I still remember the moment when I realized the truth about mortality–when I realized that we all die one day. I remember a creeping feeling of horror, and it washed over me, and made me wide-eyed with terror. When I woke up that next morning I had a feeling of dread hanging over me. I couldn’t articulate exactly what I was afraid of, but something had changed inside of me. The world looked different; my life different; the light in the room flatter, darker, less comforting. It was as if I had found myself inside a box suddenly, like a toy doll, and someone had tipped the box to one side, shifting everything inside of it just a little to the left. Of course since I was a child (maybe six? seven?) the feeling faded away pretty quickly. I pushed the thought of death aside as if it were a bad dream, or an unpleasant task lying ahead in the future. When I got a few years older, though, the feeling of horror and dread returned. Sometimes I’d lie awake at night with my hand over my heart, wondering about the day when it would stop beating.

I think all kids must go through this. I think it’s also one of the most painful–if not THE most painful–milestones in a child’s life. I dreaded having to explain life and death to my own kids. We’ve never had to really talk about it with L. I’m sure he has thought about it, but because he has such a hard time articulating abstract concepts and emotions he’s never asked about it, and there have never been an real opportunities to discuss it. But I know it’s there– a huge elephant in the room.

T. has been thinking about it though. In her sunny, chirpy way she brings it up now and again (can you bring up death in a sunny, chirpy way?). When I tuck her in at night she clings to my neck.

“Don’t go Mama! I’m afraid of your dying!”

But she’s so easily reassured–at least I think she is. Maybe she lies awake, wrestling with this in her own way, in the dark, surrounded by her stuffed animal friends, with their loving, fuzzy faces. Maybe. Tonight she asked me if everything dies.

“Yes,” I told her. “Everything that’s alive dies.”

“Except people,” she said confidently with a smile.

I imagined a world in which people didn’t die, and that I could tell her this. But instead I told her that even people die, when they’re really, really old.

“I’m not old,” she declared, stretching her arms out into the dark.