The Hardest Question
This post was stemmed from an interaction that I had the other day. I was getting some new jeans, Kaden was with me and the associate that was helping me had a Harry Potter tattoo on her arm. So he lit up and started to talk to her about it. This sweet woman, she ate it up. She was pregnant, having a little girl and was having a great time talking to Kaden, talking to me about being a mom. Then she asked me the hardest question that I have to answer.
Is he your only one?
This sweet lady from American Eagle, I made her cry. I told her what happened. I told her Millie's name. I told her how we fundraise, how John races in the Ironman for her. She asked, I answered and she listened. At the end of the conversation, she actually thanked me for sharing our daughter with her. She told me that I am a delight to talk to, that she was so happy to have met me.
The hardest question that I get asked, almost daily from strangers everywhere.
Is he your only child?
Some days this shoots my anxiety through the roof. Sadly some days I can feel it coming before it is even asked. I remember thinking "what the hell am I supposed to say" and stumbling over my words as I answered the question trying to fight off tears. I used to think 'this could go two ways. I could tell them no, because they don't see her. Or I could tell them the truth and figure out how to answer this question in the least painful way possible.' To me? If I said no, to me it shows that I am hiding her. That I did something wrong, that I am keeping the taboo subject of babies getting cancer and dying alive, instead of fighting that.
So, I have gotten better with answering that question. I always will take a breath, smile and answer with 100% honesty.
"No. We have two kids, our daughter would be about 2 1/2 years old right now. But she unfortunately passed away suddenly from cancer when she was 10 months old. So he's my child down here and she's up there."
Insert awkward silence. This is the moment where people are looking at me thinking "did I just hear her correctly? What did she say?" and I still have my smile on my face as I mentally prepare myself to share the cliff notes version of her story if they ask more, or I just leave it with that statement if they find it too awkward or difficult. I'm sure my matter-of-fact way of telling them could have possibly caused their brain to go into overdrive....or maybe they just don't care. Usually I get the response, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
But how could you? You look at me, and I look (somewhat) normal. I'm at the grocery store getting things to eat. I'm shopping for new jeans. We are going through yet another deployment. I'm at the library with Kaden picking books. I volunteer in his classroom, I'm living life. It just makes my heart ache that people will never meet her. They will never ever know her. It makes me so incredibly sad that people look at me and I look like I'm a mom of just 1 child. I don't have a stamp on my forehead saying "my baby had cancer and died", I have zero markers. Sometimes I get random hugs from strangers after I tell them. Sometimes they ask questions, and I answer them. I tell them we never knew, she was the strongest baby and we are doing everything we can to fight this disease for other kids, because of her. Usually, that response results in tears....from the stranger, not from me. I don't know if my skin has gotten thicker, I've gotten stronger or my voice is just becoming more clear. But sometimes, I feel better after telling them.
You know what else I've noticed? Kaden. Kaden tells people about her, when I'm not around. He tells his friends, other adults. By me opening up to people and sharing her name and her story, HE sees me doing it. It is showing him, that he can talk about her too, whenever he feels like it. It is hard for any human to articulate how they are feeling, let alone a 6 year old. He misses her, he tells me. But we talk about her, and I believe that because of us being so open and honest, it he's comfortable with doing the same thing.
I am so incredibly proud of both of my kids. I will tell her story to anyone and everyone that wants to hear it. I will keep talking about her, keep sharing her story, her smile...her pictures. Because this is all I have left of her. I have two amazing kids. I have said it once, and I'll say it again. I can't change what happened to us, but I CAN change the way I live through it. And I am deciding to live through it by being open and honest and bringing her with me.