Annabel is getting more and more social at school. She’s a friend-lover just like me, so I know how much it means to her to have a group of pals she can count on. She’s starting to get invited to birthday parties and play dates and it’s all really exciting for her. It’s taken longer for her to get invited to things than I expected, and I think that’s partly my fault…I’m not very social at her school. As much as I love having friends, I’m afraid to make any new ones.
I’ve gotten to the point in the grief process where I don’t care if random strangers I interact with know about Madeline. I used to have a lot of trouble with the small-talk, “How many kids do you have?” question. Now, my answer depends on if I think I’m going to see the person again, if I want to get into it, etc. My standard answer to that question is a half-truth: I have two kids at home. It’s the answer I have to give to get through the moment, and I have stopped punishing myself for it.
The problem is the parents of Annie’s friends aren’t random strangers, and she might be building life-long friendships with these kids. When I accompany Annie to parties and playdates (we’re not at the drop-off stage yet), I am almost paralyzed with anxiety that a parent will ask if Annie has any siblings. I don’t want to lie to them, but if Annie’s friendships progress the parents will find out about Maddie because they’ll either come to our house for a reciprocal playdate, or Annie will tell them herself.
It’s just…I’ve been through this. A child’s death makes people uncomfortable – it scares them. It ends conversations and completely changes how people look at you. And when they don’t know you or have any history or context, friendships often end before they even start. Hell, I had existing friendships end when Maddie died. It’s hard enough for me and I’m a grown adult. I’m terrified this is going to impact Annabel (and James, soon enough).
So I’m wondering: what would you do if my daughter or son was your child’s new friend? How would you react if I told you upon our first or second meeting that my oldest child is dead? How would you feel if I didn’t tell you, and you found out later by some other means? Would you still invite my child to your parties? Would you still come over to our house?
I don’t want to make the delicate process of beginning friendships any harder for my kids. But. I don’t know what to do here.