Answering “How Many Children Do You Have?”

One of the hardest questions to answer is “How many children do you have?” In theory this is a simple question, but for a parent who has lost a child, it is not so easy to answer. The other person unknowingly opens Pandora’s box.

How I answer the questions depends on my relationship with the other person. Have they earned the right to see me at my worst moment? Will they judge me or turn away as I tear up? Other factors include the social setting in which the question is asked and my nano-second judgment to determine if this is the right place and time to share. It also depends on if I feel mentally and emotionally prepared to accept their response. It is not easy to decide how to answer a simple question. It is something I will deal with for the rest of your life.

One answer is to give the full response. If the stars are aligned and I am feeling comfortable, happy, and able to deal with their reaction, I say, “Two in Heaven and two on earth.” I wait and watch their face for their reaction, especially their eyes for tears. Many respond with “I can’t imagine. That must be horrible.” My typical response is “Yes, it is. It sucks.” Sometimes they are curious and want to learn more. They ask questions about what happened. I don’t offer details. Tell them the minimum. Courtney died in a daycare accident and Connor took his life. No matter how I share, they are shocked. I use my intuition to share more or stop.

Another option to answering the question is to say four and leave it at that. I take the chance of them asking more questions. Sometimes they go on and ask about ages. If that happens, I share about the two in Heaven and two living. Then I am back to looking for their reaction to prepare for their next question.

If I feel we will never establish more than a passer-by relationship, I tell them two children. It makes it easy to talk about the living, their ages, where they live and what they do. Yes, at that point I took the easy way out.

Does this all seem in direct conflict with wanting to talk about my children? It may feel that way. As a loss traveler, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is your choice how and when to talk about your children, how many are alive, and how many in Heaven.

My higher power is God and that is why I talk about having children in Heaven. It is important for me to share because I am reassured that I will see them again. If you believe the same, it is possible for you to receive the same relief.

The natural flow of conversation is now broken, and the news of child loss makes others stumble and fail at what they say next. I have compiled a list of 21 things to say, not to say and do for a grieving parent. If you would like a copy of 21 Things to Say, Not to Say, and Do for a Grieving Parent, send me an email and I will send it to you.

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