How long have you got?
“What’s that?” I ask Cameron as I tuck him into bed.
He’s studying a couple of pastel blue post-it notes he’s stuck carefully next to his bed; like there’s something important he needs to remember.
“Oh, I’ve just been working something out,” he says casually, piercing me with his blue eyes and puckering up for a goodnight kiss.
I glance at the two post-it notes; one’s titled Mum 43, the other Dad 47, and both have a series of numbers written out below.
What is he working out?
“Are you doing maths homework?”
“No, I’ve been working out how long we’ve got left.”
I’m puzzled and look again at his sticky reminders. The first numbers I recognise as our ages, but what do the others mean?
“I’ve worked it all out,“ he explains, “for both of you.”
We’re talking about my death
“If you die at 70 then I’ll be 32 and we’ve got 23 years left together. If you die at 80…”
I don’t really hear the rest of what he’s saying. For a moment it’s as if I am dead, numbed by a profound anticipation of a loss inexorably heading our way. Just 23 years? Half my lifetime. Then no more. For me. Or him. Or us.
As the shock of my mortality recedes a little, I tune back in and hear Cameron finishing off his explanation, “…and if mum lives to 90, I’ve got 47 years with her.”
It’s not fair
So she gets 24 years more than me? How’s come? How’s that fair? And why is Cameron working all this out? Does he sense something we don’t? Grey hairs, brittle bones, forgetfulness? He certainly senses my concern.
“Don’t worry though Dad, you might live to be 90 too.”
It’s true I might. But 70 might be all I’ve got. Or I could die tomorrow. Life is short. And these years of family togetherness are so transient and precious. Perhaps this is the something important he needs me to remember.
Life is short. Treasure it now.
What’s your experience of talking with kids about death?