2016 and 2017 took some of our best loved celebrities, David Bowie, Charles Manson, Tinky Winky, Glenn and Abraham from The Walking Dead. The list is long. The nation has collectively exhaled and wrung their hands at the losses which seemed to dominate the news.
It’s a strange sadness to mourn the loss of someone you didn’t know personally, a grief which must feel something like a child feels when an adult dies who they didn’t know particularly well. Over the last year 3 of my good friends have died, and my daughter has observed my grief from the sidelines, a news report featuring familiar faces but ultimately unconnected to the emotion which I was trying not to display overtly.
Death is such a huge and unknown quantity, forever is a ridiculous idea linked to thoughts of summer while they wait inside on rainy days or how long it will take until they are allowed pudding. Time is elastic and mouldable, an element they can control with enough pleading and wishing. Forever is laughable. Mummy getting upset because she misses a friend is such a remote and strange thing to our daughter.
We’ve always been very honest with our child, she’s very intelligent and knows when we aren’t telling her the whole story. She knows our friends died through illnesses which the doctors couldn’t give them medicine for. She has realised all of us can get these illnesses and that people don’t always die when they are old. We don’t have a faith, so we can’t tell her we believe that they are in any kind of ‘better place’ or that they are happier now that they aren’t suffering. We don’t lie to her about ‘heaven’ or ask her to blindly believe what we do, she knows she’s free to believe in which ever God she chooses. (She’s currently leaning towards Hinduism because the Monkey King is ‘awesome’).
She’s seen the reality of death this year and knows it’s ugly and sad and has given her bad dreams about losing her dad and I. We’ve tried to reassure her that we are healthy and unlikely to be going anywhere soon, but I feel like something has been taken from her with the deaths of my friends. Not ‘innocence’ or anything that profound, but maybe the idea that ‘forever’ is a Thing. Parents can leave one day and not come back, and doctors can’t cure everything. People are fallible and temporary, and time is permanent and can’t be reasoned with. It’s a sad but important lesson, and hopefully she will learn to see that the good parts outweigh the horrid parts and that there’s really no point in being mean when we can choose to be kind. Maybe she’ll grow up with a little more tolerance as a result. Or maybe she’ll just ask for more pudding, because, in the end, why not?