Tell me a story

photo by  margaret durow

“Your little boy is adorable,” she states.

I manage a terse smile and thank her with, what I assume, less enthusiasm that most parents would with a compliment for their child. My son had been to her house earlier in the day, giving his stamp of approval on his new big-boy bed. Our family had left without the bed, in a rush to attend a ceremony hosted by our local support group, a bi-annual event that gives us another chance to say Lydie’s name as we grab a tulip bulb and spade. Afterwards, I had returned alone to pack up our purchase, and as I stood in a strange driveway discussing the best Tetris-configuration of bed parts, I could feel the tightness of the conversation building—small talk: neighborhoods, the weather, children. Along with this tightness, I could feel the urge to blurt out our family’s afternoon plans, the reason why we were completely overdressed to move furniture and why we left in such a rush.

I wrestle with the idea of sharing as she continues on about her own children, noting that her daughter is 14 years younger than her son. I acknowledge the uniqueness of her family while attempting not to pry, but she quickly clears the mystery by revealing that the age gap is due to struggles with infertility. (Later, Heather would note that this is a surprising thing to share with a stranger, no less, a strange man.) Oddly, this potential over-share uncoils a bit of my tension, the opposite I am sure for most people that happen to stumble across this topic by chance in a stranger’s driveway. Finally sensing the safety in the moment, I confide that I had just returned from a planting ceremony, where I had penned a love note for my daughter, placed it next to the picture drawn by her adorable big brother, and scooped earth atop the crumpled pieces of paper. I tell her, standing around me at the ceremony were several families that, in addition to the loss of their child, struggle with infertility as well. And, although I don’t know what exactly that feels like, that I do my best to listen and gain a new understanding of how difficult it can be for so many to simply “have a baby.”

Then, as sharing begets sharing, she continues to tell me the story of her twin boys, born prematurely and still, 30 years ago. As if a dam broke, we break in to a flurry of personal stories on the commonalities that come with loss. Guilt and anger. Logistics and regret. Acts of kindness and the bewilderment at the stupid shit that rolls out of the mouths of well-intentioned family, friends and strangers.


We pause naturally and both stare at the ground, the serendipitous coincidence of our exchange catching up to us. She picks up the conversation by stating what I already know to be true, but is so often and easily disregarded as obvious:

“Even after 30 years, it hurts as much as it did the day they died.”

As it has done so many times over the last two years, my heart breaks all over again.

For her, for me.

For what should be.

For her should-be grown men smiling at my missing dark-haired girl dancing circles around their feet, her red-faced twin boys partnering in unison to end their mother’s prideful and loving account of decades-old stories of embarrassing toddler antics, recounted to a complete stranger that has come for nothing more than a used bed frame.

But instead, we stand alone together in her driveway wishing, wanting and completely vulnerable.

Our exchange was brief, but sincere and welcomed. It was, as has been lacking from so many other conversations, human. In the minutes spent with a complete stranger that I will never see again, there was a deeper connection then with people whom I share a storied history, long hours within a busy workspace or even blood. And I recognize that some of this may be my own doing—calculated avoidance, biting my tongue, a far too often reserved and self-protective approach to interactions. All in the hopes that I can be spared from platitudes and veiled sincerity, from awkward sideways looks and a quick change of subject. I realize that I am fortunate that this stranger gave me the chance to share Lydie’s story and as I climb in to my packed car and drive away, wonder how many completely understanding strangers are yet to cross my path.

Are you always the first to share your loss(es)? Do you feel the need for safety before you share?