When you lose a child, you have a list of questions you hope to avoid. It doesn’t take long before you get good at anticipating when they will show up. On top of that list is usually, “How many kids do you have?” Meeting new people brings it out all the time, which is why my stomach is usually in knots when I am around new people. I’ve recently noticed this question comes in many variations. Those blindside me!
It was my annual check up at the OBGYN. The last time I was into this office was before Cameron died almost 16 months ago to the day. The math will tell you I was overdue. Procrastination abounds in my after.
A nurse entered the room to update the charts. During her update she said, “Let’s review your list of surgeries to make sure we have everything. I see 3 C-sections, each with a live birth. Correct?”
I cringed. My mind raced ahead. I was thinking a million thoughts all at once as I tried to calmly say, “Yes”. After all, they were live births. She didn’t ask me if they were all still alive today. So I could squeeze by this time with just a yes. Awkward conversation averted.
When she left the room I felt a sense of relief. I could relax. Or so I thought.
The doctor and nurse came into the room. The check up began as any other with chatting and updating of the charts. The last time I saw them was just after the baby was born. It had been 13 months. I was a mother of 3 live children then. The thought felt so strange entering my mind. Then came the moment I dread.
The nurse asked how old the baby was now. I told her Sienna would be 2 years old in June. We talked about how strange it was to see them so often before the baby is born and then we just disappear. Time flies and all. Then the doctor’s chimed in. The moment she started talking I panicked. How could I not anticipate this question?
“So, how is life with 3 kids now?”, She asked.
The next 10 minutes were filled with awkwardness. No one knows how to respond to the death of a child! They do their best, but it is always bumpy and uncomfortable. There is no way they can hide it. Then the look of pity. Automatic.
This stuff happens all the time. There is absolutely no malicious intent. It is simply polite conversation filled with regret. Just once I wish someone would simply say, “How awful! That must be so difficult for you.” It is so refreshing when people move past their discomfort and fear.
I wish people knew simple acknowledgement is perfect in those situations. Don’t tell me you can’t imagine my pain. I wouldn’t want you to, and I know you can’t because I couldn’t before. Don’t ask for the details. Some mother’s prefer not to share so it is safest not to ask. However, please do ask about him. Things like “tell me about your son” or “how long it has been” are very acceptable. This opens the door for a bereaved mother to talk and share as much as she feels comfortable sharing. This approach removes the awkward and it is so appreciated!
Honestly, I love talking about Cameron. When he comes up in conversation (even referencing his death), it makes me happy. You talking about Cameron will never open an old wound or make me sad. Sure there is an element of sad, but that sadness exists in every aspect of my life now. There is far more pain involved when you avoid the topic all together.
I hate when people walk on egg shells around me, and it happens all the time! It’s part of the reason many of my relationships have changed after. The best medicine for grief is having people in your life that seek to understand you and respect without judgement.
So the next time someone tells you their child died, try to just acknowledge what they said. Tell them it sucks! Don’t be afraid to ask their child’s name. Not only will it make the conversation more comfortable, but it will completely make their day.