Dylan Asks About Death
“When will you die, Mummy?”
Before I can splutter out an answer, I am pelted with more questions about death: “When will I die? What does dying feel like? Why do people die?” And, to finish: “When is the world going to end?”
I am able to squeak out a ridiculous answer to the last question involving a zombie apocalypse and robot uprising not happening until the year 3,178. This seems to placate my five-year old and he runs off to play.
But I am rooted to the spot, stupefied by Dylan’s open and honest queries about death.
Kick the Bucket
Like most of us, our inevitable mortality is a topic I don’t want to think about that much. The uncertainty and fear around death mean that discussion over it seems inappropriate, and well, morbid.
However, as I have just finished writing a book on bucket lists, a concept that is, for better or worse, linked to ‘kicking the bucket’ or dying, I have had to confront my beliefs and ideas about death anyway.
As I don’t hold firm religious beliefs, I don’t have an appropriate faith based answer for Dylan. But his questions, and the research around bucket lists that involved the regrets of the dying, have sparked my curiosity about what life itself means. Perhaps I could attempt to explain death to my kids more in terms of its relationship to life?
This was brought home to me even further with two deaths that occurred twenty years and thousands of miles apart, one famous and one only known to a few people.
Recently, it was the 20th anniversary since Princess Diana passed away. Her death was incredibly shocking and sad for me – and millions of others – at the time. Actually, now I have become a mama, her death at age 36, leaving behind her two boys, seems even more tragic than it did back then.
Then this week, I read a series of blog posts from a friend, Kelly, who was told when she was pregnant with her third child that her baby would be ‘incompatible with life’. Her tiny daughter’s passing late last year was heartbreaking for the family and those closest to them.
How can I explain to a five year old about how short life can be? I would like to tell him he will not pass away until he is a ripe old age, but how can I when none of us knows how much time we have on this planet?
Three Nuggets of Wisdom
After much contemplation, this is what I have come up with. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are three little nuggets of wisdom about life and death. I hope that these help you if you are sucker punched with mortality talk from your children:
- We will all die at some point, and if we remember that, it should help us make the most of our life. If we were immortal, like vampires, we would get very bored, very quickly. Death is a way to remember to live life as best and as fully as we can.
- No one knows how long he or she has on this planet and that is a major blessing. If we knew we only had a certain number of days, would we attempt to build skyscrapers, write books or learn a violin concerto? Not knowing means you challenge yourself with long-term goals and try to create lasting relationships.
- If you at least try to live in a radically authentic and grateful way, your life will extend well beyond your physical presence here on Earth. You will leave a legacy – great memories, things you created or simply the love that shone out from you. We don’t need to live forever because something in us lives on.
Lessons from Diana
Twenty years on from Princess Diana’s untimely passing, William and Harry were asked about their memories of their late mother. They didn’t focus on her death. Instead they movingly recalled how her face would light up whenever she saw them. They told how she would break into the widest smile and envelope them with the warmest hug imaginable whenever she came back to the house. They reminisced about how naughty and silly she was as a mother – stuffing their pockets with sweets when they went off to school, and infamously inviting a couple of supermodels over to say hello to William when he had posters of the models on his walls. Most of all, they remembered her sparkling laughter.
Diana lived a life of grace. She had those three nuggets of wisdom ingrained in her heart. And because of that, she effortlessly lavished love on her sons and they remember her with great fondness. I have the rest of my – hopefully long – life to make sure my kids remember me the same way.
A Tweet Sized Version
I am fairly sure Dylan wouldn’t stick around for me to finish my dissertation about life and death, so how can I translate those three nuggets of wisdom in a way that a five-year old would understand?
Perhaps something like: No one knows exactly when they will die so make the most of every day, be kind and be yourself.
But of course, I don’t actually need to tell Dylan that because he does those things naturally!
It is me who must remember it.
Kelly’s Blog: Be Still and Know (have tissues at the ready)
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying Book: http://amzn.to/2fVu66t