It’s Everybody’s Loss
“There, there” I said awkwardly comforting the stranger in TJ Maxx
“It’s okay” I forced, because although it was not okay, I was 8 months pregnant and really needed this conversation to end so I could pee.
She held my hand and whispered something like “God bless you” before I speed waddled to the restroom abandoning my cart (which is against my bargain shopping rules) where she stood.
“How many children do you have?”
It’s a simple enough question for most people. For bereaved mothers it’s a little more complicated. The answer to such a question is never easy for me and every time I am asked, I’m forced to evaluate whether to lie and keep things light or to tell the truth and hope the other person doesn’t press or fall apart.
I was 24 when I was pregnant with my second child.
“Is this your first” they’d ask. When I said no the immediate response was to ask about Taylor. How old is he/she? Is he excited to be a big brother? Oh they’ll be close in age, best buddies. Occasionally I would just agree. The worst was the balloon.
A woman in front of me in the grocery store had a son about 18 months, the age my son will forever be. He was crying and squirming to escape the confines of his grocery cart prison. His mother was looking stressed out as she loaded her groceries onto the conveyor belt. I began making goofy faces and playing peek a boo. The child squealed with delight. “You must have children” she assessed. “Yes.”
“18 months,” I kind of lied.
“Aw that’s how old Hayden is.”
She left as I rang up my own haul. I took my credit card from the machine as the cashier handed me a green balloon, “for your little boy” she smiled.
A punch. A gut punch. A punch to my face and soul. I accepted the balloon and somehow made it to my car. Throwing the bags into the car without rhyme or reason (more rule breaking), I sat down in my vehicle clutching the balloon and sobbing. Taylor would not receive the balloon, he’d never receive another gift. There had to be a better way to acknowledge my child without dissolving someone into a puddle of tears. The choice I made almost daily seemed ridiculous; either I was going to cry or I was going to comfort some stranger for my loss.
After 10 years of dealing with this dilemma I realized that eventually you find a happy medium; a light way to honor your child without having to take the woman at the pharmacy out for comfort coffee so she feels better about your loss. Now:
- I tell people I have two children always.
- When they ask about ages or gender I tell them the truth, including the part where Tay is no longer with us.
- I think of his laugh when I do this, I picture him smiling down on me. Taylor would not want me to cry.
- I smile at the person before they can react, this is not to disarm them or create a façade. I smile because I want the other person to know I am okay and it’s okay if they’re not.
- If someone presses the issue or ask questions I pause before answering. This is time to evaluate where I am and what my grief demands in the moment, I have to ask myself the following questions:
- Am I in a place to talk about this?
- Is this person a stranger or someone who needs to know about this part of my life?
- Can I make a polite break from this conversation?
The death of a child is no only ours. The loss of a child is a loss for the world. It is devastating and scary; it brings out the fear in every parent and the questions are usually well intentioned. It’s important to understand that when someone reacts to your grief it is not your job to make it okay for them, it isn’t okay for you and they have their own reasons for being upset. Often, we see children as safe, we do not question their mortality. Hearing that a person so new and so innocent has passed creates an avalanche of fear and wonder. The loss is ours and its ours to share. It is not my job to make it okay for you nor is it your job to make it okay for me.
The only salvation for this tragedy is hold each other closer, to hear a little clearer, and to find solace in the fact that we are all a little broken and scared; pain shared is pain lessened. The more tears cried the more grief is released, even if its someone else’s tears! We are soldiers and taking on grief together makes each mission a little bit easier.