What to tell children about death when you can't pacify them with heaven?
On one front I will agree that theists have an edge: When a child asks them about dying they can chirp, "Oh, it'll be awesome! You'll see Granny and Grampy and Rover again and live with them for eternity in the warm glow of Jesus. No worries!"
But we naturalists do our best. I try to emphasize the preciousness of the life we do get when "teachable moments" arise. For example, my son and I were in our pool the other day and he watched quizzically as I spent a good ten minutes trying to help a frantic struggling bug out of the water:
Kid: Why are you doing that?
Me: It's a brave little bug. Look at it trying so hard to survive. It's the most intense drive we have, survival.
**Success! The bug is delivered to the grass, where I will no doubt mow over it later...**
Kid: Some people say there's another life after we die.
Me: Yes, they do.
K: I don't believe them.
M: Well, me either.
**we grin at each other for a moment**
K: But it does suck. You're just gone, you don't know anything or feel anything...how can that be?
M: No one's ever been able to tell us for sure, but I assume it's very much like being asleep. You just don't wake up. Listen, you're right. It sucks. I wish it weren't so, but think about it this way: What would the earth look like right now if nothing died?
K: **thinks** We'd all get pretty old and twisted up.
M: Ha! True. But also, where would we sit?
K: Oh. I...don't know. It would really fill up, huh? *resigned sigh* That's nature's way.
M: Yep, that's nature's way.