Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How To Say It

I walked Bess today like I do every day. As I turned around the corner back onto our street, on to the last block before our house, I saw a family I know only very casually pulling up to the curb in front of their house. They are a family of four, and their youngest son is just a few days younger than Hudson. We first met in Halloween of 2008, when they came trick-or-treating at our house with their older son. The mom and I were both very pregnant and discovered our due dates were only days apart. We ran into them a few times walking in the neighborhood after that and said hello but haven’t seen them since Hudson died. Every day, I walk the dog past their house and always wonder what’s going on within. Sometimes, it’s late enough that evening is falling outside and the lights are on in their dining room and I can see them sitting around the table together. Whenever their car is parked outside, I glance in and see the toddler seat for the little boy Hudson’s age and the booster seat for his older brother. Every single time I walk past their house, I think to myself, “Therein lies our old life.” How our life used to be. How our life should be. An intact, happy family, carpooling to and from work and school together, squeezing in a meal between busy daytime schedules and little ones’ bedtimes. I guess I still just haven’t accepted the reality that our lives do not exist on that plane anymore.

I thought surely they had heard about Hudson, since most of the families in the neighborhood are on our Brookland family listserv, where news of her death spread when it happened. So as I turned the corner and saw them all piling out of the car, I cursed my luck, not wanting to have to face a conversation where they might not know what to say and therefore might not say anything at all and we’d all feel uncomfortable until I said goodbye and walked on.

Unfortunately, it was even worse than that. They hadn’t heard. I stopped to say hello and the first thing out of the mom’s mouth was “How’s your daughter?” For some reason, every time I hear a question that will require me to tell my awful story, I do a double-take and ask the person to repeat herself. I don’t know if my brain really doesn’t hear the question (I do have slight hearing loss), or if it hears the question and is just taking a few extra seconds to compose itself and try to prepare a response. But it seems like I do that every single time.

“I didn’t know if you guys had heard or not, but she actually passed away last year.” That’s another weird thing I do—I always say, “She actually passed away.” As opposed to what? She virtually passed away? She apparently passed away? She supposedly passed away? What are these strange fillers my brain creates? And why? And for some reason, I always say “passed away,” not “died.” I don’t know why that is either—I guess “died” just sounds much harsher in that circumstance, when someone is hearing it for the first time. I remember I said it once: “She got sick and died” and it just sounded so abrupt. I don’t seem to have any trouble saying “when Hudson died” in other contexts. It’s so odd, though, because I don’t even know what “passed away” means. I guess it may have originally been intended to imply an afterlife, some journey after death into which a person passed.

All of this I said with tears growing in my eyes and throat. There have been a few times in the last few weeks when I’ve been able to say it without crying, like to the pedicurist who asked me if this was my first and then asked me how old my older child was. I don’t know why I can sometimes say it rather matter-of-factly and other times I can barely choke the words out.

My neighbor said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and pulled me into a hug. I thanked her and went on. “Yes, she got meningitis, which is not usually fatal for kids her age. They don’t know why it was so aggressive.” I was just babbling at this point, filling the space between us, not even knowing what I was saying or why I was saying it or whether anyone really wants to know how a 17-month-old child died.

And then, still working hard to keep the tears mostly at bay, I said, “That was in May. And now we’re due again in May,” and patted my belly, which was somewhat covered up by my coat. At this point, I tried to laugh through my tears, a way of shrugging my shoulders at how ridiculous the world seems sometimes. This is another thing I tend to do—when I drop the bomb of Hudson’s death on people, I immediately follow it with news of being pregnant again. I have no idea whether I do this for them, so they can move on from the horror of hearing that Hudson died, or for me, so that I don’t have to keep watching them try to process it.

There is just no good way to tell someone that my child has died. Every possible way to say it sucks because nothing I can say can make it not true. Every possible way to say it sucks because the truth of it is just too awful for anyone to take in.

I guess it’s still too awful even for me to take in.


  1. It is too awful to take in. I am so sorry.

    In the 'for what it's worth' department, my mother died when I was young and I said such similar phrases ('actually, she passed away' was/is common) and I also always fill the space with 'and fortunately my dad re-married and I really like her..." as if this makes everything into a happy ending that my listener can deal with. For me, it was too much to manage someone else's feelings of shock/grief on top of my own -so I think I was keeping their feelings at bay so they wouldn't spew their emotions at me.

    Thinking of you.

  2. It is, it is an awful reality to live with. And the telling never seems to end. I'm so glad she gave you a hug at least.

  3. Mandy, your writings always move me. Especially today. Thank you.

    Love, Rebecca

  4. You're right. There is just no good way to tell someone that your child has died. And I am so, so, sorry that you have to tell them.


  5. I wish those words never had to be spoken.

  6. There is no right way to say it and I'm so sorry you have to say it at all. It breaks my heart that this is your reality. Big hug, Mandy.


  7. You've been through a terrible trauma and there's no good way to talk about it. You need to go easy on yourself in these situations and how you discuss it. Only a fool or cretin would judge you.

  8. i've been reading your blog for a while now, not quite sure what exactly was drawing me to your story so much. I've never dealt with losing a child, as i am not yet a mother. But still i find myself here quite often. This entry reminded me why i frequently find myself here. Although i cannot know what you are going through as a mother who has lost her child, i do know what it is like to be a child who has lost her mother. My mother passed away six months after i was born. I never even had the chance to know her. And when i encounter a situation where i must tell someone about her it plays out very much like the one you described. I also say, "Oh, she actually passed away when i was a baby" trying to act is if its no big deal, like everything is a-okay. But it is a big deal. and your blog is a testament to just how "big a deal" your baby Hudson was, and still is, to you. I think that is what draw me in the most - that you have found a way to express just how much she matters and how much she will continue to matter to you the rest of your life. it is really beautiful. i envy the courage you show, writing so open and honestly about something which is so very difficult to talk about at all. So thank you for sharing your experiences and showing me one good way of wading through the never-ending grief that results when a mother and child are separated.

  9. I do the same thing -- minimize the loss..."actually, she passed away," followed by the ridiculous, "but I have a new baby." I guess it's my(our) inherent need to not disappoint others. As if somehow I have failed the listener by relaying such tragic news.

    To anonymous who posted before me -- your story is heartbreaking. I've often thought that the only other loss that compares to the death of one's child is a young child who has lost its mother. I am so sorry you have had to live wihthout your mom, and that she never had the chance to see you grow up and develop into what appears (based on your insightful comment) to be a wonderful adult.

    Hugs to you and to Mandy.


  10. Often silent, but still reading. Just wanted to say...I'm so sorry that this has to be the story you have to tell. I'm so so sorry.

  11. It sucks no other way to say it it f..sucks..