A couple weeks after the benefit a friend asked me over coffee if it is hard to speak publically about our experience and loss of Ben. I thanked her for asking and then told her, “No – surprisingly it is not.” It is not difficult for me to talk about Ben in front of 2, 5, 40, 200, 750 or 1100 people, as long as they know what has happened to us – as long as they are expecting our story.
What IS hard is the every day small chit-chat with other adults or parents who don’t know what has happened to us. The questions that arise in normal life, school and activity situations – How many kids do you have? Is Ryan your only child? Do you have other children? Etc. Thankfully, Ryan has made some sweet and awesome little buddies whose families know our story and aren’t afraid of us. But the nature of this stage of parenting is that we are constantly meeting new people.
I do my very best to avoid these kinds of conversations at all costs, for I know that if I have to tell them, it will be awkward and I can’t control their response. I understand that it is hard for people to know what to say. I get that. And I have more grace around this now then I did at the beginning of Ben’s absence. But instead of saying simply, “I am so sorry to hear that,” we get all sorts of odd responses. Furthermore, some people don’t even respond at all – at least out loud. It is as if they didn’t hear me. Or didn’t want to hear me. And that lack of acknowledgement is brutal. Occasionally I am surprised by a genuine brave reply – but that seems to be the exception to the rule.
Depending on the situation/conversation sometimes I lie (especially when getting my legs waxed by an 19 year old), sometimes I skirt around the question, or sometimes I change the subject. In that moment I have to quickly assess… Am I ever going to see this person again? Will we have a relationship? Will Ryan have a relationship with them? Is there a chance they will be exposed to BTF? Then I delicately decide what to share. I do this in an effort to protect them (and me) from that moment when their view of us changes. From that moment where I become “that person” who makes them imagine the unimaginable. But there are moments when it can’t be avoided – because if they keep asking, eventually I am going to tell them the truth.
For instance, a few weeks ago at an event in Ryan’s class, I got stuck talking to another mom that I didn’t know. “Do you have other kids in school here?” she asked, innocently enough. “No, I don’t,” I responded, and prayed she would leave it at that. But she continued, “Do you have other kids?” “Yes, I do,” I say without elaborating. “Is Ryan your oldest?” she asks. Deep breath. “No, he is my second.” Confusion ensues. “Oh are they at a different schools then? Pause. ****. I hate this. How do I answer? I am trying so hard to not drop the bomb of our life on her. She doesn’t even know me! I am purposely answering vaguely to save us both from that weird interaction. I don’t like making random people feel sad or uncomfortable. Why must this be so hard??? Why can’t I just have all my kids here – alive? But I don’t – and I didn’t have a way to get out of the question. So I told her the truth, watched it register, felt badly, and then spent the next few minutes trying to make her feel better. Why should I have to make everyone else feel better? It is MY son who is dead – not theirs! But inevitably I always do because I am reasonably socialized person. Because I don’t want people feeling awkward around me. Because I want Ryan to be liked. Because I am trying to live a “normal” life in very “un-normal” circumstances.
It just sucks. Talking to 1100 people who know my son is dead – not so hard. Telling one innocent person who is just trying to be nice – that is hard.