Losing a child throws you into the quandary of how to answer what were once easy, everyday questions such as “How are you doing?” and “What’s new”? Often asked reflexively, we never know if the inquirer really cares about the answer. BCD (“before my child died”), depending on my mood, I might give the typical reflexive response (e.g. “I’m fine”), or I might decide to launch into a story about some (usually trivial) thing that happened to me. Either way, when I walk away from the conversation I assume that the response had little, if any, effect on the person asking.
Fast forward to ACD (“after my child died”). Talk about a quandary. The reflexive “I’m fine” is the easy way out. If the person knows your story they secretly breathe a sigh of relief. If they don’t, they are spared what, at a minimum, is an awkward moment. What about the alternative? Here is where things can get interesting – especially when the person asking doesn’t know your story.
You have about 5 seconds to try and assess what might happen if you decide to be honest. In almost 3 years of seemingly countless 5 second assessments, I realize that what I’m trying to do is frame my response in a way that I can tell my truth, while somehow minimizing the totally awkward situation in which I just put the other person. I’m sure that many have walked away breathing that sigh of relief that the moment is over. In many cases, so have I. But then there are those times when the other person actually does the opposite. They want to hear more. And as you share your story, an amazing thing happens. They share theirs.
A recent example:
My CrossFit box (a community of beautiful people who you’ll hear more about in future Musings) recently hosted a ladies-night hip-hop class as a fundraiser for Sophie’s Fund. Pretty cool, right? The gym where you work out five mornings a week, but where you really don’t know anyone beyond their first name and what they look like in lulu lemon, wants to raise money for the scholarship fund in memory of your deceased child. WOW. In the lead up to the event, as they were promoting it during a class I was at, I realized that most of the people there had no idea that I had lost a child or what “Sophie’s Fund” was. They just knew the proceeds were for a charitable cause. Start the 5 second clock!
About 10 sweaty people graciously listened as I briefly told them about Sophie and her fund. After a round of hugs, most made a quick exit, but one woman stayed a bit to chat. About 2 weeks later she approached me after class and told me she had something for my son. (I don’t recall the details of our discussion that awkward morning but I must have told her Sophie had an older brother). It was a necklace with a dime hanging from a silver chain. She told me that ~20 years ago her sister died. Someone gave her this necklace and told her that they too had lost a sibling years before and the necklace had meant something very special to them. They said it was time to pass it along to someone else and gave it to her. She said she had no idea what the specific significance of the dime was to that person, but she wore it for many years. After hearing our story she said she wanted my son to have it. I was pretty speechless.
Somewhere buried in the depths of the pain of grief there is something very beautiful. Maybe it is the shared human experience that, when we realize that others hurt as we do, we want to reach out to let them know they aren’t alone. When it is from one stranger to another I think it is quite amazing.
To share or not to share? It is the rare person who will not, at some point, experience profound grief. It is only when we have the courage to share that we will uncover the ‘gifts of grief’. I know of no other scenario in which the gift is exchanged in both directions. I choose to share.