How do I help my son answer the question, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Question:

Nancy,

I am enjoying The One Year Book of Hope that I ordered recently.  I read it every morning in my son's room and it has been so comforting and helpful.  Thank you for working so faithfully on that so others could grow in the Lord in the midst of sorrow.

I know you are busy, but I have one question that has been on my heart for a while now.  I know you can relate to this since you have a son who is still under your stewardship. Our son who just turned 6 continues to ask many questions about why did our baby have to die and why can't we be with him anymore, things like that.  Well, I wonder, when people ask you or your son, if you have other children or if he has siblings, what do you say?  I don't want to say he is an only child, because he has a brother.  He is just not here on earth anymore.  I have thought of many ways to phrase it, but wondered if you had something that was helpful in that area.

Again, thank you for paving this road for so many of us. Your strength and faith and reliance on the grace of God are such an encouragement.


Answer:
In regard to how to answer that very difficult question, I think it all depends on who the person is, what the situation is, and where you want to conversation to go from there. Is it a brief introduction and you likely won't see the person again, or is it someone you want to know and you want to know you? I also think you may want to say one thing now and maybe a few years down the road you may want to change that, and that's okay. I know this feels agonizing now. It will get better.

Honestly, I'm not sure how Matt has or would answer the question about whether or not he has siblings. I think the best thing you could do for your son is 1. Don't make this an issue for him even though it's an issue for you. Kids mostly want to be normal—like everybody else. They don't want to go into any long awkward conversation. 2. However he answers this questions should meet with your obvious approval so he doesn't have to fear offending or hurting you with it. 3. If it does seem to be an issue, talking through various ways to answer and let him know that he may want to answer it one way today and another way tomorrow and that's okay. Help him by giving him some words: "You could say, 'I have a brother J, but he only lived a few months. Or if you don't want to have to explain that, and just want to say that you don't have any brother and sisters, that's okay too. We know it is hard to know how to answer that question. It's hard for dad, and me too. But however you want to handle that is okay with mom and dad."

This was harder for me earlier on than it is now. And no matter what, it is usually awkward, however, the person you are talking to takes his or her cue from you as to whether or not to let it become an awkward conversation. You can also generally control whether or not and how much you want to go into a discussion about your loss based on your tone and body language. If you'll likely never interact with them again and you don't want to go into it, then answer in a way that is truthful but maybe doesn't tell everything. When someone says to me, "How many children do you have?" and I don't really want to go there, I say, "We have Matt who is 18." I'm not giving them a number, and I'm not denying Hope and Gabe. If I'm open to talking more about it, I might say, "We have a son, Gabe, and a daughter, Hope, who lived just a short time, and we have a son, Matt who is 18." If I don't really want to talk about Hope and Gabe in that moment, I just go on from there talking about Matt, giving the signal that he is who I want to talk about and not dwell on my loss. But sometimes I want to tell them about Hope and Gabe and so I think I have ways of giving that signal.

About a year after Hope died I was in a group where everyone was going around introducing themselves and for some reason that day I didn't want to shape my image as "that girl whose baby died" and I didn't mention Hope. Afterward I went to my car and sobbed feeling that there I was, hoping that everyone else will not forget or erase her, and I just erased her from my history. And I decided that I wouldn't do that again to avoid awkwardness or defining myself.

I hope that helps. I know these days are very hard and full of tears—

Nancy