As my 6-year-old son stuck his long lanky arms through his polo shirt, he walked up to me to button the collar and asked “Mom, will you still be alive when I grow up?”
“Yes,” I said. Immediately and instinctively. A knee-jerk reaction wanting to coax my child away from fear.
“How do you know?” He asked.
This is such a common pattern for conversations with my son. A question, my answer, followed by another question wanting more elaboration or proof. I always try to answer to the best of my abilities, and never respond “because I said so” (an answer I commonly heard, and hated growing up).
“Because…” I started. But I couldn’t finish the sentence. My mind went to the news of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi and their friends dying in a helicopter crash the day before. How many times had one of his children asked if he’d be alive forever? I wonder how he answered.
I don’t know.
“Is it because you’re grown up and your mommy is still alive?” My son guessed.
“Yes,” I took his offer. “I hope that I’m still alive when you grow up.”
My kids and I are very lucky. My great-grandfather, my grandmother’s dad, is still alive. He just celebrated his 101st birthday last month, and we still chat with him now and then. I haven’t really had personal experience with the death of a relative I’ve known well. Much less my kids. If I’m as lucky as my relatives before me I’ll live a long and healthy life. I can tell my son I believe I’ll see him grow up. But nothing is guaranteed.
The last month and a half I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning about retirement savings and strategizing the best way to maximize my savings so that I can live out my last few decades without a worry. But now I’m over here thinking dang. I may not even make it to that age.
Of course my planning isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to be prepared. But it’s also important we don’t put all our joy on hold. Important I take breaks, put my phone down, answer another half a dozen questions, and try to laugh when my toddler busts into the jar of cake frosting again. That we put family first. They are the most important, and the people who will hurt the most when we’re gone.
Life is so fragile, and my sweet son full of love and questions wants to know if I’ll still be around when he’s my age. The weight of the question hits me differently this week.
It’s why I am immensely grateful every day I make it through surrounded by the people I love. And I’m reminded of the importance of cherishing every day.