“How many kids do you have?”
It’s a common question asked between adults in all walks of life and it seems to be an innocent, generic and non-invasive conversation starter when you find yourself interacting with someone you don’t know very well. For the grieving parent though, this is one of the most horrifying and, to say the least, awkward questions we will be asked for the rest of our lives. Instantly we’re pinned between equally overwhelming desires – to recognize our child who has passed and keep them alive by keeping their memory fresh and to not expose intimate details of our private lives with every stranger who happens to cross our path.
There are several options you can choose from and no one way is right or wrong; there’s only what’s right or wrong for the individual parent. I’ve even found that each interaction might find a different option that feels right in the moment.
1. Spill the beans. Tell them everything; every detail of the events that lead up to, during and after your child’s passing. Sometimes you just have to let it all out.
2. Tip of the iceberg. Tell them you have a child who has passed on, but gloss over it as quickly as possible. You’re not looking for sympathy, but you just can’t leave it out altogether.
3. Concealed in the counting. Another option is to simply rattle off the number of children you’ve given birth to and an account of their current ages, including the age your child would have been if their Earthly journey had continued. Only you know and it still gives honor and recognition to your child.
4. Out of sight, out of mind. For some, it’s just too painful to mention their child at all. They mention the children who have survived or, in the case of only children, simply say they have no children at all. For some, this is less painful than recognizing the existence of the departed child. Or, maybe the situation simply calls for discussion of living children only for technical reasons.
This summer will mark four years since our sweet James Timothy left our home for his heavenly home, following a drowning accident in July 2009. Just a few weeks ago I found myself in group of unfamiliar faces, making small talk, and being asked how many children I had at home and their genders and ages. I hadn’t anticipated this moment and hadn’t prepared myself to give an answer. Before I knew it, I was awkwardly fumbling my words and tripping over sudden uprising emotions. As a parent of a heavenly resident, you might mention your departed child because you simply enjoy talking about them; it keeps them alive and active in your heart in your family. Talking about our passed on children helps their siblings remember them or, in some cases, get to know them. More often than not, we’re not looking for sympathy when we mention our child is no longer with us. We just want you to know they exist.
However, sometimes social situations are so casual that you might not feel right in weighing down the lighthearted conversation with such a heavy topic. Most of the time, people are just making conversation. They’re not trying to get to know you or share a connection. They’re just trying to pass the time. You may see these people very rarely or never again. In that moment, you find yourself having to feel the heaviness of each possible response and measure it against the weight of the conversation and situation. You want people to know your child exists, but you also don’t want to drag down an otherwise pleasant exchange with the burden of your revelation.
So the next time you’re talking to a random person and they seem to fumble awkwardly over such a simple question as, “How many kids do you have?” – Consider that may be a very cumbersome question for some people and forgive them while they adjust the weight.