I find myself answering questions about my children often and especially when meeting someone new. People will ask out of curiosity or maybe simply to break the ice, “how many children do you have?” “boys or girls?”. While taking into consideration most people I am just meeting have no idea whether or not someone has lost a child, their questions seem harmless enough. The question I find the hardest to answer is “how old are your children?”.
My answers will vary depending on how much my heart can handle on any particular day. On a good day I will respond with the ages of my two living children and then say that I also have a middle son who was twenty seven when he passed away. Knowing what will follow is the hardest part.
I’m sure most people mean well and will usually say they are sorry. However, then they inevitably will ask what happened to cause his death? Some try to seem helpful and offer me a list of possibilities to choose from including illness, accident, car crash even overdose have all been mentioned to me! I will let them know that my son died by suicide and watch their eyes drop and their mouths close. The conversation is ended as quickly as it started and I then find myself trying to make them feel less awkward. Why I do this I can’t tell you but it happens.
There is nothing not awkward about suicide but I feel compelled by something inside my head to try and ease their embarrassment, shock and disbelief that I said “suicide”. One might imagine they feel they need to do or say something life altering but are coming up empty. Suicide has that effect on people it is a vile creator of many “what the hell kind of conversation have I gotten myself into” moments.
It is not easy to have these exchanges but it is becoming less difficult over time. The tears don’t come as quickly. The pain in my chest from my heart breaking doesn’t last as long nor completely shut me down where I am unable to function. I always look back and dissect each of these conversations. I hope I have explained the situation well and try not traumatize or embarrass the person asking me about Christopher’s death.
Open communication and honesty are vital to healing. Allowing the dialogue between the bereaved and the non-bereaved person both allows insight and enlightenment as to this inexplicable heartache that is suicide.
Don’t be afraid to ask!
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