Last week Jeff ran into an old acquaintance while he was with Ryan, someone he hadn’t seen in years. The person asked him, “Is this…Ben?” How do you answer that? It is so strange to think that there are people whom we know in a distant context, or from other stages of our lives, that have no idea what has happened to us. “No, this is my son Ryan,” he replied as delicately as he could. “Ben actually died in 2008.” How’s that for a conversation ender? Awkward.
While at a doctor’s appointment the other day the nurse made small talk asking me, “Do you have kids?” “Yes,” I answered. She continued, “How many?” “Two,” I replied. She pressed the general chit chat further inquiring, “How old are they?” So I just told her, “Ryan is 2 ½ and my son Ben died in 2008.” Without skipping a beat she said, “Oh two is such a fun age.” “Yes it is,” I thought, “Until they get sick and die.” There was no acknowledgement of what I had just said. It felt so strange.
I have dozens of journal entries since Ben’s death of awkward moments. Like running into someone I knew from college a month after Ben died at Banana Republic. He was like, “Hey Carin! What is up?!?! What’s been going on?” I chose not to answer that. What was I going to say? “Oh not much…just buying some pants because my other ones don’t fit anymore… because my son just died. What have you been up to?” Yeah…awkward.
The hardest part is that I know in these moments that it is more awkward for other people than it is for us – for we live this every day. The only person for whom Ben’s death and our new reality is 100% not uncomfortable for is Ryan – for he has never known anything different. He never knew us “before” – only “during” and “after”. Our ups and downs, our tears, our grief episodes and our incessant need to talk about Ben are just the way it is. I kind of look at it like a second language. He is growing up in a house/world where talking about death, heaven, sadness and a brother who isn’t here are as common as asking, “What’s for dinner?” Spending Christmas watching the Cars movie and planting flowers at Ben’s memorial for Mother’s Day may be our permanent traditions. And there is a part of me that hopes that because of this Ryan will be a more compassionate, generous and loving human being. The other part of me says I better keep a list of the best doctors in Seattle – Child Psychologist edition. For when other moms at the park watch Ryan waving at the sky yelling, “Hi Moon! Hi Ben!” I’ll admit…it’s kind of awkward.