“So, how many children do you have?”
Seems like a harmless conversation starter, doesn’t it? In most cases that’s true – it’s nothing more than an easy way to find out about a person’s family life. But, as U.K. mother Andrea Corrie wrote in a MailOnline column recently, the question is far from a benign ice breaker to her.
“I do not tell the awful, stark truth: ‘I had two children, but one drowned,’” she writes. “Instead I smile and give my stock response, the one I have practised for almost a decade since the death of my beloved son, James. ‘Well, we’re a bit of a blended family and the children are grown up now,’ I say smoothly. ‘How about you?’”
In her article, Corrie discusses a handful of the formerly-routine happenings that have become stressful since her son’s tragic death. How long after meeting someone new does she reveal her son’s death? Does she tell people in professional situations, or keep it to herself out of fear of being treated differently. When people ask her how she is doing and the answer is ‘terribly’, does she answer honestly or give the classic, non-consequential fluff response: “I’m fine, how are you?”
Corrie’s son James died in July 2005 following a night of drinking. He was 19-years-old at the time. The group of friends he was with on the night of his death took two cabs home to end the night. Each group thought James was riding home with the other, but both were wrong -- he was actually still walking around London. At around 2 or 3 in the morning, police estimate, James fell into the River Thames and drowned.
Corrie says she lost track long ago of the number of tactless, inappropriate responses people have given her after hearing of James’ death. So, among other things, she used her column as an opportunity to give advice on how to appropriately react when someone tells you they’ve lost a child.
“So I have thought long and hard about how best to break the taboo, about finding the right balance when talking about loss and responding to it,” she writes. “I believe the best reaction is simple and understated. If a parent tells you their child has died, respond that you’re very sorry to hear it. And if you want to know what happened, just ask them. Know, too, that no offence will be taken if you don’t.
“Hyperbole, exaggerated sympathy and attempts at empathy — however kindly meant — are entirely unnecessary. Grief is a conversational minefield, but we should learn to negotiate it with tact and delicacy. And the more open we can be about discussing it, the better it will be for all.”
Source: MailOnline / Photo Credit: Andrea Corrie