“Daddy, no. He’s not dead. Gandalf isn’t allowed to be dead.”
I was seven, or so. This is the readthrough of LoTR that I remember, cuddled up with my dad as he read it to me. He even did the voices.
“I’m sorry sweetie, but it looks like he is.”
“No. He’s gonna come back, right? Him and Boromir? This isn’t fair.”
Dad knew, of course, how this book panned out, but he wasn’t going to spoil me.
“Little one, life’s not fair. And neither is death. It’s not something you can come back from.”
I was seven years old, and death, and it’s permanence, was something I hadn’t experienced yet. The idea that someone I cared about might just leave, and I’d never see them again was… it stripped me of all my seven-year-old certainty, and showed me doubt. I felt the way I had when I got lost in the supermarket, but worse, ten times worse. A million times worse.
“Dad. Are you going to die?”
“One day. Not for a while yet, though. Not till you’re a grown up, with a family of your own.”
Another impossibility. I was going to be seven forever.
I cried for Boromir and Gandalf. I practiced heartbreak on fictional people. In a few short years, I’d be feeling it for real people. At seven years old, that stripping, naked pain was in the future. I felt it’s ghost pangs, though, and when the time finally came I was more ready than I would have been otherwise.