Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Many Children Do You Have?

When a new friend asks you very innocently, “How many children do you have?” you may not know how you want to answer that question if one of your children has died. Let me tell you what happened to me just after my daughter died that brought it all home and reinforced how I now answer that question.

I received a phone call one day from an alum of my college sorority almost 30 years after graduating Arizona State University, saying they were going to print a book on all the sorority girls in every chapter across the nation, since this was a special anniversary of the sorority. She wanted to include my name, address, year of graduation, whether I was married, my husband’s name, my occupation and then the inevitable, “How many children do you have and what are their names and ages?” I was able to answer all of the questions except the last one. I froze.

What should I say? Should I just give her name and age and let it go at that? Should I tell them she had died that year? My first inclination and the one I chose to go with was, “No, I don’t have any children.”

We then hung up and the guilt at what I had done began to overwhelm me. How could I have said that, I thought. I had a beautiful daughter for 27 years, and now I’m pretending she never existed. How could I do that?

In the next instance, I was calling back the alum and with tears in my eyes and a choked voice, I explained what I had done. She was very sympathetic and said she understood (which, of course, she didn’t). I told her I decided I wanted to acknowledge my daughter and explained how much she meant to me.

The alum had a solution. She had run into the situation before and said very kindly, “We’ll just put her name and that she is deceased, so that it read: Marcy 9 (Dec.) That way your old sorority girls will know at least that you had a child, even though, unfortunately she is not living now.” It turned out that that is the way it was done in the entire book if a child or husband was deceased. I thought that was a good idea and told her to go ahead and do it. I felt so much better after correcting my horrendous error. Maybe because this phone call happened so close to her death and was the first time I had to acknowledge that fact, I literally didn’t know what to say.

From then on, my approach was different. When someone asks me, “How many children do you have?” I tell them I had one fabulous daughter who died in a car accident when she was 27 and just married, which then opens the door for further conversation and allows me to talk about her and tell others about her life, When I speak about her, it is my way of acknowledging her and keeping her memory alive.

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