Sunday, December 7, 2014

Telling People Your Child Died

When you meet someone new, one of the first questions asked of you is “What do you do for a living?” Next is “Are you married? And then invariably, “How many children do you have?”

How far do you go in telling people how many children you have? Do you say, “I have two children, (when one has died)? Or do you say how many you have now not counting the one who died? Or do you explain your story, going into detail about how your child died?

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. Some have a great need in the first few months of giving all the details. Others don’t want to talk about it at all.

I read about one mother, Mary Cleckley from Atlanta, Georgia, who met my needs exactly, and this is what she had to say: “The criteria I use in determining if I go any further is whether the person asking is going to be a continuing part of my life. Is so, they need to know about my son, and I tell them. Otherwise, we will be constantly dancing around that fact. Better, I think, to have it out in the open. It then loses its ability to interfere with the relationship. If, on the other hand, the person asking is simply passing through my life, then I feel no need to go any further than “I had two children.” Seldom does anyone catch the ‘had,’ instead of ‘have,’ and pursue it. If they do, or if they ask follow-up questions about ages and professions, I tell them first that my 26-year-old son was killed in an accident. Then I tell them about my daughter. I am comfortable either way. If they are embarrassed, I see that as their problem. Just to show you how different we all are, however, my husband feels comfortable answering, “We have one child.” That is the right answer for him, and that is what he should say.

We must all decide what is right and comfortable for ourselves and then say it. That is how to defuse that powerful question and then it loses its ability to traumatize. Don’t let it be a problem.”

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