“Is he your only child?”
The million dollar question. The question that causes my heart to race more than anything else in the world.
Even close to ten years after Charlie’s death and more than eight years after Henry’s birth, this question STILL gets me.
There’s no textbook answer and no rule for what to do or say. This question comes up far more often than one would think, too.
I used to use “Yes” as my stock answer to those I knew wouldn’t have any deeper interaction with me than whatever I was doing at the time. If I was at the grocery store, Henry was my only child. If I was at the dry cleaners, I have one child. If I knew I would never have to talk to somebody again, he was definitely the only child.
Saying “no” was my way of protecting myself from being uncomfortable and protecting the person questioning me from that awkward moment of not having ANY idea what to say!
Several times I’ve had to backtrack and say, “You know, I know I said that Henry was my only child but I had a son who died when he was only 24 days old.” Sometimes you just never know that the person you think is a one time interaction is destined to become a really good friend.
This was never a problem before Henry could put it all together and answer the question for me. The first time he caught me off guard was one day when he was getting a haircut. The girl washing his hair was chatting with him and asked if he had any brothers or sisters at home.
His answer, of course, was “Well, he’s not at home, but I have a brother.”
She asked if he was older or younger and that threw him for a loop. So he sat up and said, “Tell her, Mom.”
So then and there, in the middle of a salon with four other people around, I had to tell this 19 year old assistant about my son’s brother who died.
I left her speechless.
But it taught me a very important lesson.
My son is proud to have a brother.
Since that day, I’ve had to tell Charlie’s story to many people, including a dad who came to pick up his child from a sleepover. The boy’s sibling was with the dad and he said, “Hey Henry, where’s your brother? Can he play with us?”
As much as it hurts sometimes when the question is asked, if Henry is with me, I defer to his love for his brother and his pride of having a brother and just tell the story.
I may cause tears and uncomfortable moments, but I’m doing right by my son. Well, by my sons.
Every family reacts differently to this question and answers it in their own way.