How Do You Explain Death To Little Children?

05/05/2017 16:56

Life is terminal.  No matter what you do, no matter where you're from.  No matter if you're rich or poor, white or black, Buddhist or Muslim, man or woman, everyone dies.  It's one thing we all have in common.  And it's something my oldest little girl is slowly learning to understand.

On our walk to nursery we found a blackbird dying on the pavement.  She had a broken wing and was clearly gasping her last breaths, so we very gently picked her up and put her in the border, under a bush, out of harm's way. Quietly and respectfully, we waited with her until she died.  My little girl watched her, talked to her and offered her comfort, and experienced death for the first time.

We had a good cry and a cuddle; she was heartbroken. We talked about how that little bird's pain was over now, how she would never feel sadness of fear, how she would now sleep forever. It was months ago now but it still comes to her mind and she still tells me about her blackbird who was poorly and old, and went to sleep forever so she didn't have to feel pain anymore.

Yesterday she asked me when she's going to be eight.  And I told her not for a long time because she's only four.  She laughed and asked about when she's going to be eighty three.

"Mummy, when I'm eighty three, where will you be?"

I told her I'll be gone.  I'll be long gone and it'll be her job then to be the mummy to her children, and the nanny to theirs.

Suddenly a strange awareness of mortality hit me.  I've seen death; I've had grandparents and friends die, I've had pets die, I've watched documentaries about Dignitas.  I've written death scenes in books, watched countless death scenes in film and television, read deaths in novels. Death is not an alien concept to me.  And yet...

I'm going to die.  One day I'm going to die and I won't see my little girls anymore.

I know that's a ridiculous thing to be thinking about as if it's new and I had no idea. Especially when I've put thought into this,  I've thought about who my girls will go to if I die young, who will care for them and raise them and love them. After nearly dying during my pregnancy it's been something that has played on my mind repeatedly, the fear that it is coming. I've been on the brink and I've been afraid.

I've thought about what I want to happen at my funeral, how I don't want a headstone and a fuss, I want my ashes under a tree and for Albatross by Fleetwood Mac playing before everyone goes and has a drink or ten.

I've pondered the concept of an afterlife.  I've wondered which of the various versions that are taught by religions and believers of things I might believe in, and comfortably settled with "I don't know".

But I realised that how much thought I've put in, how many arrangements I've made, how many nightmares I've had, the actual thoughts of death have been in a really abstract way.  The actual reality hit me hard in the gut. The reality of not being with my children anymore.  Not seeing them.  Not knowing that they're happy and they're loved and they're well.  Not being able to comfort them when they're sad, help heal them when they're ill, advise them when they're confused.

At thirty one years old I still depend heavily on my mother for all of those things.  Not a day goes by that I don't speak to her in some form, even if it's only a text message, and I rely on her for comfort, help and advice just as much now as when I was a child, and some days even more. I'm terrified of her leaving me, and I'm petrified of leaving my girls.

Where will I be when my daughter is eighty three and my other daughter is eighty?

I'll be gone.  I'll be long gone.  I don't know where I'll be but I know I won't be here with them.  I won't be holding them tightly, kissing their heads, and telling them I love them.  I won't be moaning at them for getting me up early.  I won't be exasperatedly shouting "just put your coat on!" when we're already late for school.  I won't be lying next to them in the darkness, singing Que Sera Sera and stroking their heads.  I won't be crushed beneath them both as they cuddle me and giggle with glee.  I won't be here.  I won't be with them.

Even though I've witnessed death in various forms in my life, it's never felt as real to me as it did the moment my little girl asked me that.

How am I supposed to teach my daughters about death and that it's a natural part of life if I'm feeling like it's the most unnatural concept in the world and I can't get my own grown up head around it?  It's so much to cope with, so much bigger than I know how to carry.

Where will I be when my daughter is eighty three?

I don't know, baby, I don't know.

I'll be with her blackbird.  I'll be sleeping and warm, free of pain, with no more tiredness, no more aches, no more sadness.  I'll be gone and it'll be her job to dole out the comfort, cuddles and advice.  I'll be with her blackbird.

You can check out all my contact info and links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There's also www.sirenstories.co.uk where you'll find other work from Siren Stories and extra information. My first novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, is out now and available on Amazon.

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