Sounds like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Well, to most people it is simple. But, if you’re a parent whose child died this is no longer just a simple question. When walking this grief journey how do you answer the question, “How many children do you have?”
How many of you remember the first time this happened to you after your child died? How did you react? What did you say?
The first time someone asked me this question after Melanie ran ahead to heaven, I clearly remember my eyes filling up with tears, as my lower lip began to tremble. I could barely get the words out before the tears began to spill down my cheeks. Somehow I choked out my answer. Most of the time I’m now able to answer without this much emotion, although regardless of the time that has gone by, my voice may sometimes quiver, and my eyes may still brim with tears.
Yesterday I had a conversation with someone I had never met before, and we began making small talk. As our conversation evolved we began to talk about our family and he asked, “Pat, how many children do you have?” There it was – the question! Thankfully, this time I was able to answer without all the emotions behind it. I always tell people I have 3 children, 2 sons and 1 daughter.
Interestingly, he asked where my children lived. I casually answered by first telling him where my older son lived then said, my daughter lives in heaven and our youngest lives with us. The gentleman stumbled a bit and said, “What did you say? Where does your daughter live?”
Although it was awkward, maybe more for him than me, I repeated that Melanie lived in heaven. It made me wonder if there is a better way to answer this question. Believe me, I’m not answering in this manner for shock value, but I refuse to not include my daughter when people ask how many children I have.
Melanie lived. For me, she is still very much a part of our lives and family. For as long as there is breath in me I will continue to say her name and keep her memory alive. I absolutely refuse to not mention her because it might make it easier for others.
On the other hand, another gentlemen who drove in from another state to attend this meeting was driving behind me as we visited another location. The moment we parked he jumped out of his car and immediately asked me about the emblem on the back window of my car. It has angel’s wings, along with Melanie’s sunrise and sunset dates. He directly asked me who that was and what the relationship was. When I told him it was my daughter he immediately told me how sorry he was for my loss and began sharing with me about his newborn son. Apparently, there were some medical issues, and he was in the NICU for several weeks. Thankfully his child is alive, but he was staring death in the face for those weeks and had a small inkling of what it may be like to lose a child.
It’s amazing how two men on the same day handled the news of child loss so differently. We never know who is going to cross our path, or what the purpose is. I do know it’s important to share our stories because in doing so we may help someone else. I firmly believe God will use these things somehow for his good. I will continue to trust him to turn the bad into good and make beauty from these ashes. This is where trust, faith, and hope reside.