I am sure we have all been there – we have met someone new, perhaps we have moved to a new area or joined a new group, and we are beginning to get to know a new set of friends. Everyone is sharing stories of their lives and their families. Then we spot it coming and we know there is no way to avoid it: “So, how many children do you have?”
Even with time, it somehow doesn’t get any easier to answer this question because whatever answer we give, we can feel guilty. We either feel guilty that we have denied the existence of our precious child, or we feel guilty for having caused an awkward silence and embarrassment amongst a new set of friends who were unaware of what had happened.
When Mike and I moved to a different area a few years ago, we felt that if we were going to form long-lasting relationships with our new neighbours and friends we had to be honest about who we really were. Philip will always be a part of our lives and so we decided that if people were to get to know us as a family, he will come as part of the package. There is no easy solution to the problem of those difficult questions, we know, but we decided to carefully work out a range of different answers that we can give, depending on the situation we find ourselves in.
We have been amazed at how many of our new friends have so embraced this and have not only acknowledged Philip’s existence as our oldest child, but have begun to ask about him and asked to see our photos. It has given us welcome new opportunities to talk about our son, to keep memories of him alive and to continue to be proud of him. It really helped me the other day when someone said they felt as if they almost knew him now.
However, there are many instances when it just would not be appropriate to say too much –whilst we are in the supermarket or chatting at the bus stop, for example – and we need to find ways to deal with this. It may not be comfortable, but by thinking ahead and trying to anticipate the question and the different scenarios, perhaps we can find different ways to respond without feeling we have dishonoured our children. You may like to say “We have two children with us at the moment” or perhaps “Gemma is eleven, Ryan is five and Lydia is almost two” whilst mentally adding to yourself that missing name and age.
Someone once told me a very special way of privately acknowledging all our children and we have adopted doing this as a family. Whenever she writes a card or letter and signs it off with kisses, she adds one kiss from each member of the family, including the babies she miscarried, thus acknowledging those children’s places within the family and her great love for them still.
If you have found a good way to answer this or any other difficult question, please let us know so that we can share your ideas with other bereaved parents. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.