to share. Some children may want to remember a pet that has died; that is fine. As an alternative, parents can give their child a picture of a well known person whose memory is important to the family.
This session will:
- Teach that revering life is a way to be UU every day
- Demonstrate or explain several ways UUs demonstrate their faith when a loved one dies
- Identify rituals concerning death from a variety of religions and cultures
- Create an opportunity for participants to talk about their experiences with death in general and memorial rituals in particular.
- Create a memorial ritual
- Understand that death is a part of life
- Understand that while Unitarian Universalist memorial rituals vary, all share the goals of helping us (1) acknowledge our loss and (2) celebrate the loved one's life—indeed, all life—as sacred
- Discover rituals and signs their UU congregation uses when someone dies
- Explore the concept of a person living on after their physical death in other people's remembered experiences of them, through a story of Jesus.