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Omega (Westport). 2010-2011;62(1):51-76.

Images of heaven and the spiritual afterlife: Qualitative analysis of children's storybooks about death, dying, grief, and bereavement.

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Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA 30460-8051, USA.


Many parents turn to picture books and storybooks to help explain issues surrounding death and dying to their young children. In addition to dealing with topics such as death, funerals, memories, and grief, a number of the books also mention the concept of heaven and what our loved ones might experience after they die. This article uses qualitative research methods to analyze 49 children's storybooks that touch on the existence of heaven or a spiritual afterlife. Results show that heaven is portrayed in a simplistic fashion, as a place high in the sky with bright lights, angels, and clouds. Even as heaven is presented in a relatively simple way, there are also patterned differences in depictions of the spiritual afterlife depending upon whether the decedent in the book was a family pet, a child, a parent, or a grandparent. The article concludes with a discussion of how these depictions of heaven and the afterlife might help young children cope with death-related grief.

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