Imagine – you’re the new wife at coffee morning, the new person in the office, joining a gym or a club, anything in which you would encounter people that you’ve never met before, but in which you would be required to socialise.
My name is Jane, what’s yours?
Nice to meet you Lisa.
Oh you have an interesting accent, where are you from?
How come you moved to England of all places from somewhere as amazing as Canada?
Are you married?
Do you have any children?
And there it is. The awkward question that makes any mother who’s child has died stop in her tracks. It is only natural that people ask this question, I used to ask it all of the time without a thought.
It never would have crossed my mind that the answer could be causing an internal struggle for the one who would have to answer. But a struggle is what it is.
Normally the person asking is going for light conversation, and therefore to hear a heart-wrenching story about how your child died is not what was expected. But as the parent, you feel like you want to be honest – to share your child and be proud of your child like any other parent in the world.
It really is a dilemma and I usually consider who my audience is before answering.
If it is somebody I’m not likely to ever meet again, I might just say ‘no’ and leave it at that. It’s easier to not have the looks of pity and the stammering as the one on the receiving end of the story doesn’t know what to say. Awkward. But saying no leaves me so full of guilt, as though I’m denying that my son ever existed. As though I’m denying that my heart yearns for him every second of every day. I find myself apologising to him in my head for not being strong enough.
On the other hand, if I’m speaking to somebody who I will be likely to meet again, who will likely get to know me over time, I try to be honest. I will probably say something along the lines of ‘I have a son but he passed away’. This usually leads to me having to tell my story, and depending how I feel at the time will depend on how much I elaborate on what happened.
As a mother, I hate that I have to make a decision about whether or not to talk about my son. But as a bereaved mother, I find that this is all a part of my new normal. A normal that I wasn’t aware of before but that I will now never escape.
If you are a bereaved parent, how do you answer the question ‘Do you have any children?’ or ‘How many children do you have?’