The first is to say, “My child just died” or “I have three living children and one who is deceased.” This is a great way to end a conversation most of the time. Many people in our society are scared of death in general and more than terrified about the deaths of children. They’d rather not acknowledge such things happen. So if a parent answers in this way, the parent likely will create a great deal of discomfort in a social situation. The unease that it can create is harsh and palpable.
The second option is to simply not count the deceased child and answer, “I have three children.” However, for the bereaved parent, this can be an emotionally difficult answer. It feels as though the parent is discounting the child who has died, something no parent ever wants to do to any of their children. While it’s easier in a social situation to answer this way, it just plain feels wrong, at least to me and many other bereaved parents.
I tend to take the third option: I usually state, “I have three living children.” For me, this statement acknowledges my deceased child albeit in a passive way. People who are in tune with what I am saying are aware of the fact that I have a child who is no longer living. Those who are oblivious miss what I have truly said and the awkward discomfort in the first option is avoided.
Similar questions and comments that are just as hard are “Is s/he your first?” or “How lucky you have one of each sex.” It really depends on the situation as to how I answer such question. When I was pregnant with my twins, I never said that they were my first; I always responded that I had a little girl who died previously. When someone commented about me having one of each sex, I usually spoke up to say that they had an older sister, and sometimes I would acknowledge that she was no longer living.
I’m really not sure what the best way to respond when someone says to you, “I have three living children and one who is deceased.” Most people’s responses are “I’m sorry for your loss.” That’s sometimes a difficult response to receive because you as a bereaved parent know the other person feels like s/he’s opened in a messy topic. However, you also know that it’s not their fault that your child died and so “I’m sorry” feels a little odd. I usually respond, “Thank you” and change the topic. However, “I’m sorry” is a far better response than the stunned silence that some people respond with.
The most meaningful response for me comes from the parents who do truly understand and can respond, “I lost my daughter, too.” I’ve had some amazing conversations with strangers who have also lost children, struggled with infertility, or had other parallel struggles. While not everyone can respond that way, it’s how I respond when someone says something to me about having lost a child.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance