Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a neat, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Aunt Lillibet was standing on a chair, cleaning the dust off the top of the fridge. She couldn’t quite reach, so she stood on one leg and leaned over as far as she could. The chair tipped over and she crashed down onto the floor.
“Oww!” she said. “My leg!” Her leg was so sore that she couldn’t walk properly for days. She had to sit in a chair and do her knitting and not go outside to the garden at all. It made her very cranky.
After a couple of days, she said to Benson, “Benson, I’m going to go on a long journey. When I’m gone, I want you to look after the sunflowers for me. “
Benson’s eyes grew very round. His friend Alejandro’s mother had told him once that her grandmother had gone on a long journey, and when Alejandro asked when she was coming home, his mother said that actually she had passed away, and that going on a long journey was just a nice way of saying that someone had died.
Aunt Lillibet’s going to die? Benson said to himself. He asked her, “Are you really going on a long journey, Aunt Lillibet?”
“Yes, very soon,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“A really, really long journey?” Benson asked.
“Yes, really, really long,” she answered. “And when I’m gone, there’ll be a lot of things to take care of.”
“Yes, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said sadly. He couldn’t imagine living without her. “Will it make you sad to leave everything behind?” he asked.
“Not much. I’m going to a very beautiful place,” she said, with a dreamy look on her face.
“What’s it like?” Benson asked.
“Very peaceful, and restful,” she said. “I won’t have to do a thing, and I’ll get to see lots of old friends.”
Benson said, “We’ll miss you.” He went outside feeling sad. He didn’t know what dying was like, but he knew what it was like when one of your friends went away forever. He remembered a place where there were lots of stones arranged in tidy rows, to remember people who had died.
He went and found a nice smooth stone. Then he got his paints and he wrote ‘Aunt Lillibet’ in his best writing. Then he stopped. What should he write after that? Dead and gone?
He thought and thought, then he decided what to put. He wrote it very carefully on the stone.
His mother came to see what he was doing. “What are you doing with that stone?” she asked.
“I made this for Aunt Lillibet,” he said, “for when she dies.”
“Aunt Lillibet isn’t dying,” his mother said.
“Isn’t she?” Benson said, surprised.
Aunt Lillibet was listening and she laughed. “No-one dies of a strained muscle in their leg,” she said.
“But you said you were going on a long journey,” Benson said.
“I am,” Aunt Lillibet said, “as soon as my leg’s better. I’m going to the mountains to visit my cousins, before I get too old to walk that far. I’m not going to die!”
Benson felt very relieved. “Oh. Well, you won’t need this then,” he said.
“What is it?” she said.
“It’s a stone that people have, to remember someone after they die,” Benson said. “I wrote your name on it, ‘Aunt Lillibet’, and then I wrote something else.”
“What did you write?” she asked.
Benson said, “Well, I thought of saying, ‘A noble wombat’, or ‘Loved by Some People’, or ‘A very fast knitter’, but they didn’t seem exactly right.”
Aunt Lillibet humphed. “So what did you write?” she asked.
Benson showed it to her. It said, ‘Aunt Lillibet. A very good gardener. Kind and helpful and funny.’
Aunt Lillibet didn’t say anything for a long time. Benson thought maybe he should have put ‘A noble wombat’ after all. But then she cleared her throat and blew her nose and said, “Well, I’m not thinking of dying any time soon, but this could come in handy one day.”
Benson said, “You can keep it if you like. You could take it with you on your trip.”
His mother said, “It might be a bit heavy to take all that way. Why don’t we put it in her room while she’s away? Then whenever we look in, we’ll see it and think about her having a nice holiday in the mountains.”
Everyone thought that was a good idea, so they did.