A Four-year-old’s View of Death

During last summer I wrote about Olivia (Philip’s little sister) and her diagnosis of brain cancer. Since that time she has undergone more surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy to battle the growth. It’s been a hard 6 months, but in spite of the difficult road, there was a good deal of hope. This past week, the family found out that the very aggressive cancer had spread through her brain and her spine, and that there really is nothing they can do. While Olivia, and her whole family (4 siblings, her parents, and Hannah, her sister-in-law) are believers, there is great sadness and sorrow as everyone deals with the knowledge that she will no longer be a part of their lives. Yet, there is hope of the resurrection.

Éva is seeing lots of family these days. And lots of tears. But not a lot of Olivia, her aunt who loves to share ballet with her. She’s been praying for Jesus to make Olivia better. What can a four-year-old grasp out of this situation? A lot more than you might think.

In the middle of dinner last night she looked up at everyone and said (rather matter-of-factly), “Olivia’s going to die. We’re all going to die. Olivia is going to go to heaven. Jesus will take her to heaven. I’m going to heaven.”

A bunch of stunned adults looked at her. She’s right. Olivia is going to die. And she’s also right that we are all going to die. That actually should come as no surprise, but we rarely live like we are going to die. Somehow we often think we are insulated from death. For Éva and for Olivia (and for all believers) the true sting of death has been removed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Éva’s got her theology in place.

What she doesn’t have yet, is the experience of how sad it is for those who remain when a loved one is released from this fallen and cursed world to be welcomed by their Savior. There is great sadness. We can imagine for her all the things that she will never experience with Olivia. We can imagine all the memories that will not be made. That is where the sorrow lies.


But perhaps Éva is actually more wise than her four years might seem to hold. She is focusing on the inevitable death of the body, but also the definite hope of the resurrection. She doesn’t use the word “resurrection” but her words about heaven are much more real than some adults would express. She is (in a way) untainted by the experience of sorrow so that she can see clearly the hope in this situation.

I know she will eventually be sad as the reality of the days and years ahead unfold. But for now, I’m comforted and challenged as I sit at her feet and hear her talk about death and Jesus and heaven. Right now, she takes the cake over any theology class.

Please do pray for the Walden family as they walk through this time with Olivia. And pray that the medical team is able to relieve Olivia’s pain.

6 thoughts on “A Four-year-old’s View of Death

  1. Geof F. Morris

    Y’all have had my prayers, especially as Hannah updated us this week.

    You know that I’ve been down a similar path lately; although I had no foreknowledge of my sister-in-law’s impending death [other than, oh, the feeling for about two hours before she died that she would], I’ve experienced the anger and sadness of a life taken from us at what seems too young an age.

    What Éva’s got over all of us adults is the joy of that childlike faith that we all aspire to have. Seeing things simply and clearly is a gift [one that I am rarely blessed with having, and one I ill-received].

    Oh, how we will all rejoice together in the final victory. With all the time of heaven, I look forward to the day you can introduce us to Olivia and the rest of your family, Karyn. As the pain of loss comes in waves to your door, let you remember Éva’s prescient words. 🙂

    [Amusingly, what comes up when I hit play on iTunes’s Party Shuffle? “Like a Child” from Jars of Clay’s eponymous album. :)]

  2. Pingback: Sacred Journey » Blog Archive » Death Knocks for an 18-Year Old, and a 4-Year Old Answers

  3. Melissa

    What a beautiful post! To have such an innocent view of Jesus’ love for us! Oh, how sad we are to know that Olivia is suffering in pain. We will definitely keep her and all of her family in our prayers. Not only for the present time, but days and months to follow. Thank you for sharing with us your pain and sorrow. In Him who loves us and cares for us, Melissa

  4. Diana

    We are praying for Olivia and the Walden family. Please know that your Westminster and Pizza Night friends here stand ready to help you in any way.

  5. Phyllis

    I found you by searching to see if I could find out anything more, after we got a NTM prayer request that mentioned Olivia. She and her family probably don’t remember us, but we remember her as a cute little girl running around NTBI Jackson. We’ll be praying for them!

  6. Sandy Chick

    My 2 daughters, ages 6&7, were assigned to Olivia’s cabin at Living Waters Bible Camp in Danforth Maine last summer (2006). They only got to be with her for a day before she went into the infirmary and on to the hospital. In that short time, Olivia welcomed them and made them feel included and loved. They missed her very much that week and sent “cards” to her through the camp nurse before they left that week. I know they will be SOOOO very sad to learn that Olivia has left this earth, but please know that they will pray for you guys. We do rejoice that Olivia was a Believer and that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. May God’s strong and loving arms be around each and every one of you and give you peace and comfort through your loss. Sincerely, Sandy Chick, East Rochester, NH.

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