Forming a relationship with someone AFTER a child's death comes with this ever present worry of when and how the conversation will come up.
I haven’t had my hair colored or cut since November. I’m trying my best to cover the grays with box dyes or temporary colored conditioner. I covered all my highlights and just have a single light brown thing going on. I don’t really like it, but I don’t leave the house often, and I’m not trying to impress anyone. (AJ, you’re stuck with me no matter how gray I go).
This issue may sound trivial to some and at times I tell myself I’m crazy for not booking an appointment yet, but I haven’t found a hairdresser since we moved to North Carolina eight months ago that I’ve liked. I had my hair colored twice at one location, never quite getting the look I wanted, and then saw one woman in November who really nailed the baby lites and made me feel good about how I looked but then...
The hair dresser I saw in November knew all about my family by the end of our 2 hours together. She knew we were new to the area, knew my profession, knew my husband‘s likes and dislikes, and knew that I had two beautiful little boys that completed my heart and my family.
Now logically, I know that this woman probably wouldn’t remember all these details. She sees many clients daily and probably has a list of things she regularly talks about with people and my answers just fell into the “new client” category because I had only gone once. I wouldn’t expect her to remember anything about me if I was to go back.
But that in itself presents its own problem.
For a parent who’s lost a child, we’re constantly faced with the fear of someone asking questions. Normal, everyday, simple questions that are by no means wrong or inappropriate. “Do you have any kids?” “How many?” “Boy or girl?” The problem is not with the person asking. Their questions are appropriate small talk and I would never want society to stop communicating for fear of possibly triggering someone else’s pain and suffering.
(Can you imagine a society where everyone walks on eggshells so we don’t accidentally hurt someone else’s feelings so we spend countless time and energy trying to identify all things that may at some point create an unwanted sadness? ::insert sarcastic eye roll::)
The problem is within me. It’s not feeling strong enough to answer the questions. It’s not truly understanding how I feel about my answers. It’s about taking time to prepare answers that I’m comfortable with and slowly relearning how to interact with society.
AJ and I dropped off our tax papers at H and R Block a few weeks back. The woman taking our information asks “how many dependents?”
I looked at AJ, he looked at me. We wanted to answer honestly, but didn’t really know the answer. The lady looks at us strangely, possibly thinking we don’t know what the word dependent meant. Then I slowly start stuttering through an answer that said we had two sons, but that our second died. She handled the situation with Grace. She offered condolences and then quietly asked for his birth date and death date. By then I had tears in my eyes and I knew I couldn’t handle many more questions. I think she sensed my uneasiness and quickly finished up her questions so I could run get outside and let out a big breathe and cry.
Now I worry about every new interaction or relationship. The small ones, like the tax lady or someone at Walmart asking Michael if he has any brothers or sisters, can get easier to answer over time. Some days you just answer ”no” and keep shopping. Other days you’re at the ready with an answer of how Johnathan is in Heaven now. These are people that may feel uncomfortable in the moment after hearing our answer, but then you walk away and it’s over.
The stranger and more anxiety inducing relationship are with those you know will be long lasting or recurring. I start a new job in May. During the interview, we talked about my career and experiences and what skills I could bring to the practice. They’re not allowed by law to ask me about kids and family. I didn’t offer any of that information up. I went through three interview cycles with different levels of management. I met with my future co-workers the following week for an informal chat to see if our personalities would work well together. Halfway through the chat, another PA asked about any kids or family. I panicked. Do I tell this person the whole thing? I’m still new to all of this. The pain is still very raw and emotional. But if you know me in real life, I’m a pretty honest and blunt person. So I explained how Johnathan died and used the moment to teach two PAs at my hopefully future job about the dangers of button batteries. I got the job offer later that day.
Now I need to navigate when and how I tell my supervising physician. I went through two interviews with her present and have now had multiple email and text interactions with her.
I know this is all up to me. I am in control of what I say or who I tell. There is no obligation from me or from her (or the other colleagues and office staff I haven’t met yet) to know the details of my personal life. I set my boundaries just as they will set theirs. Employer/employee, colleague, office staff, and patients all come with boundaries that we each as individuals get to create as relationships are formed.
Personally, the anxiety for me comes from not knowing when it may come up. I spend every day thinking about Johnathan. Some days I could sit and smile for hours thinking about all the happy memories while other days bring tears and panic attacks.
I know that with counseling and time, these negative reactions will lessen, but in the meantime, it’s all very difficult.
I know that God will give me the strength. In time, I’ll know what to say in the moment, because the words will be provided for me.
So I’m sorry to the hairdresser who will one day have to try to fix the hodgepodge of dye jobs I’ve done to my hair. I’m just too scared still to sit in the chair and not know if Johnathan will be brought up, and if he is, if I’ll be able to hold myself together enough to make it through.
Today may not be the day to form a new relationship with someone, but maybe tomorrow will be.
Thank you Makayla Huff for giving Johnathan his first hair cut, through both smiles and tears. ♥️