The answers are different when you’ve endured a great loss.
My husband and I showed up on time for our appointment with the new CPA (certified public accountant). He had been highly endorsed by others as the expert who could answer our questions about how to structure our new business and navigate the tax pitfalls that would accompany it. We momentarily waited in the lobby and helped ourselves to complimentary chocolates while the secretary made pleasant small talk. CPA Guy opened his office door, introduced himself with a handshake, and ushered us inside. My husband and I seated ourselves in the comfortable chairs in front of his desk as he sat down behind it. A ceiling-high book shelf stuffed with publications and files was positioned along the wall.
An older gentleman, CPA Guy was funny and personable, with just the right amount of his native New York sarcasm. He was quite helpful as he answered our questions and provided us with practical advice. Our conversation with him was friendly and easy-going.
At the end of the meeting, our business concluded, the conversation became affable. Then CPA guy asked me the dreaded question: “How many kids do you have?”
Immediately, my body physically reacted. Every single one of my internal organs felt like it was seizing, and I became lightheaded. I felt my temperature plummet to freezing, and it took every ounce of strength I possessed to keep myself from shivering. I briefly mumbled something about “having three kids, but our oldest one passed away at the beginning of this year.” CPA Guy immediately offered his condolences, and may have regarded me with sympathy; I wasn’t sure because I was staring at the ground trying hold myself together.
The meeting ended, and I remained outwardly composed until my husband and I got to our car. Then I broke down.
You see, it was the first time someone had inquired about the scope of my brood since my oldest child’s death at the beginning of the year. Obviously, CPA Guy had no way of knowing what my husband and I had been through. To ask someone about his or her family is a perfectly acceptable and natural question to ask a new acquaintance — my husband, needing to travel occasionally for work, had encountered it several times by then. And for most folks, the answer is a simple, unqualified number. The conversation usually follows with names and ages and anecdotes of said kids.
For those of us who have been through the unthinkable though, it can be downright painful, especially when we’re asked the first time after our loss.
I had been expecting the question to come up at some point, but I had never truly prepared myself for it. I’m not sure that I would have been able to anyway. I played out scenarios in my mind of someone asking me and what my answer would be. I feared (and actively avoided, to be honest) meeting new people because I knew the conversation would eventually turn personal. If I thought I had been prepared, I was wrong.
Since the meeting with CPA guy, I’ve been asked the question a couple of more times. It was easier and less painful. It may have been because I had already been asked by CPA Guy. It may have been because I was asked by other moms.
The second new acquaintance to ask me about my kids was a mom I met at a mutual friend’s house. We began talking about our children; I told her my oldest was in Heaven, and she told me about the trials one of hers had been going through with severe depression. We were able to bond over our pain, and our hearts went out to each other. It was also a gentle reminder of the compassion that we should practice towards others, because we never can tell what someone else is going through.
If you’re an angel-mom, you already know that our children are ours always and forever, whether they are physically with us or not.
But I also feel the need to clarify my answer for others, because the great loss I’ve experienced is such a significant part of me. I don’t have to let my grief define me, but it is an important part of what makes me who I am.
As I mentioned earlier, conversations about our kids with new associations are typical and customary. When I meet you for the first time, I expect it and even welcome it now. But please accept my pain and don’t be uncomfortable when I answer with “I have three kids, but…”
I will tell you about them. I will talk about my two younger ones and I will tell you about my first-born who left this Earth way too soon.