The first time I became aware of death—at least in terms of our own mortality—was not learned in Church or by attending a funeral, but by watching an episode of Combat when I was five or six years old.
In this particular episode, which guest starred Dennis Weaver, who played Chester on another hit TV series, Gunsmoke died in one of the combat scenes. It really put the zap into me because to this day I still remember crying afterwards. I liked Chester a lot on Gunsmoke and it saddened me that he had died. I really believed that Chester had died in a war.
This would have been right around the time that the fighting in Vietnam was escalating and news and images of the conflict were being beamed into homes across America. It wouldn’t be hard for a five or six-year-old to have a hard time separating fact from fiction. Perhaps, I had even overheard family members talking about the war.
It was the first time I remembered being scared about dying and even asking my father what happened when we died. When he told me that when we died we went to heaven and lived for eternity it was hard, very hard for me to grasp what eternity or even forever meant. To a six year old, an eternity was the time after supper to before breakfast.