Recently as I have read some children’s stories to my daughter I have noticed how some fairytales have been cleaned up. That is that death, violence and references to evil have been removed from the original stories. A classic example of this is the story of Little Red Riding Hood, most modern versions of the tale remove references to the wolf eating little red riding hoods grandmother, one of the earliest versions of the story has little red riding hood unwittingly eating her grandmothers remains.
The removal of references to death and evil from traditional fairytales illuminates contemporary cultures discomfort with these very real parts of human life. This discomfort is in contrast to increased calls in our culture for sexual education to be given to younger children, the rational for such a move is always justified by the fact that sex is a part of life that children need to be educated about it order to make the right decisions. But is not also death a very real and present part of life? No human is not touched by death, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and even pets all die.
Each one of us must walk through the gates of death at some time, even some children must face death. Thus it seems totally illogical on the part of our culture to brush death under the carpet. Is it any wonder that so many young people in our culture die through drug and alcohol abuse, or dangerous driving, tragedies in which a sense of invincibility seems to play a contributing factor. Maybe a greater understanding of the place of death and our own mortality amongst young people would actually save lives?
In his excellent book Tortured Angels Rodney Clapp quotes from a seventeenth century book for parents in which the author advises parents to take their children aside at the age of eight and to have ‘the talk’ about the facts of life. However the talk is not the facts of life as we know it, rather the parent is advised when giving their child ‘the talk’ to
“Make known to them that they must daily prepare themselves for their death and consider their mortality. After all, they know that they must die, but not when. Speak with them about the fragility of human life; how it is like a flower of the field, a vapour, a shadow; how swiftly life passes.”
Now obviously in the seventeenth century in europe infant mortality was much higher, but it is an interesting piece of advise. One cannot but note that part of our cultures reluctance to discuss death is because secularism has failed to give us an answer or a platform with which to process our own mortality and impending death.
Part of the good news of Christian faith is that death is not the final act in our human drama, yes death can be frightening, it can be painful to be separated from those whom we love, yet the believer also knows that death is simply a portal into eternity. Death does not win in the end.