One of my grandsons only lived thirty-four hours. He was born on Christmas Eve and died on Christmas day. The only time we got to spend with him was the fleeting moments just before he died. The rest of his short life was spent in a special bed with oxygen and tubes and wires. The short length of his life does not diminish his place in our lives or our family. He was and is my grandson. We have developed a simple way of remembering him each Christmas and I still think of him quite often even though he died eighteen years ago. I often spend time trying to picture what he would look like now. What kind of personality he would have. Would he be creative and talented like his brothers? Would he be loud and boisterous or quiet like they are? He lives on as one of my grandchildren.
This leads to a dilemma I am forced to face on a regular basis. From conversations with hundreds of bereaved parents over the years, I have discovered that I am not alone in my questioning. What do you say when someone ask you how many grandchildren you have? If I include Isaac, I have eight. I have seven living and one who died. Do I say that every time someone asks me the question? If I don’t do so, I feel guilty for excluding Isaac and feel like I am not properly honoring his life or his memory. If I do so, I am faced with having to tell the whole story and suffering through the strained silence that follows as the questioner struggles with what they should say next. After living with that for all these years and trying to help untold numbers of parents struggle to find an answer I have finally come to some conclusions that work for me.
THE SETTING MATTERS
If the question comes in a public place where other folks can hear, I simply say I have seven grandchildren and leave it at that. We have a right to determine when and where we will tell our story. That does not mean we are failing to honor the life and memory of our child. It just means we can choose when we think it appropriate to do so. My living grandchildren are wonderful and are doing some things I am very proud of. That does not mean I should broadcast those facts to a full doctor’s waiting room, or in the check out line at the grocery store. There is a time and a place for all things. Choosing the times and places happens to be one of our rights.
THE PEOPLE MATTER
Who is asking the question also matters. We talk a lot in these blogs about safety. Some folks feel safe, some folks don’t feel safe. Some folks are safe, and some folks are not. That does not mean they can do me great harm if I tell them my grandson died. It means they do not strike me as knowing what to do with the information and are not likely to know how to say the things I need to hear, and might even say some things that will bring a new wave of grief for me to deal with. Words can hurt. Words can stick with us for a very long time, therefore, I think it wise and proper for us to choose the sources of the words coming our way.
HOW YOU FEEL MATTERS
It also should depend on how you feel at that moment. There are times when we want to or even need to talk, and other times when we want to run and hide. There will be days when you will run from talking to the best friend you ever had, and other days when you spill your insides to a total stranger. Both situations are fine and normal. Feel what you feel and react accordingly is a very good rule to follow. It will seem like you are going crazy, but you’re not.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I have come to realize that remembering and honoring Isaac does not depend on who or how many I tell. If he is alive in me it does not matter who I tell or who I choose not to tell. The honoring and remembering is really just between the two of us and can really only happen inside of my heart.
Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.
Updated: January 11, 2015