Here is another (short) installment in exploring the theology of disability and the spiritual growth/development of my autistic son, Nathan (age 11) who has recently claimed that he doesn’t not believe in God (see previous posts).
Part of the spiritual formation process involves engagement with mortality; and so it does for Nathan too. The two fish Nathan caught at the lake recently died in captivity yesterday. He found this very sad. His approach to their passing was very simplistic. They stopped moving, so they are dead. As expected, he wasn’t able to delve into abstract thoughts on this, or death and life, but yet he still understood something profound had happened (see video). Something sort of normal, yet broken about the world seemed real to him. This world is a place were we can be separated from things we care about, in this case, creatures/pets.
On his own, Nathan expressed that he wanted to bury them. This seemed proper to him. The “burial at sea” choice, a.k.a. flushing his two fish friends, seemed unseemly, when I mentioned that some people bury their fish this way.
He took the jar to the garden and added the remains there himself. It was his own idea. Today he said, “[It would] provide nutrients [to the garden]“. He got a bit of a chance to learn that everything dies. I refrained from singing Elton John’s The Circle of Life song from the Lion King. But, it was a “circle of life moment” for sure. Sort of strange and sad and bewildering, yet part of regular life.
A little bit after he buried them, I told him that in heaven we can be with people who have died; people that we miss, and we won’t be separated from them forever. That’s our hope and it can help us to not be as sad. He didn’t seem to be interested, and I didn’t go into it any further. This event may soon open doors for fuller dialogue about life/existence, and the ways of life and death. And I hope redemption!
His sentiment, in general, seemed properly child-like as well as very pragmatic. It will be interesting to hear how he describes the fish, and their death to his sister after we pick her up from camp soon.
Please share your comments or ideas about this.
Question for reflection or comment. How has the death of pets shaped your spiritual formation, or those of your children?
What are your suggestions for guiding others into greater spiritual maturity with this topic at hand?