This morning, while Ella was in the bath and I was washing her hair, she piped up with an impossible question.
Ella: “Mummy, will I die one day?”
Me: “Well, one day, a very long time from now, when you are very old, yes, you will die.”
Ella: “But Mummy, I don’t want to die!” (cue floods of tears and sobs from the heart)
Me: “Well sweetheart, everyone has to die eventually.” (cue tears in my eyes)
Ella: “But if I die I won’t get to see you anymore!” (cue more tears from us both)
Me: “Oh sweetheart, that’s not something you need to worry about!”
Ella: “Well Mummy, can’t we speak to someone, like the police, about NOT dying?”
And then I couldn’t carry on. I dissolved into tears and wrapped her up in a towel and held her tight as I sobbed into her head. Mark came to the rescue and talked her down and told her enough half-truths to calm her down. Ella still wants to talk to the police though. Wonder what their response might be?
The reason I couldn’t answer my daughter when she asked me this question was because I am terrified of dying myself. Not for me, you see. I’m terrified of dying too soon and leaving my precious family to carry on without me. My children would have to grow up without their mother. It’s something I have cried actual tears about since giving birth to Ella 5 years ago and Sam nearly 2 years ago. I’m scheduled to have a major operation sometime in the next two months and I am scared silly about not waking up. Scared enough that I wake up thinking about it. Scared enough to contemplate writing letters for Mark, Ella and Sam.
Death is not something I have dealt with often in my life. My Mom’s father died when I was about 7 years old. I remember the time but not much of how I felt. One day my Grandpa was there, then he went into hospital and never came back. There were a few other deaths of distant relatives over the years following but no one terribly close to me. Then, when I was 7 months pregnant with Ella, over the space of 1 month, Mark’s Nanny and my Dad’s dad died. I could go to Big Nanny’s funeral as it was here. I couldn’t go to my Grandpa’s funeral as I was 4000 miles away and too far in my pregnancy to fly safely. I still miss my Grandpa.
What do you say to a highly-imaginative girl of 5? More than likely Ella and Sam will experience more death in the first two decades of their lives than either Mark or I have. Their grandparents on both sides of the ocean are much older than my grandparents were at the same stage of my life. The idea of Ella and Sam never seeing their grandparents again fills me with dread and fear. The fact that Mark and I are not spring chickens weighs on me as well. More than likely Ella and Sam will be in their 40′s when their parents are no longer around. That makes me sad.
Having been confronted with death very recently in the far-too-soon deaths of Kerry (Multiple Mummy) and the precious angel Matilda Mae (Edspire) I have tried to live far more mindfully of how fleeting life is and how precious our moments are. I’d like to think that the legacy of these tragic deaths has made me a better Mummy. What a lesson to learn.
So what do you say when questioned about death. Clearly, at age 5, answering the question with honesty is not the best policy. Clearly I am rubbish at handling life’s difficult questions. What would you say? Better still, wouldn’t it be lovely if we didn’t have to answer these questions at all?