The 7 year old is upset. She doesn't want to go to bed in her own room; her eyes brimming, she creeps to my side, presses in, and mumbles "I want to sleep with you, Mummy." This is not particularly like her; an independent child and a great lover of sleep, she favours her own high loft bed, her little soft boat in the nightsea, for long and dream-filled slumber.
I brush her hair off her face and say, "Come sit in my bed with me for a while, love. We can have a talk. You might feel better then."
In my bed, she says, "This book I just read. Poppy. You know, in the Our Australian Girl series." She stops. A light dawns on me.
"Has it made you feel sad, darling?" I ask. She nods, and the tears trickle out.
"Her mum - Poppy's mum - dies in it," she says, her voice catching. "And Poppy and her brother go to an orphanage. Because their dad can't look after them." She pauses. "And then at the end, Poppy loses her dog, too!" She's really upset now, and I know why; the death of the mother has taken her back to the terrible winter of 2010, where a dear friend of ours (and mother to three small children) died, and the sucker punch of the dog's disappearance has closed the loop, as our own beloved dog Basil died in the spring that year, his old body worn and faded.
"Ahhhh, hon," I say, and cuddle her. She cries quietly for a little while. Then she says, "Mummy, I don't want you to ever die." But the tone of her voice is that of someone who knows they ask the impossible; she has seen dying people, she has been to funerals and cried tears for personalities gone from the world. She knows, actually, that all her wishing and wanting, the fierce force of her love and her will, isn't enough to deny nature; more, she knows that death doesn't always come only to the old.
Carefully, I say, "Sweetheart, Mummy's not sick, and I come from a long-living family. You know my great-grandpa was 104 when he died! There's a really good chance that I'll live a long time yet. You could well be a middle-aged lady yourself by the time I die." She is silent, thinking on this, and her tension is starting to release.
"I wish no-one had to," she says pensively. "Die, I mean. Ever."
"If no-one died, the world would pretty soon be full of people," I note. "Unless people stopped having babies, and I don't see that happening soon, do you?" She shakes her head.
"When you die, does your body turn into dirt?" she asks. "Sort of, over time," I answer. "Eventually it breaks down and turns into rich nutrients for the soil. So plants can grow and thrive. It's the way it's meant to happen, pet."
"Mmmmmm," she says. Then, "Mummy, are you afraid to die?"
Well, that's a big question. She deserves an honest answer, so I take my time formulating one.
"I worry about dying too soon, darling," I say. "And I am afraid of having a painful, drawn-out dying. Yes, I am." She nods. "But I'm not really afraid to be dead. Not really. I think that it's just my body that will die, and the other part of me, my soul part. will move on to a different kind of life."
"I think that, too," she says, sleepy now, snuggling in. "Well, I hope that." Me too, I think silently, as I kiss her hair, and we fall asleep together, warm and safe.
7 minutes ago