When you’ve lost a child, starting conversations with someone new can be difficult. In the beginning of your loss, small talk can even feel overwhelming because you are on constant guard to avoid the inevitable question.
“How many kids do you have?”
Nearly nine years later what I can share is that it never gets easier to answer. At least in my experience.
Regardless of the situation, someone is left uncomfortable. Sadness or pity lingers over the table where before light chit-chat filled the room. There is always an awkward pause. Most people aren’t sure where to go next. After sharing the unthinkable, changing the topic feels forced and impolite. But necessary.
Children are the primary topic of my day now, due to my career. It is expected that I share about my boys but I normally don’t go into the details of our loss. I’m in a parent’s home to bring them support and sometimes my visit may be the only positive they feel in a week. So, I tend to focus on childhood stories that bring smiles instead of tears.
But another part of my position includes letting new employees or nursing students shadow me. In the downtime of driving across country back roads, small talk is just part of the ride.
This past week I found myself answering the seemingly innocent question over chips and salsa. Because we were eating, and being face to face when trying to explain the day my heart was shattered seemed even harder, I chose to answer simply and move on.
A short sentence compared to her loving stories scattered through our morning. Having just met I’d learned paragraphs about hers. I know she felt the uneasiness. The mood shifted noticeably, despite my efforts to seem distracted in getting refills. Inside the guilt was heavy and I tried to swallow it down with food.
Once back to the car, I pondered on explaining more to her but it was on to the next house and happy faces were needed. Yet I wondered, as she left that day, how it changed her thoughts about me.
I experienced this again, later in the week, this time through my husband. A standard question in the doctor’s long list of history. My husband’s response. A pregnant pause.
Tim’s shaky voice and sorrowful look was a glimpse of what others see in me across the table.
No matter the years, the pain comes flooding back. Emotions flicker across the face. Volumes spoken without words.
Temporary relief brought only in continued conversation, as you feel small in the talk.