“Am I going to die, mum?” she asks, a tiny voice coming from the backseat. I pause, thrown off centre, turning my head to meet her eyes – bright and watery and big.
I wondered when this moment would come. I sit a little taller, scrambling to get my thoughts together, and I think that the largest of things always strikes you when you’re buried within ordinary, everyday moments. Driving home from a friend’s house. Wondering what to cook for dinner. Feeling a little apathetic. Hoping you’ll get the chance to watch an episode of Orange is the New Black that night.
“Yes, honey,” I say, gently. “You will. One day, a long time from now, you will die.”
Her eyes swell open. “But, mum,” – and it is then her voice breaks – “I don’t want to die.”
It was so strange, watching my girl begin to take in the world surrounding her. Trying to make sense of things, no longer this tiny ball of a thing bundled on my chest, but a little person with a furrowed brow, wanting to be told the truth.
“Honey,” I say slowly. Carefully. “Everyone will die one day, but you get to be as old as me first, and then as old as Gran, and then even older. You won’t die for a very long time.”
Quiet. Huge eyes piercing through the darkness.
“But I’ll be gone forever,” she said. She starts crying, tears spilling over and running down her cheeks. “Will I ever see Ivy again?”.
My heart breaks for her little heart and I hesitate, wondering what to tell her.
“Well, you know, nobody knows what happens when you die, but lots of people believe that when you die, you just go to another place, and when you get there, everyone you love will be waiting for you. So you won’t be gone forever. You just go somewhere different. Everyone goes to this different place. I’m pretty sure Ivy will go there, too”.
She takes it in, and I see a flicker of relief dance across her face. I wondered how many of our spiritual beliefs exist to comfort us from pain.
“But will I get squished by a car? How do I know when I’m going to die?”.
“Honey, listen to me. It’s very unlikely you’re going to get squished by a car. You know how I always make you look left and then look right when you cross the road? Well that’s why. It’s to be safe. Nobody really knows when they’ll die, but we all have to make safe choices and we all have to make sure we fill up our life with as many good things as we can, okay?”
“Yes, like Christmas,” I say. “Celebrating things. Being happy. Learning as many things as we can. Growing. Trying everything.”
I feel the weight of the moment then and I turn to meet her eyes.
“Honey, if you want something, you go out there and you get it, okay?”.
“I’m going to be a mummy like you”, she says. “And then I’m going to be an Oma”.
I contemplate launching into a speech on feminism but decide that’s a conversation for another day.
“Great honey!” I say. “And when you’re a mummy, I can come over to your house and I can play with your children and we can all make pizza together. It’s going to be so fun!”.
“Mummy?” she asks.
I turn to look at her.
“Can you hold my hand?”
And even though we have a no-holding-hands-while-driving rule, I reach a hand back and slip it into hers. She grips her fingers tightly around mine and I feel our whole lifetimes spanning from this point — past and present and future: a tiny girl finding her place in this world and a mother put there to love her.
My loves, celebrate things. Be happy. Learn as many things as you can. Grow. Try everything. And listen to me — if you want something, you go out there and you get it.
But nap first. We must always nap first.