Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lies from the Heart

I lied about Hudson for the first time yesterday (at least as far as I can remember).

I lied about her twice actually. The first time, I boarded my plane to Raleigh and as I was settling into an aisle seat, the woman by the window, a very kind-eyed grandmotherly type, saw my knitting and asked the regular string of questions, the string I brace myself for now in these awkward forced small talk situations. “When are you due?” “May 24.” “And is this your first?” “No, my second.” “And what are you having?” “A boy.” “And what do you have at home?” “A daughter.” No further explanation.

It just came out before I even thought about it. Usually when I get that question, I respond, “My older daughter actually passed away last year,” and then I brace myself for the fallout. After being sleepless since 3:15AM, looking into that woman’s kind eyes, anticipating a most effusive outpouring of sympathy (and I know my fellow bereaved of all kinds can relate when I say that the kindest and most sympathetic responses are often the hardest to deal with, the ones that make me break down the fastest), sitting in the front row of a plane with droves of passengers still walking by me as they boarded, I lied to spare myself.

“And what do you have at home?”

“A daughter.”

“Oh, well, perfect!” I just smiled and turned back to my knitting, hoping to avoid further conversation that might force me to admit I had lied when I said I have a daughter “at home.” I worked. She turned back to her book. And with that, I avoided a noisy and noticeable breakdown for which I was just not prepared this morning, as well as the inevitable look of pity she would probably keep giving me during the whole flight.

The seat between us remained empty almost until the flight was closed, but right at the last minute, a very young mother with a tiny infant strapped to her chest in a sling came in and sat down. The grandmotherly woman by the window gushed over the little boy, the young woman glowed in the praise, and I sat quietly, knitting away. A few moments later, I glanced over at the little boy, sleeping soundly against his mother’s chest, mouth puckered in that half-sucking pout that weeks-old babies put on while they sleep. As soon as I looked back to my knitting, the young woman next to me said, “Oh, I didn’t even notice you were pregnant! How far along are you?”

“34 weeks.”

“Do you know what you’re having?”

“A boy.”

We chatted a little bit about how they let you fly until 38 weeks now, and how much harder it is to fly with a little one. I mentioned that the flight attendants would probably give her son a “First Flight Certificate” if she wanted one (sometimes I just wander into the danger zone before I even realize it…), and of course, she immediately asked, “Do you have an older child?” Well, of course, I do. Why else would I know that Southwest would give her kid a certificate?

This time, I lied to spare her. “Yes, I have a daughter.” Well, this one wasn’t exactly a lie, I guess. It just wasn’t the whole truth that I usually tell when that question rolls around. But she was just so young and fresh-faced and so clearly still honeymooning with her sweet little boy (of course, I should probably know better by now that you can’t always tell from the outside what people are going through on the inside—this was just the vibe I got from her). I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her how awful the world can be to us sometimes, how awful it can be to our children.

I thought for a long while afterwards what, if anything, it meant for me not to share our story about Hudson with these two women. At first I found myself wanting to turn to them and just spill it all out, but after a time, that would have been awkward. Before yesterday, I guess I had thought I would always tell it, that to do otherwise would somehow dishonor her memory. But like so many other things about this process, I’ve learned that I just can’t know how I’ll react in any given situation until it is upon me. As much as I wish it weren’t so, I have many long years ahead during which I’ll have to answer questions like these. If I spent them either trying to predict these encounters and respond “appropriately” to them or second-guessing myself (or worse, feeling guilty) after every one, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of emotional room for anything else.

I said what my heart told me to say at the time. I guess that’s the best I can do.


  1. I think it is the best you can do. I struggle with this stuff a lot and I do a lot of dancing around with words. Someone today asked me if this was my first baby, and I almost said, no, it's my third, but that leaves an incorrect impression as well (since it gives the impression that I have two at home instead of one). I thought about telling the whole story, but this wasn't someone I am or wanted to be close to. So finally I said that I had a daughter at home and that this one is also a girl.

    That felt right for a minute, and then I realized that I had just erased my son from the story. I guess there is no good way to answer these questions.

  2. Mandy, You will always do the absolute best you can do at any given moment. That, my dear, is how you honor Hudson.
    Big hugs,

  3. My words are destined to forever be inadequate, but for a stranger who is bound to remain a stranger, I don't think these instances of not sharing Hudson's story are a betrayal to her memory. As you said, you have to do your best in each situation. All you can do is listen to your heart, saying what feels right at that very moment. For those who know, her memory and spirit live on through you and your beautiful words and thoughts, and the unbelievably breathtaking and telling pictures.

  4. Amen. Been there many times. It's up to you what you want to share and to whom you share it.

  5. You did good Mandy. There is no way Hudson will ever be denied no matter how you answer. (((HUGS))) Renee P.

  6. You did exactly what you needed to do Mandy.. and I don't see this as lying or dishonoring Hudson's memory at all. You shared that you have a daughter.. that Jackson has an older sister.. and the rest of the story is meant for those to whom you choose to share it with. It is as simple and as complicated as that. You are beautifully strong Mandy... know that always.

  7. I hope this doesn't come across the wrong way Mandy,but I don't feel that you lied at all. You do have a daughter, a beautiful
    one at that, and while she may not be here physically,she lives on through you. Be gentle to yourself in not sharing the whole story, especially with strangers. If I have learned nothing else from reading your blog and about Hudson's life, I know for sure that we are not defined by death.

  8. Yes, it was fine, it was good not to tell the whole story if that is what felt right. We're always not telling the whole story. We always shape the version of ourselves to fit the context that we're in. You keep Hudson's memory vibrantly alive in so many ways, you honor her every day in a profound way. Some moments, some interactions may not be worthy of the gift of Hudson's story.


  9. Your heart took good care of you yesterday. It told you what to say to spare you the agony of having to utter those terrible words yet again, words that are so painful to say. You also avoided having to manage another person's shock and sadness at hearing that you are a grieving mother. Your last few posts have sounded like you are having an especially sad time these days, and I am very sorry that you are experiencing even more intense grief. I hope you can feel the support that is all around you.

  10. "I said what my heart told me to say at the time. I guess that’s the best I can do." That's definitely the best any of us can do. I've found that questions like that have changed for me, both with the passage of time and after I had another child.

  11. Mandy,

    If it makes you feel any better, I have done the same thing on a few occasions. I felt so dishonest ... But I just so wanted it to be true, to still be the mom of a beautiful, healthy 14 year old.

    You are in my prayers always,

    Carol - Caroline's mom

  12. Mandy,

    I can so relate to the fact that sometimes kindness, genuine caring kindness, is the hardest response because it touches the core of emotions. There are times in my life when I was in deep pain that I just could not interact with people I knew would be kind and sympathetic. It would just touch me too deeply at a moment when I felt the need to 'hold it together.'

    You honor Hudson every moment of every day, through every breath that you take...she is a part of you and always will be. It does not matter if you tell someone details about her or simply acknowledge that you have a daughter. It does not matter if you don't say anything about her at all. You are always honoring her. And, you have shared her story, her life, her gifts so deeply with so many...

    You said it best: "I said what my heart told me to say at the time. I guess that’s the best I can do." Hudson wants you to feel as peaceful as you can. She wants you to listen to what you need in this painful process. In all the uncertainty of death, one thing I feel clear about is that those we love, those who love us, want peace and joy for us, just as we do for them. Though it is complicated, I am glad you were able to listen to what you needed at that moment.

    Rachel C.