My grief story: " how many kids do you have?"
Hi, I’m Jennifer, and today I bring you the second installment of “my grief story.” I lost my daughter, Sadie, in 2017 after a long fight with cancer. I write about my grief for a couple of reasons. I know from talking to others and from first-hand experience that grief can really only be understood by those experiencing it, but I also know that those who love us (the grieving) are desperate to help and to understand. I know that it can be hard for those who are grieving to share, however sharing is something I am open to. These will be my stories where I share my own personal point of view on grief.
Today’s point of view may not be one that you have thought of if you have not lost a child, but from talking to other grieving parents, I know it’s not uncommon. As grown-ups filling our days with polite conversation with the people surrounding us, the topic of kids often comes up. Many times we will find ourselves asking or being asked “how many kids do you have?” You might also ask ages...boys or girls etc. It’s common enough, right? It’s an easy way to connect with someone.
I’m a proud mom. I love to talk about my kids. I love to share how I gave birth to all three of them in less than 3 years. I love to talk about how crazy it was when they were all toddlers. I love to share how unique they each are from each other. These days, however, it’s hard to share any of this.
I remember the first time I was asked the question “how many kids do you have?” after Sadie died. I froze. I literally did not know how to answer the question. Neither answer I could give felt true.
If I answered “three,” it felt like a lie. It was almost like someone was going to “catch” me lying and call me out on it (which I realize doesn’t sound rational, but I still felt it.)
If I answered “two,” then I feel like I was cheating her. She lived. She made an impact and she still does. How could I not mention her existence?
What I would like to say is “I have three kids. All teenagers. Isn’t that crazy and awesome?” That answer doesn’t even give away too much, but the weight of that answer is often heavier than I am willing to bare for a stranger.
I don’t think I’ll ever be asked this question again and feel settled by my answer. Unless I am able to share my entire story with someone, I’ve accepted that this conversation will never again feel right. And sometimes I do share the whole story, but that’s pretty rare in casual conversation. That’s putting a lot of emotional weight into a conversation that I and/or the person I’m speaking with aren’t ready for.
To my grieving parent friends: if you struggle with this too, know that you are not alone.
*I realize this can also extend to the loss of others close to us. If you’ve lost someone else close to you and you have a hard time knowing how to refer to them in casual conversation, then the grace I mentioned above extends to you as well.
To friends of the grieving: if you ever find out after the fact that someone “lied” about the number of kids they have, understand how hard this question is to answer for the grieving and extend grace.
Special note: My experiences with grief are unique to me. Nothing that I write here is intended to cover the entire scope of human grief. Please take everything I write about my grief in the tone in which is was created, shared vulnerability with the goal to make life more bearable. This is also not medical advice.