The death conversation

It is mid-afternoon. We are driving slowly around Woburn Safari Park, Mole and Hedgehog are on the back seat, I am watching them in the rear view mirror.

Mole: “Mummy, when will you die?”

Me: “Ummm, not for ages”

Mole: “NO! but mummy WHEN will you DIE?”

Me: “I don’t know love. No-one really knows when they are going to die. Probably after you are all grown-up”

Mole: “When Hedgehog is grown up too?”

Me: “That’s right”

Mole: “Why?”

Me: “Why what?”

Mole: “Why will you die after I’m all grown up?”

Me: “Well, it will be better if I die after you’re all grown up, because then you can look after yourselves”

Mole: “And we can make dinner all by ourselves?”

Me: “Yes”

Mole: “And we can make cake all by ourselves?”

Me: “Yes”

Mole: “And we can drive a car. I can drive, and Hedgehog will be in the passenger seat, and we can go along by ourselves, and go on the swans all by ourselves”

Me: “Uh-huh”

(the swans are the peddle boat rides at Woburn that you have to be at least one metre tall to go on, so we are still waiting for Hedgehog to pass the benchmark. Mole has been eyeing this ride for the past year).

Later on, at home for lunch.

We are playing the ‘mummy and baby’ game, where I am the baby. Mole puts me to sleep in my cot. Hedgehog is usually given a subordinate role such as ‘the dog’ or ‘the sister’. I take advantage of ‘the baby’ role by having a mini nap on the sofa.

Mole: “Shall I read to you baby?”

Me: “Okay”

Hedgehog: “Okay”

Mole: “So, once upon a time, there was lion, a rhino and an ostrich, and they were all friends. Then they met two zebras, three hippos and four crocodiles. And then they all died. The end”.

Me: “What? they all died?”

Mole: (cheerfully) “Yes, they all died”

Me: “Oh”

Later in the car, on the way to fetch Mr M&H from work.

Hedgehog: “Where’s daddy?”

Me: “He’s at work”

Hedgehog: “Oh, daddy’s at work”

Mole: (whispers) “He’s died”

Me: “No he’s not died, he’s just at work”

Silence in the back of the car.

This is one of many conversations about dying that have cropped up in recent weeks. Why the sudden preoccupation with death? Is it just another mystery of life that she is unraveling? Like why we don’t wear socks in bed at night? Or what mummy’s freckles are for?.

Our latest home movie night featured The Lion King, in which the death scene of Mufasa made quite an impression on Mole. She also hid behind the sofa for all of the bits featuring hyenas, and I don’t blame her, it’s pretty scary stuff.

Doing some light research, it seems that most children grasp the finality of death at around age four. Mole turned four this week, so I’m treating this as yet another fascinating developmental stage.

It reminds me about a conversation Mr M&H and I had when Mole was first born. We were both hit with the thought of “I can’t die now. This would really be the worst possible time to die”. The scales tip when you get dependents. It’s not about number one anymore. Of course, I would be gutted if I died now, but my main thought would be for them.

It also reminds me that I need to complete and return those ‘write your life insurance in trust’ forms, which have been sitting on my desk for the past five months. Otherwise apparently in the event of a pay-out a whole chunk of it goes to inheritance tax, yikes. We also need to update our Will come to think of it. Planning for death, morbid but necessary.

So now Mole is four. Her daily quotes and views of the world continue to astonish me, in fact, they keep on getting better. Her first words on being picked up from preschool today, for example:

Mole: “Did Hedgehog make a mess in my room?”

Me: “No she did not make a mess, it’s fine”

Mole: “Mummy, my brown baby has died” (she has cupcake baby, cherry baby and brown baby, according to the emblem on their onesies)

Me: “Oh dear, what happened?”

Mole: “No, not this one, my old brown baby. That one died”

Me: “Ah”

Mole: “Yes. But I got a new one so it’s okay”

Me: “That’s alright then”

Mole: (stuffing brown baby up her top) “Mummy I’m going to have brown baby at the hospital now”

Me: “Okay, good luck. See you later”

Mole: “Okay, bye”.