encounters with normal

This post references my surviving son.

A woman approaches me and tells me she recognizes me from ten years ago when I hosted my sister's baby shower.  She reintroduces herself and asks about my sister while my son C.T., and presumably her child(ren), splash around at swim lessons. I feel out of place inhabiting my own body as she smiles and chats, eyes lit up, clearly having gone on to live a relatively smooth life over the course of the last decade. I am quiet, awkward, not sure if and how I will explain the tragedies that have befallen my family.  Just as I'm internally cursing myself for signing C.T. up for swim lessons, for stepping out of my grief comfort zone, she senses something may be off.  She says: So, is everything going well for you?

I fumble for the right words and manage to respond in the negative. No. Everything has been awful, it's been truly devastating.  My son Zachary died seventeen months ago. I can't bear to tell her we lost B.W., our first son, back in 2006. It seems too much to dump on an old friend of my sister's. 

She gasps, says she is very sorry and starts in with the questions. Oh my God. How old was he? Do they know what happened? 

Her curiosity, the way she asks about what happened to Zachary, irritates me. Of course we know what happened to our dead child. I struggle to normalize my voice which is starting to tremble and it becomes clear that I don't want to be having this or any conversation with her. She tries to smooth it all over by asking me to point out my (surviving) son in the pool, and after offering that he is adorable, asks that I pass along a hello to my sister. 

I am not sure why I am angry with her, this almost-stranger, but I am. She wasn't cruel or dismissive about Zachary. Her response to our tragedy was relatively appropriate and compassionate. She read the cues and let me off the hook when she saw I was about to crumble. But, it literally sucked the life out of me to talk to her for five minutes, to smile and chit chat and then give just the punch lines regarding one of our two dead children. 


On the last day of first grade, the bell rings and C.T. walks toward me, arms full of stuff I will help carry home. I expect he will be giddy with the prospect of summer and much more free time, but he seems downcast. He grabs my hand and starts pulling me away from the school immediately.

Mom, you know it's really sad—a lot of teachers are having babies right now.

He goes on to tell me he had a substitute teacher for most of the last day of school. She was obviously pregnant and all of his classmates were eagerly asking questions about the baby. He explains that he can't get excited about anyone else's baby when Zachary is dead. He doesn't understand how they can be so certain the baby will live. He wants to know why almost all of his classmates have living siblings and both of his are dead. I have to clench my teeth as I think about how to respond to his tender frustration.

I panic when I realize that next year, or any year, C.T. could be permanently assigned a pregnant teacher. I contemplate asking the school to make sure it doesn't happen but quickly remind myself that, based on their incompetence in handling Zachary's illness and death and C.T.'s grief, they will probably fail to see this as a worthy or reasonable request. 


It is Sunday morning and I have just arrived home the prior evening from a three-day bereavement conference, attended by two thousand grieving parents from across North America.  I am getting breakfast together and C.T. asks me how to spell "prisoners".  I rattle it off, too busy with breakfast to investigate what he's working on, and he goes back to writing on his own.  Much later in the day, he shares it with us.


When I think about you Zachary, my heart pounds hard. It feels like prisoners are pounding on the walls and trying to break out. If you were here we would get to see your foot in person not in a mold. I wonder if you would like spice. I like spices so I think you would too. I love you.

It occurs to me that many kids were watching Sunday morning cartoons with their siblings while C.T. was pining for his dead baby brother. 

How do you cope with normality after the loss of your child(ren)?