Monday, May 18, 2009

The Question

I got the question, for the first time.

I was sitting on the soccer field sidelines, watching my middling play. My older daughter (who needs an internet nickname) was on another field at her own game.

The mother of a teammate I didn't know asked me, "How many children do you have?"


Somewhere an answer must exist, like a good banana split. One scoop of he-will-always-be-one-of-your-children, one of can-you-come-up-with-a-more-jarring-comment-than-my-son-is-dead, and throw in a gawd-I-don't-feel-like-crying-in-front-of-these-strangers. Top with my innate ineptitude with small talk, the fact the family on the other side of me knew Henry, and sprinkle on the distance this other woman was away causing me to all but yell.

I hate banana splits.

I said something like "I have two now, my son died three months ago."

She was very gracious, talked about the girls, and then asked how old he would have been. I was then able to talk a little about how he had died without making her ask. It ended up being a nice conversation, and I didn't cry. This was entirely due to her social grace and genuineness.

Maybe I'll get better at it. It is sure to happen again.


SOCKS said...

I hate banana splits too - that was a perfect and certainly unexpected analogy.

You handled it with a calm grace - probably more
explanation than you anticipated would surface.
As you said, it was probably the lady and her style that made you comfortable to explain.

And maybe each time it comes up a different response will be elicited, depending on the situation.

Congratulations on your first encounter.

WarmSocks said...

It sounds like you came up with a good answer. I've heard "I have two on earth and one in heaven."

...tom... said...

(who needs an internet nickname)..?? 'Older'..?? Has a certain fantasy novel ring to it. Or 'Olding' or 'Oldster' ...nah, last one too much like spinster. Though that is a word surely dieing out...

This was entirely due to her social grace and genuineness.There are angels all about us, all about you. Support when you least expect it ...yet perhaps most need it. (And practice talking about Henry ...surely a skill you never imagined needing to relearn.)

The more I think about it . . .the more I like 'Olding', 'olding'. Matches well with middling, no..??


Kat said...

It's been over 3 years since my son died and I still HATE that question. A question that is so easy for everyone else makes us stop a minute, take a good look at the person and decide what is right for us at the moment. Can the person handle me saying I have 6 living and 1 in heaven? Will they prod for details? Then I'll tell the cliff's notes version and stand there in silence because they don't know what to say?

You never get use to that question.

You will, however, have the one time where you are busy/don't want to talk/ whatever and you just make it easy. I still remember the time I just didn't think I had it in me to tell the story again that day and I said "I have 6 children" And that was the end of it and my heart broke into a billion peices then and there.

I still haven't forgiven myself for that and I will never do it again.

Usually I'll just say "7". I find it rare actually that anyone counts heads and comes up with 6 and asks where the other one is. So it works.

Because I do have 7 children. I just have to wait a while until I get to see one of them again. Doesn't make him any less my child, doesn't make me any less his mother. Just makes it harder to answer the simple questions.


Sybil said...

It will get easier...I promise.
Much Love Sybil xx

webhill said...

I think you handled it perfectly well. I have heard one friend of mine tell people, when asked the same question, "three, but only two are still alive." Honestly there is no way to answer the question truthfully that won't be a shock to the questioner in most circumstances, but then again most people, shocked by the unexpected response, will surprise you with the kindness of their response, I think.

THAT GIRL said...

My aunt lost my cousin to a traffice accident three years ago in May. He email still says for (changed her first name)

She has always wept in private, and I do respect her for that... and she alwasy talks about him, but not obsessively... just a gently reminder that Zach was still our family... how he would have done something, or what he said once, etc.

But, when someone asks, how many children do you have, she says six. I have no idea how hard that must be for her. Makes my heart ache for both of you.

Indigo said...

I can't imagine how difficult answering that question would of been. I think you did the right thing answering honestly, keeping Henry in the picture. Over time I think answering the question may become easier, but you will neve forget you had 3 and Henry's role in your life. (Hugs)Indigo

Snickollet said...

It still hurts like a son-of-a-bitch when people innocently ask, "So, what does your husband do?" or some other question about John. Honestly, if it's someone who will never know the difference, I just carry on as though John were still alive. My dental hygienist, for example, has no idea that John is dead. We had different dentists, and I have just never felt like getting into it with her.

Sometimes this is not an option, of course. But when it is, I take it. So much simpler. And I somehow like living for a few minutes this fantasy life where John is still with me.

rlbates said...


SOCKS said...


You raise a good question.

Dr Smak, how about "mere image" for the "olding"?

...tom... said...

Socks commented...

You raise a good question.


Actually, Dr. Smak pointed at the need for the 'internet nickname'

But the crap formatting here ran my reply into my quote of her. I will be surprised if it does not do it with this comment also.

Dang blogger bugginess..!!


PalMD said...

Oh, smak...every time i read your blog i cry and i learn something. Thank you for the gift of your writing, of sharing with other parents our worst nightmare, and showing that it is at least marginally survivable...

momwithastethoscope said...

This made my heart hurt - for you, for Henry, for the person that asked the question. Seems like the universe is breaking you in gently to your new life - I'm not sure I'd have the courage if my Harry were in the same place. Do patients ask questions? That would be hard for me - to explain the story over and over to people seeking care from me - somehow, for me, it would shift the balance of professionalism - probably because I'd become a puddle on the floor. Thoughts are with you!