We all know life is precious, we’re reminded of it frequently when we hear sad news. A child has left their parents, a young wife her husband and family, a sudden tragic accident, world event or god forbid terrorist attack has left hundreds without. Life’s length isn’t guaranteed, tomorrow’s not promised, it can easily be taken away, yet we don’t talk about that stuff.
Casually doing the ironing the other day, which does indeed kill me slowly, my 10yr old Daughter blurted out an unexpected question… “Mam, how old will you be when you die?”. My eyes widen, I strive to keep tears from my voice and I could feel my heart sting with the thought of having this conversation. She did ask me this once before when she was very small, small enough for me to fob it off and reply ‘never’, but now she’s older and I feared she was looking for a more candid reply.
I carry on ironing and firstly divert. Why would she ask such a thing? The story goes a friend of hers got upset in school because she missed her Dad, who died before Christmas last year. This friend is just 9years old, has 2 younger brothers and now catches the bus to school every day instead of playing eye spy in the car with her Dad and Brother’s each morning. Apparently, it got a bit emotional and lots of the girls all cried together that day, and it got her thinking. I figured she was at the age where she can handle the truth now, she’s a sensible girl who understands how things work. Palms sweating, I took a break from the chore and she cuddled on my lap amid the giant pile of folded clothes.
I explained to her that everyone dies at some point, it’s how this game called Life works. You’re born, you live, you die, like any of the stories she loves to read; a beginning a middle and an end. To lighten the mood, I first spoke about when she was born. I told her how she came into this world, like a flash in 9 minutes and about the first time she met her big Brother. I talked about her favourite teddies, her first holiday, learning to talk and walk, and her first day in the big school. She was happy hearing all these stories, and we followed up after the conversation watching old family videos, which we both loved.
She asked about Grandma, my mother who she never got to meet but who we talk about often, and about how she died. Without going into detail about the long illness, the treatment, the trips in and out of remission, and all the fighting she did against the disease that took her, I simply told her that Grandma was ill, and that ill people can sometimes die, not always, but sometimes. We talked about age and how that is a factor, lots of people die when they’re simply old, some really old like my Grandmother who was 91! We also spoke of accidents and how tragedy can strike when you least expect it, in a split second, as it did with her friends Dad, so I reminded her she needs to be mindful always when she’s in school and out and about, although she’s still too young to go outdoors by herself.
No one likes talking about death, it’s that taboo subject we all try to avoid, especially with our young children, I never once remember having a conversation about death with anyone, not even when my Mother was dying. I wanted to tell her we’d all live happily forever, and maybe for future generations that might be a thing, but I can’t make my lips say the words even if just to comfort her as I know they’re not true, and the end will come.
My answers seemed to satisfy her, but I could still see a little angst in her beautiful blue eyes, like she understood what she’d heard but was still fearful of that moment coming, for me, for her, for everyone she knows. And I get that too. Hitting almost 40 and already having lost friends my age, and my Mother so young it scares me too, although not the dying bit, just the leaving everyone behind, I know what it feels like to be left.
We’re always trying to teach the kids more about life, more about the things they don’t learn at school. We take them travelling to cultured countries, we love family days out adventuring and learning new things and adore making more and more memories. But if there’s one thing I can teach my children above tying shoelaces and cooking an egg, it’s to live.
We went on to talk about her earliest memory, which was a little vague and included squirrels and frogs (no idea!). We talked about the best place she’s been outside of the UK, about her memories of school and her friends and of her best ever Christmas present. At this point we were both laughing, thinking back to those happy memories but I let her tell the stories, from her point of view, her memories of those times, and seeing her so passionate with a smile on her face brought another silent tear.
I told her this is what it is all about, the middle bit of the book, the living bit. Death will happen, there’s no time stamp on life, no expiry date, no one knows when it’s going to end, it’s out of our control. Yes, we can help prevent it in various ways, looking after our body and our minds, but it’s coming, we’re dying from the day we were born but the living bit is on us, we’re in charge of that one.
I talked about the things I still want to do in my life, the dreams that I’m working towards, the dreams I have for all of us. I told her how important it is to have these dreams, to have something to aim for in life, something that you’re passionate about, something you want to achieve. I told her how important it is to take the opportunities presented to you, to grasp the chances you get, to get out of the comfort zone and live every day, making memories along life’s path that can never be taken away. I told her to think of time as a coin, as the only coin she’ll ever have and that it is up to her how she spends it, how far she can make it stretch, the experiences the memories she can make with it. But also that no amount of money can buy a second of time, no matter how rich you are, so make it count.
She’s a confident girl, wanting to be an actress when she grows up. She’s already starred in a film and she has an agent and tells me she’s moving to Hollywood after University, and I say go for it! Have the dreams and don’t stop until you get there, no matter how long it takes, and enjoy the journey, the middle bit, that’s the most important part.
For me, with the way the crazy world’s going, I want us as a family to experience as much as we can before we can’t, before it’s all gone, or I am. I want us to visit more countries and more wonders of the world, I want to climb that mountain, learn to dive and jump out of another plane. I want the children to see and experience so much to make their lives rich with love, laughter and memories that they’ll pass on to their children. I want to see the wind in their hair and excitement on their faces and want them to taste everything this incredible world has to offer them as they hold it in their hands.
It wasn’t the nicest conversation to have with my baby girl, a curious mind I applaud but it caught me a little off guard and I hate that she’s been upset in school or even been thinking of this stuff. The old cliché is so true, life really is short so we need to live it now while we can, while we’re fit enough, healthy enough before it’s too late. Have those goals, make those plans, book those flights, live the life you’ve dreamt of. We need to teach this to our children too, when they are young so that they grow up with that growth mindset and they know that life is for living, before it’s too late.
I told her that I will keep her safe always. I will love her forever, whether we’re together or apart and that love doesn’t die when we do, it lives on in our heart and our memories. The clock only ticks one way and the days pass quickly so make the most of it.
We’re all getting older, but don’t let that stop you living your life, the middle bit is the best bit, just like Custard Creams. Age is just a number, a state of mind. Be grateful and use your time well, some aren’t lucky enough to make it this far.
Written by Editor, Rhian Cable
Mum, Wife, Marketing Specialist and Blogger – Living life every minute.