Talking about my kids is one of the hardest things to do, now. As a parent, one of the first things you ask when making small talk is, “do you have kids?” It’s the natural order of things. I do it, too, though a lot less now. Over the past several months, I’ve learned that context plays a big role in my answer. It’s a defense mechanism. Some of you may not agree with how we’ve handled it, but this is what we do to survive the worst. question. ever.
We lie to strangers. I remember clearly the first time it happened. The hubby and I had gone to a marriage retreat a couple of months after Noah passed away. We were at dinner with the other couples. They all chatted about how they were so glad to be away from the kids. All I could think about was whether Gavin was okay at the house where he last saw his brother. And then it hit me. I’m never going to see these people again. So, when they asked if we had kids, we lied, “Yes, we have a son.”
Nothing kills a conversation quicker than, “We have two, one who is 15 and one who was 17 and passed away two months ago.” That’s when you get ‘the look’. Most people immediately shift gears and check out of any conversation you may have been having. The mind fills with empathy and curiosity–worse, they just ask what happened. I can admit that I’ve done it. We likely all have. Now, being on the other side of the conversation, I am really just doing both parties a favor and saving us the awkwardness.
Gavin has lied to his hair stylist and recently lied to one of Noah’s band mates when he asked if Noah graduated (Really? You’re in the band, dude!) The hubby has lied to people he meets and will likely never see again. I’ve lied to a little, old lady who rode with me in a courtesy shuttle to the car dealership. Does it feel good? No. Does it mean I’m pretending that Noah never existed? Not for a second. It’s just what we do to get through to the conversation without feeling like someone punched us in the stomach.
We tell half truths to people we may see again. Every day I’m learning to manage ‘the look’. The longer we live here, the more involved we become in our community. If I am getting to know someone, I don’t openly bring up kids, but it’s hard not to talk about them when you are at your surviving son’s wrestling match. If the conversation shifts to our families, I refuse to pretend that Gavin is an only child or that he didn’t spend his whole life looking up to his big brother. Eventually other parents will say something like, “did your other son graduate,” or “is he in college?” I’m forced to say those dreaded words out loud. He passed away this summer.
So when I say I tell half truths, I mean that I avoid talking about Noah to people I don’t know, but I confess the truth in passing and quickly change the conversation if it comes up. All of this in an effort to avoid the look, the I’m so sorries, or the questions about what happened. I feel terrible that I feel the need to lie or tell half truths, but talking about it sucks, even if in passing. Writing about it is one thing, facing the emotion in person is an entirely different story.
We vent to the trusted few. Hubby and Gavin’s lists are short: they vent to me. When I need to talk about how hard it is to hear those words, I call Tiff or post to my online bereavement group (or complain to the internet at large on my blog). Because honestly, it’s no one’s fault that people ask the question. It doesn’t come from a place of malice. It’s small talk. I can’t think of a single person who might find it odd to ask about family when getting to know someone. It’s part of life. *I* am the weird one and can’t project my baggage onto every person I meet–or I’ll have a lonely existence. So, I save the venting for the people who have been there.
I wish I could shield myself from all commentary. But as I start to reenter the world and talk to more people, that’s just not reality. I have to constantly remind myself that people don’t know my story unless I tell them and I can’t hold comments or questions against them because they don’t know what they don’t know. What’s that saying?
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
Asking about kids isn’t unkind. It just is. It’s me that needs to learn to deal with the answer. Noah is gone from this Earth but he didn’t disappear from our life, from our past, or from our future. He will always be here in some capacity and I have to get used to talking about him in a different way. It’s going to take practice and patience and strength. I don’t know how I will feel a month from now, a year from now, or 10 years from now. But at this minute, this is what we do to get through the day.