One of the hardest questions that I routinely get is: How many kids do you have?
It’s a difficult question because I’m not sure what to say. So depending on the context, my answer has changed.
Sometimes I say I have three children, and the moment those words are out of my mouth, I feel a stab in my heart. It hurts because I have four children. Just because my precious son is on the heaven-side, does that negate him? Does that mean he’s no longer my child? Why can’t I acknowledge him? If I'm honest, I hate myself a little every time I say it.
More often than not, I say that I have three children at home. Some people intuitively pick up on this slight distinction and ask if I have children outside of the house. Sometimes they make it into a joke about how I’m too young to have a kid in university…so what gives? Other times, they say it matter-of-factly as if it's such an odd thing to say - living at home. In those situations, I give a nervous, but fairly obvious, fake laugh and then crack some joke to change the topic swiftly.
From time to time, I’ll tell the real truth. I have four kids, three living. Speaking my truth into the question, noticeably changes the air that surrounds us. I watch the eyes of pity come out as the frantically look for their feet to make sure they are still there in case they need to run. I see their body slump as it reminds them of the pain that they are carrying. Their brain starts to whir as they desperately search for the right thing to say at this moment. Their mouths take a deep breath as they feel the pain racing through their body as they imagine what it’s like to lose a child.
In those moments, I want to take back my words. I wish, for those split moments, that I would have said I only had three children and then lived with my self-inflicted pain that comes from saying those words. My mind spins, thinking that this moment of honest weakness, was a bad idea.
Then their body straightens, the pain drops out of their eyes, they look up, and they say, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” Their pain shifts to a stance of uncomfortableness. You can smell the scent of awkward with a hint of unwillingness as it seeps out of every pore.
Fuck. That. Shit.
Do you know what happens in that moment? I have a choice. I can take on their feeling of uncomfortableness and take it on myself by changing the subject or injecting humour into the moment. Or I can let that heavy air sit and leave it with the one that owns it.I
’m tired of taking on other people’s feelings of being uncomfortable.
It’s taxing and leaves me feeling like it’s better not to acknowledge that I have four children. Taking on other’s shit leaves me feeling like I should have buried my grief alongside my son at the gravesite. That I shouldn’t acknowledge it, feel it, much less talk about it.
I’m sorry that I made you feel uncomfortable, but the reality is, your feeling of uncomfortableness will vanish the moment we change the subject. Mine will carry on for as long as I acknowledge I love each and every one of my children deeply, regardless if they are on this side of heaven or not.
Actually, that’s precisely the problem isn’t it. I feel like I need to apologize for making you feel uncomfortable.
So let me rephrase that.I
’m done taking on your uncomfortableness. I’m finished inflicting pain on myself because I don’t know how you’re going to react. You may end up with feelings of being uncomfortable, but I don’t buy that you can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child.
Because you can.
You just aren’t willing to go there.
I live in that place every day. Does that mean every day is terrible? Definitely not! Suffering and Joy can coexist. They can both be experienced at the same time. When my children talk about their heaven-side brother, it’s hard for me to tell if I’m shedding tears because of the immense sadness or joy that I’m experiencing at that moment. When my friends and family talk about Ezra and don’t shy away from saying his name, it fills me with so much happiness and pain that they are willing to enter into the discomfort. When I get a text from people who write me a note saying how much they missed having Ezra at their child’s birthday party and yet they are thankful that he was there in spirit, it fills me with a holy longing and love.
These are some of the beautiful people that are willing to imagine what it’s like to lose a child. These are the incredible humans that know that life is beautiful and hard. These are the people who are not living in a dualistic either/or, but are wholeheartedly embracing the both/and. These are the folks that are willing to love greatly fully knowing that love can be painful.
So excuse me if I don’t buy it that you “can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child.” That’s bullshit. Your level of uncomfortableness will only last a moment, and mine will last as long as I continue to love my son. It’s probably uncomfortable for you to hear that, and that’s up to you to get comfortable with. It’s taken me a while (and it’s still an ongoing journey) to get more comfortable being uncomfortable, but it’s opened my heart to a love I’ve never experienced before.