Being a bereaved parent is lonely. We’ve been through what most people believe is one of the worst things anyone can experience. We are permanently, irrevocably changed. We’re trying to figure out who we are now that we aren’t the us of Before.
We are parents and always will be.
But when someone asks in casual conversation “How many children do you have?” what was once an easy question is now loaded with considerations.
I find myself doing quick calculations in that moment:
What is the likelihood I will ever see this person again?
Do I have any inkling of how they would respond to the full truth?
Is this just polite small talk?
If I don’t think I’ll see them again, if they seem uninterested, if this is standing-in-line just-passing-the-time talk, or if anything seems unsure, I usually keep things very simple.
“Three” I say. “Two boys and a girl.”
If this could the beginning of a longer or deeper relationship, the person seems genuinely interested and willing to stick around to talk awhile, or something just seems sympathetic about them, I’ll tell them the truth.
“Four” I’ll say. “Two boys and two girls, but our oldest girl passed away last year.”
But my calculations can be wrong.