How Many Children Do You Have?

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and through they are with you yet they belong not to you.”  – Kahlil Gibran

I was faced with this question the other day….I answered it with ease for the first time. I have struggled with how to answer this one not realizing that it was going to be a punch in the gut every time it was asked. Seemingly a benign question asked more often than I ever realized. Sometimes it is just idle chatter between strangers in an attempt to fill the silence and other times in actual exploration, in the process of getting to know someone or to fill out a form. Does your child have another sibling at home, in the school district….Uhm…he did? Even my doctor asked me at my annual check-up, and I am thinking, you are my OBGYN…isn’t it in my medical file? Do I say two and go into a long drawn out clarification that one died or do I just say one and avoid the topic altogether.

For me personally, saying one just didn’t feel right. Especially, since I am still quite consumed in the process of grief and recovery. My angel fills my every day; I think about him, talk to him and tell others about him. I have pictures of him everywhere and wear his ashes around my neck. He is too big of a part of my life to not include him.

familypicQuite often I find myself, when talking about the kids still saying, “My boys this.” or “My boys that.” I just can’t break the habit of including Tucker and quite frankly, I am okay with that. Often the inclusion is still relevant. My boys don’t like broccoli didn’t change because Tucker was no longer here. My boys love the snow or to play Legos didn’t change either…well you can see where I am going with that. Just because Tucker is not here with us doesn’t change that I gave birth to two amazing sons. So for me, yes, the inclusion is still very relevant.

In the beginning, I would say two and the dive right into a long diatribe about how my son died from leukemia in February, 2001 after a year-long battle with cancer. I would continue that it was ultimately from kidney failure because of how hard the treatment was on his body, only to look up and find the poor cashier at the grocery store ghost white or in tears. Then I would have to dance around the “I am sorries” and feel responsible for dropping a bomb on the poor girls lap. Excuse myself from equally shocked bystanders and try desperately to hold it together as I fled the store. Clearly this was not the way to go about this. As the years have progressed, I found that I have gotten better at deciphering who to go into detail with and who not. The cashier at Safeway….”How many kids do you have?”; Me “Two”; That simple no bombs, no tears, no I am sorries and no fleeing. However, someone I met and could foresee being a regular part of my life, it seemed appropriate to fill them in a little.

So the other day when a new coworker asked me how many kids I had, I easily answered, “I had two.”

“How old.” he investigated…not even noticing the past tense had instead of have.

l_5ec62285825f454f9734aa3f46034ab7“My oldest is 20 and my youngest was 11.” Suddenly the past tense was recognizable and acknowledged by the look on his face but my ease in answering the question matter-of-factually gave room for the get-to-know-you conversation to continue without shifting focus onto the elephant in the room.

Knowing if I would continue to see a person again gave me direction as to how to answer while slipping in the words “had” and “was” kept the reality of my child’s death subtle enough to not derail the conversation.  It allowed them to get to know the story of my son and his death slowly and when appropriate. It may be something that we do not ever discuss in detail depending on the nature of the relationship or there may be a time when they want to know more and are prepared to hear it. Unlike the poor grocery cashier and shoppers that were taken off guard.

So while grieving the loss of a child is never ending and it will never be easy to live this life without Tucker in it, this minor victory stood to remind me that some things will get easier.

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