Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Uncomfortable Conversation...

My Three Sons!
"How many kids do you have?"
"Are they boys or girls?"
"All boys."
"How old are they?"
"Um... my two younger ones are over there, ages 11 and 13. And, well, ummm... my other son would be 22, but unfortunately he passed away last year. In a motorcycle accident."
"Oh, I'm sorry".... followed by an awkward pause with the speaker not sure what to say next.
"Yeah, just one of those stinking things in life. So, yep, I am surrounded by boys in the house. How's your son liking football, anyway?"....

This is the conversation I dread when I meet someone new. Inevitably, if we are at a function involving our kids and meet parents for the first time, this type of dialogue will occur. Ever since I lost Austin I find myself avoiding asking other parents one of the first questions usually asked, "How many kids do have?" or "Do you have any other children?" Because, I know if I ask this question it will be answered, followed by, "How many do you have?....."

I had this dialogue, not once, but twice, this past week-end, at one of my boys' football team's party. I can always see the question coming, and want to say, "Uh, you don't want to ask that one." But, instead, I just smile, inside knowing what's coming and knowing they will soon wish they had asked a different question.

Occasionally, when I know I probably won't see the person again or am low on energy, I answer the "how many kids do you have?" with, "My two youngest, that are still at home, are 11 and 13," and then ask a question to switch the subject. They don't realize what I've done and I have avoided an awkward moment.

I don't I feel bad for myself, when I have this conversation, but rather the recipient of my "news". I can see the surprise in their face (if only for a split second),  followed by the awkwardness of not knowing how to respond. I want to say, "It's OK. I'm not uncomfortable answering this. It is part of my life and it's OK to ask.. In fact, I'd love it if you asked more about him, even if you ask about the accident. I don't mind talking about the accident or Austin. Actually, I love talking about Austin. I always have, from the second he entered this world!"

While I'm divulging my secrets, I have a confession to make.... even after having lost a child, I, myself, don't always know how to react when I speak with someone who has also lost a loved one. Some people are very private and would rather not 'talk about it', while others want to and/or need to share their story. I am the type who has no problem talking about it, even if I do shed a tear while doing it, which then can add to the already uneasiness the recipient is feeling. But, I don't want to assume that everyone deals with their loss the same way, so I also feel uncomfortable when responding to one's loss. However, I now have an advantage, as I can simply respond, "I am so sorry. I also have lost someone very close. I lost my son last year," which breaks the ice and I simply follow the lead of the other person, as to whether they want to talk more about it, or leave it as is, knowing we now have a little more in common.

As I reflect on "talking about Austin" to people I've just met, one more thing comes to mind, but it's in regards to people who already know about Austin. I am ever so grateful for my friends who don't hesitate, when we are discussing characteristics of our children (or any other time), to ask me, "Did Austin do.... or did Austin like....?" I want to grab them and hug them, saying, "Thank you! Thank you for recognizing that, although Austin is not here with me today, all my memories of him are present, at the forefront of my mind, and just as I reminisce of how my other two boys were/are at certain ages I still (and always will) reminisce how Austin was. And just as I talk about how my other two boys were/are, I still love to talk about how Austin was. So, "THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for not being afraid to mention Austin's name, to ask about him. Thank you from making my day!"

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal." - from headstone in Ireland


  1. I can relate to this. I was in high school when my brother passed away suddenly. When you are a kid, other kids and sometimes adults ask you about your family. "How many brothers and sisters do you have?" I remember when I was a senior in high school I was invited over to a boy's house for dinner. His mother, wanting to be the friendly host, started inquiring about my family and inevitably I had to tell them that my brother had passed away a little less than two years earlier. That was followed by the same awkward silence that you described.

    For me it has kind of gone away because no one really seems to ask me about my siblings anymore. They ask about my kids; like you said.

  2. Priscilla - It's amazing, we think about how we deal with things as adults, but sometimes forget about the kids affected. I have been there when someone has asked the boys about how many siblings they have and have seen the hesitation before they answer. Sometimes I jump in and answer, other times I let them answer themselves. Then we discuss it afterwards. My heart always breaks for them as they are answering, but also swells with pride as I watch them handle it...