Several days after Max died, my dad was dragged to a BBQ. “It will be good for you”, said the dragger.. and of course it wasn’t. The only way it could have been good for him is if everyone at the BBQ had come and put their arms around him and said how very sorry they were that his only grandson had just died. But that’s not what people do. Instead, nobody said a word. They went on and on about their own lives and (living) grandchildren and ignored the elephant in the room. My dad felt very alone.

In the seven years since Max has died, I’ve gotten mostly used to this. I try not to bring him up - but it’s hard. It’s especially hard when an experience I had with Max or as a first time mother is relevant to the conversation . It’s even harder for me when my experience of losing him is, in my mind, relevant to the conversation. Most of the time, the person I’m talking to, continues on with their drama, trying their best to ignore that I’ve just said anything at all. Maybe there is a quick nod. Other times, the reaction is hostile. More than once, I’ve literally been told that the situation is “not that! I’m not talking about that!” Angry. Dismissive. Hurtful. I’ve noticed it’s the same people who always get hostile. And I guess I’m expected to shut the hell up and just start listening! So I do. And then I try to be extra empathetic. And then I berate myself for days for bringing him up.

It seems I keep walking back into these interactions. The same people want to confide how awful and overwhelmed they are with something in their lives and it relates, for me, to something I’ve experienced with Max and then I’m shut down and shut up. And then I wonder why I keep interacting with these people or WHY they are choosing me to confide in. If I’m being perfectly honest, I don't very much from these interactions and relationships.

What I am learning is that most relationships are pretty one way. I am expected to listen and empathize. What I get in return is someone who likes me for those reasons. What I don't get is someone that I can also put my trust in. It's ok. Thankfully, I do have those people that aren't scared of my pain. If my job is to nod and zip it, then I suppose that is what I will do.

His heavy load

Last week, Mo and I were sitting at our kitchen table after Ted had brought the babies upstairs to start getting ready for bed. We were doing his homework together (yes, he has homework!) when he put down his pencil and said that he'd had a sad dream the night before. Before I could ask him what it was about, he followed up by asking, "Mommy, sometimes do you feel so sad that you feel like you could start crying and never stop?". "Yes," I said, "I have felt that way before. If you feel like you need to cry, you should, and I promise that you will be able to stop. You won't cry forever." Then, with that, he started bawling. I mean, really, really crying. Tears rolling down his little cheeks, shoulders shaking, little face turning red.

"I can't believe Max died", he said. "I just can't believe it. He was here and now he isn't. He was only a baby. Why did he have to die?". Such sorrow. So deeply felt.

I hugged him tight and he cried and cried. And then, "I miss Layla". Layla - our dog, who we had to say goodbye to a few weeks ago. After Layla died, we struggled with how we would tell the kids. But then they didn't seem to notice. They didn't ask about her or look for her and so we were lazy. We said nothing. On our way to the airport for Christmas break in LA, Mo asked who would be taking care of Layla while we were gone. Ted and I looked at each other. "When was the last time you saw Layla?", I asked. He burst into tears. "She's dead, isn't she?", he asked. He knew. He just didn't want to face it and if we didn't talk about it, he could pretend like everything was fine. Myla added her two cents, "Layla is at the doctors", she said.

Mo often asks me who Max is in heaven with and I tell him - he is there with mommy and daddy's grandparents and all of our pets. I don't really get into too many other people, because I think it is hard enough for him to absorb that grandparents die and that he has a big brother, who is a baby, in heaven. I'm conflicted about whether the concept of heaven is even the one that I should be teaching him - because I struggle myself with believing in and understanding what happens, if anything, after we die. I do think it is about all his tender little heart can handle at this point.

I shared this story with a bereaved parents group that I am part of. Many others in the group had similar stories - of children, who never met their siblings, but grieve nonetheless. We wondered together whether our children are grieving because they know that we are grieving, or because they think that they should be, or because they truly feel a sense of loss around having a sibling that they've never met: a sibling that they could be sharing fun and secrets and love with right now. Probably a combination of all of those things. All I know is that it breaks my heart. My sweet, caring, sensitive, empathetic boy. It's too much for a child to know. How it makes me truly envy those who don't have to think about any of this stuff. It's too heavy for me - imagine the gigantic load that he carries.