I was probably the same age when I first contemplated on death. A visitor took shelter at our house and after dinner, I overheard them talk about death. It was something about my mother's mewa. The visitor suggested my parents conduct some rituals and buy a Tshe-pa-me statue, which would help prolong my mother's lifespan.
The next morning, I sat below the window and imagined what it would be like if my mother was to die soon. I was barely five, not even in school, but even at that age, I knew how to fear death. I ended up crying alone, all the while hoping my parents would adhere to the advice at the earliest possible. (And I was so happy when they bought the statue.)
Three decades later, I am confronted with a similar situation, only this time that it's with my five-year-old daughter.
Last Friday, my paternal Aunt passed away. As much as we have tried to keep the news from Lolo, she heard us talk about it - obvious to the happenings of the days following it. On our way back from picking up my nephew from Dechencholing, Lolo wanted to know why we age and die. In the simplest convincing way, I said it's the natural process that all living beings have to go through - humans, animals, and plants alike. Yet, she kept asking, "But why?"
I took the opportunity to narrate why Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha - because, he dared to ask "why". She listened with all her ears and heart. Again, she asked, "But tell me why do we (or I) have to age and die?"
"Well, Lolo, we can't escape this. But we do have a choice - to be happy or not. I also think about life and death and I choose to be happy all the time. You can also make the same choice." I really didn't know how much of the conversation (or monologue) got into her small innocent brain, but our next conversation said a lot about how much she understood:
"Then, how can I keep away from aging and dying?" her little big question.
"Prayers, darling, prayers. We need to keep our prayers strong and be a good human altogether, which you already are."
From the back seat, I heard her swallowing saliva and trying to keep her eyes from welling (at one point, she cried asking why and why). "So, prayers are our saviours?" she wanted final word before I brought the car to the halt.
I said, "Yes," and she walked in ever determined to keep her prayers strong.
[Note: I am re-reading the book What makes you NOT a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. The incident with my daughter came close to testing my beliefs and in a way, I am glad we were able to accept the impermanence, yet decide to live happily while we can. ]