Talking About Death With A Four-Year-Old.

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“I’ll always be able to count on you, won’t I mummy?” Freya asked.

We were sat at the dining table where she was drawing before dinner.

“Of course. Always.” I answered, gently rubbing her back. She looked up from her work and smiled sweetly. What a lovely mother/daughter moment.

“Not when you’re dead,” she added.

I didn’t even flinch. “Well, no, maybe not then.”

I’m getting used to having my hopefully not impending demise thrust in my face. It’s like some sort of hardcore therapy.

As an older mum, dying before she’s grown is a background worry. It was one of those things that used to keep me awake at night when I was pregnant and a billion hormones were racing around my body causing havoc. What if I’m not there when she’s a teenager; when she goes to uni; when she goes off backpacking (and I can’t go with her); when she gets married? Maybe younger mums worry about that sort of thing too? Maybe having children makes you think more about your own mortality?

People, young and old, die everyday. I figured there was no point in thinking about something I largely have no control over. So I didn’t. Or at least I tried not to. Until now,  when that option has rather been taken away from me.

I know just who to blame for her current fascination with death. I’m looking at you, Pixar and Disney.

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An advert for their new film, Coco, came on television one night and prompted a discussion about Day Of The Dead. I think I did a pretty good job of explaining what it was in a positive and hopeful way – as, to me, it seems like a colourful, life-affirming holiday.

But then, later, as we all sat snuggled together in the warm, darkened living room in the wind down before bed, she shocked us when she said to Mark: “If you die, I’ll be fine because mummy will be here to look after me.”

It was the almost “nur nur ne nur nur” way she said it that took us by surprise. I turned from raising my eyebrows at Mark, back to Freya to try and find something appropriate to say. Before I had chance her little face crumbled.

“But…but…if you die,” she said to me. “I will be all on my own.”

Big fat tears started rolling down her face. She looked utterly heartbroken. And then, suddenly, I was crying too.

Wait, what. No. That isn’t supposed to happen – although she had just tapped straight into one of my nightmares so maybe it’s forgivable?

I wiped away my tears and Mark and I both worked to reassure her that we are not going to die and, even if we did, she has lots of people who love her, including my brother who has already agreed to raise her should anything happen to us.

It seemed to sooth her.

We’ve had further conversations about what happens when you die. I was actually worried about this – as someone without any religious faith – but I’ve been able to talk to her about all sorts of beliefs (it just so happened that our local mosque was holding an open day so I was able to take her there too as part of our general learning). I explained that when she’s older she will be able to decide what she does or doesn’t believe in, just like I did.

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She seemed ok about it but the four-year-old mind is a mysterious beast and now, every so often, she’ll just randomly drop it into conversation. We might be talking about something completely unrelated or be in the middle of the food shop. At first I asked her if she had anything else she wanted to say about it but it seems she just wants to let me know that she knows. It’s like living with some sort of mini Grim Reaper.

Now most of our conversations go a bit like this.

Her in the middle of dinner: “I’ll miss you when you die, Mummy.”

Me: “Thank you. Eat some more peas.”

I know it’s fairly normal at her age to start thinking about death but have any of you got any tips? Anything specific I should or shouldn’t be doing?

Little Hearts, Big Love

 

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What I realised about Freya starting school (it’s not you, it’s me).

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I longed for this day.

During that first year when, on top of the huge changes that motherhood brings, the reflux, intolerances and sheer exhaustion of never sleeping in more than 10 minute snatches brought me to my knees, I thought ‘One day I will get me back, when she goes to school.’

What I didn’t realise, what I couldn’t realise back then, was that when that time eventually came, I wouldn’t want to let her go.

People told me ‘it won’t always be like this’ and, a personal favourite, ‘you need to make the most of it’. That’s easier said than done when my baby was crying in pain 80% of the day and night, refusing to feed, losing weight, not wanting my comfort but refusing to be put down – and no one was either willing or able to help. The only thing I could do was hold on and wait for it to be over.

I know it could have been far worse but it was still hard. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, even though I feel guilty about it.

They were right about one thing though, it did get easier. At nine months the reflux settled down, at a year I saw glimpses of what was to come. The fun, the laughter. Yes, there were also tears and tantrums – and a continuing lack of sleep – but by then we were bonded. She was my sidekick, my little shadow or, as our postman described her the other day, my co-pilot.

He was used to bumping into us, off on some sort of mini-adventure.

“Where’s your co-pilot today?” He asked, not realising she was now at school full time.

The truth is, for the last couple of years she’s been much more than co-pilot – quite often she picked the route, made the announcements and was flying the plane. Our days together, when I wasn’t working, were dictated by the journeys she wanted to take. Now she’s handed back the controls but after an initial rush of euphoria where I got a hot chocolate (and sat and drank it in the shop without having to colour anything in or make conversation about My Little Pony), had a henna tattoo and got my hair cut, I’m…directionless.

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I miss our outdoor adventures, exploring new places, visiting somewhere on a whim – even going to the local playground.

I. Miss. Her.

While I don’t miss endless hours of playing games that make no sense, the four-year-old rage or the constant commentary on anything and everything, I do find myself counting down to 3.30pm.

I realised on her first day that my fears about her starting school had nothing to do with her – she loves it, can’t wait to get in each day – and everything to do with me. My role as a mother to a baby, a toddler, a small child is over. There are no more babies for me and Freya will spend the majority of her time with other people now.

Early motherhood is… done.

And, as bad as of some of it was, I’m not quite ready for it to be over. I’m not quite ready to be flying solo again. 

It’s going to take some getting used to, just as motherhood did – although hopefully with more sleep this time.

Bubbablue and me school days linky