My father just died, and while I hope he will go to heaven, I don’t know that. What concerns me is some denominations just assume, when you die, that you are going to heaven. I’ve even heard some priests echo this, because it’s such a difficult teaching to try to suggest otherwise.
What would I tell a child? I haven’t come up with that, but I think I would try to encourage anyone, even children, to pray for a loved one, say, after his death. I guess I would try to say that we have to be absolutely perfect in order to get into heaven and that it’s hard for any of us to be perfect. No sin at all, no matter how small, is allowed in heaven. So, for this reason, we must pray for people, so as many as possible can get to heaven.
Also, once they do get to heaven, they can pray for us, but I’ve heard it said some people need help. We need to help them. I would say we hope that person is in heaven, but we still need to pray for his soul, to make sure the soul is ready to go to heaven. Pray, pray, and pray for souls who have died and those in purgatory.
If the soul is already in heaven, it won’t need the prayers, but they aren’t wasted. They will just go to help someone else who does need them.