It’s a small word but it is so big.
Today at work I was chatting with a colleague and the conversation turned towards our kids (we both have a son named Ben we discovered a while ago). It’s not uncommon in our day for us to meander from work topics to more personal chatter and kids is a common topic since all of us in the office have them. My colleagues and myself are all within a few years of each other in age so we have lots in common when it comes to many types of life experiences – raising kids, empty nest, etc.
I have always been open that I have four boys but I only ever talk about the three that are living. Willie, and his death, are a topic that I don’t share with casual acquaintances and I know that the death of a child tends to make people uncomfortable. So I usually just gloss over him and never mention him by name. No one ever seems to notice that I only ever talk about three kids even though they know that I have four. Fair enough. I don’t avoid him in the hopes that someone will ask. I actually very much abhor someone asking why I only ever talk about three. Yet I also have long left the time of when I would lie and say that I have three behind me. I did that for a few years and the lie was hard to keep up. It meant never having pictures in my office of “before” which showed clearly four and not three. Not to mention it sat badly inside of me that I felt like I was pretending that he never was. There’s that word again.
So back to today. We were talking about personalities and traits that some inherit from their parents and how random it seems sometimes. In the midst of my chitter chatter, I slipped and said “Willie had the most quirky sense of humour. He was funny and sarcastic in a way that I related to so much.”.
Full stop on her face, the laughter and smile gone all of a sudden with that one word that she picked up on, “Was?” she said.
I felt like someone had slapped me across the face. My heart raced and all I could hear was ringing in my ears. In that second I knew that I had let out something very personal and that I had two choices in my lap. I could gloss over it and lie (and it did flash across my mind to do just that) and say that he was different now that he was older blah blah blah. Or I could be honest and say that yes, “Was”, that he was dead. The thought of pretending that he was alive was impossible. It’s hard enough to pretend that he never was but to create a reality that he is still in is even more impossible. If impossible has levels, that was at the highest. So I took a breath and made a silent prayer to my goddesses that I would not cry and said simply, “Yes, was. He passed in 2012.”
Oh how I still hate saying that out loud.
She immediately said how sorry she was…and I, of course, immediately said how fine it was, how okay it was, how I am fine, how I am okay. Because of course, everyone’s comfort with it comes before my hurt. I don’t say that in a sense that she made it that way – I own that and how I feel about it. Then something happened that has never happened before. She didn’t apologize or quickly end the conversation and go back to work. Instead she asked me to tell her about him. What he was like. She asked me to share him with her. Essentially, to not hide him or his death. So I talked about him a bit, and the conversation naturally meandered from one kid to another and, before I knew it, had wandered back to where we were before I mentioned him.
The conversation was back to where it had been before I had said “was”… and Willie was there in that conversation now, alongside his brothers where he belongs. It feels good to have him exist again – in memory, yes, but present nonetheless.