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 something we all have in common. And it’s something my little girl is slowly learning to understand.
In the summer on our walk to school 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 out of harm’s way, and waited with her until she died. My little girl watched her, talked to her, and experienced death for the first time.
We had a good cry and a cuddle and walked to school sadly. We told her teacher what she’d seen and how she was thinking about it lots, and even though it was months ago now, she still talks about it. 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 three. She laughed and said she wants to be eighty three.
“Mummy, when I’m 83, 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 my own 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 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. I know that’s not true. 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.
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 that’s in a really abstract way. The actual 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 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.
It hasn’t always been the way. At times in my life, the low times, the times I’ve struggled the most, death has looked to me to be a blessed relief. A comfort. Something gentle and warm that would take away the pain and the struggle of living. So the fact it’s haunting me means positive things for my mental health, I have no doubt.
Where will I be when my daughter is 83 and my other daughter is 80?
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 almost thirty one years of 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 83?
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 an 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 which has all the work by both myself and The Boy (Jonathan McKinney) and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.
Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!