Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother came into his room, where he was making a machine for scaring snakes, out of an old hairbrush and banksia seed pods. She said, “I’ve got some very sad news. You know my friend Lulu, Nils and Nella’s auntie? A terrible thing has happened. Her little one, Button, has died.”
“Died?” Benson said. “How could she die?” Button was just a baby possum. Dying only happened to really old people.
“There was an accident and she was run over by a car,” his mother said. He could tell by her voice that she was really sad.
“We’re going to go to Lulu’s place, so put your shoes on and make yourself look nice,” she said.
“What are we going to do?” Benson asked.
His mother said, “We’re going to help Lulu say goodbye.”
“Oh,” he said. It felt pretty strange. How do you say goodbye to a dead person?
They set off for Lulu’s place. His mother had made a cake and a vegetable casserole.
“Why do we need to take all this food?” he asked.
“All Lulu’s friends and family will be coming,” his mother said. “It helps to have people around who love you, when something terrible happens and you feel really sad.”
They talked about Button, and how sad Lulu must be. Benson said, “What happens when someone dies?”
His mother said, “Usually their body just gets worn out, and breaks down. Their heart stops and everything just stops and their body dies. With Button, she was injured so badly that her heart just stopped and she died.”
Benson said, “I mean, when you’re dead, what happens to you?”
His mother said, “Well, usually your body gets buried, and after a while it just goes back to the earth. But your spirit, the part of you that makes you you, that part can’t die the way your body does.”
Benson thought of Button, how she was the only possum he knew that could hang upside down by one leg and spit at the same time, and how she liked peanut butter so much she would put her whole face into the jar.
His mother said, “Some people think that when you die, your spirit goes to heaven and is completely happy for ever and ever. Some people think that the your spirit stays alive in people’s hearts and their memories.”
“What do you think?” Benson said. He was imagining being happy for ever, having all the custard he wanted and all the oatmeal-and-raisin cookies he could eat and no washing up. New holes to dig every day, and sunshine and stories and all the people he loved around him. It made him feel happy just thinking about it.
“I think,” his mother said, “that if I died, all the joy and peace and happiness in the world wouldn’t be enough without you, my precious darling, so no matter where I was, I wouldn’t be far away from you.”
Benson smiled at her and held her hand tight.
“Did it hurt Button when she died?” he asked.
His mother said, “I think it probably hurt very much, but only for a second, and then it was over.”
Benson waited until his mother stopped crying and blew her nose. Then he asked her the question that was really bothering him. “Am I going to die?” he asked.
“Yes, of course!” she said. “Everybody dies, every animal, every tree, every leaf, every ant – everything finishes its life and dies. But wombats live for a long time.”
Benson thought about it. Aunt Lillibet was very very very old. It would be a long long time before he was that old.
“What are we going to do when we get to Lulu’s place?” he asked.
His mother said, “I’m going to help Lulu get Button ready to be buried. We’ll wash her and make her all nice, and wrap her in her favourite pink blanket. Mr Fenn has dug a beautiful grave for her, and we’ll bury her there under her favourite tree.”
When they got to Lulu’s house, it seemed like everybody was crying. Lulu hugged Benson’s mother and they both cried. Lots more people came with more casseroles and cakes and pies.
When it was time, everyone gathered around the place where they were going to bury Button. Lulu was carrying her, and Benson’s mother had a little fluffy rabbit that was the toy Button had had ever since she was a baby. Nella wanted to sing a song, but she kept crying instead of singing, but nobody minded. Benson’s mother said a prayer, and some people closed their eyes and prayed too and everyone else looked down and thought about Button.
Benson’s mother asked if anyone wanted to say anything but no-one could really talk. It seemed like everyone was crying. Benson thought someone should say something, so he stepped forward and said, “Button was just little, but she was cute and funny, and she was our friend and it’s really sad that she’s died. But the real part of her is never going to be far away, even if she’s in heaven because this is where heaven is, where the people who love her are.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he stopped talking.
Benson’s mother touched Lulu on the shoulder and said, “It’s time now.” Lulu put her gently into the grave, with her fluffy rabbit. Some people who had brought flowers put them in the grave and said goodbye to Button quietly. Lulu said goodbye last of all, and Benson thought she was never going to stop crying. Benson’s mother took her hand at last, and brought her back to the house with everyone else. Mr Fenn stayed behind to fill in the grave and make everything nice and tidy.
On the way home, Benson’s mother said, “I’m glad you said those things about Button.”
Benson said, “It was like everyone was feeling so much they couldn’t say anything.”
“That’s exactly right,” said his mother, “and what you said was exactly right too.”
Benson smiled at her and held tight to her hand.