I’ve started a new job this week and with that comes the incredibly hard issue of what to tell people – if anything – when the question comes up “How many kids do you have?”
Those words have become the hardest words for me to hear. I try to steer conversations away from talk of kids or family but it inevitably goes there when chatting with other women. I am usually intentionally vague but then the follow up of “How old are your kids?”
I will admit that in my job preceeding this one I lied. I told people I had 4 children and rattled off their ages, including Willie just like he was still alive and a physical part of my life. Or I would say “I’ve had 4 children” (not a lie) and when they asked ages I would say “they range from 8 years old to 21 years old (again, not a lie…just a huge omission of facts). I told myself it was easier and that I was actually being kind and considerate of others. I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable…after all who wants to hear that someone’s son has died when you ask a simple question. It’s awkward, sad and people don’t know what to say…or worse, they say something stupid. No good reason to share. I told myself that it wasn’t necesary to tell people – they didn’t care anyways – they weren’t friends – they were not in my life and wouldn’t be – it didn’t matter.
While all that is true it didn’t sit right. I felt like I was hiding him and hiding what happened. I felt like I was endorsing a shame of him dying by suicide especially. I even told one person who asked how that it was an accident and left it at that.
2 hours into my new job I was in the car with my colleague heading to a lunch meeting and she was chatting about her trip to Disneyland over the holidays with her kids and hubby. She was going on about her daughter and son and I was laughing along and shared a story of something simlar. Then it happened… she said, simply “How old are your kids?”. I took a breath and stopped… I didn’t know how to answer. I was stuck. I said “I have an 8year old and my 2 oldest are 19 and 21” and I paused…. I suddenly felt like, by not mentioning Willie I was de-valuing his very existence and dishonouring his memory by what I had said. I took another breath and made the decision and said “and I have another son who passed away last year. He was 16”. She was silent then said she was sorry for my loss. I said thank you and then said “moving forward” and started talking about work and the converstaion rolled on.
I have met with numerous staff members this week for interviews and discussions and the subject has come up with a few of them. With all of them I have been honest. On the one hand I sometimes feel like “it’s none of their business” but the larger feeling I have is that I could lie and pretend he never was and just say I have 3 kids and their ages when asked. No one I work with would ever know the difference. It wouldn’t make any difference to them…. it wouldn’t matter….but in my heart I would know that I had hidden him….that I had pretended he never was. That the son that I carried inside of me, gave birth to and loved and always will love is wiped from being and is to be forgotten and pushed away, out of memory and out of the present.
The reality is that Willie is not just the past….and I refuse to not acknowledge his life. It’s hard and I’m never sure how I’ll be when I say the words that explain that he’s not with us anymore but if I don’t say those words I can’t live with myself.
Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he never was.