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Please Don't Ask Me How Many Children I Have!


One of my favorite questions used to be "So how many children do you have?" I would typically respond with a broad smile that "I have 2 daughters and one son!" That simple question changed to one of unease, apprehension, fear and sadness after my 23 year old daughter Karalee passed away in March of 2010. Karalee was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 19 and succumbed to the horrible disease 5 years later. You never think of the questions you are asked on a regular basis or as part of a conversation, until all of a sudden the answer changes. Even when Karalee was sick, the question never posed a problem because she was still alive but in 2010 all of that changed.

I am blessed to have 2 other beautiful children who are very much alive and a huge part of my life. However I will never forget my courageous eldest daughter Karalee as she held my heart for 23 wonderful years and will continue to for the rest of my life. That being said, how do I now answer the question "How many children do you have?"

I have tried:

"My eldest daughter passed away but I also have another daughter and a son."

My thinking, and from experience of testing it out, is that the minute I say "My daughter passed away" I am now feeling the need to comfort the person who asked the question as it was definitely not the response they were expecting! Typically I get the OMG face and then the "I'm so sorry". As I write this I'm thinking how do I really expect them to react? If they ignore the fact I am a parent who lost a child, I am now wondering if they actually heard me or are just visiting from another planet and haven't yet learned the human response of compassion.

then I tried...

"I have one daughter and one son."

However, I felt immense guilt as I never acknowledged Karalee's life. How could I not mention a child that I loved and watched grow into an amazing young lady, like she didn't exist.

then there was the disaster...

"I have 2 girls and one boy."

Who knew the next question would be "Are they in school or working?" Horror!!! With my mind racing to come up with an answer, I thought "In this circumstance a little lie can't hurt can it? If I just tell them what Karalee used to do when she was alive, I could just bluff my way though and no one would be the wiser." Well lying is never a good choice because as soon as I said "My eldest daughter works for the Canadian Cancer Society" (which she did until she was too ill to continue) the innocent young questioner states "Wow, my Mom works for CCS too!". So much for trying to find an easy out, and now my blood pressure was spiking and the sweat was starting to bead on my forehead! Once I regained my composure I asked "What area does your mom work in?" and thankfully she worked in another city so I was able to move the conversation in another direction. Lesson learned and one response out of my repertoire!

My husband and I were chatting while we were sitting at the reception of one of Karalee's close friends wedding. While we waited to see who would be seated with us at the table, I brought up the subject of "I never know what to say when we get asked how many children we have". As always, anticipating that whoever would be sitting with us, would ask at some point. The other question that I knew would be coming was "How do you know the newlyweds?" I guess by accepting the invitation we put ourselves in the predicament of the 'questions'! In my defense for accepting, and as I explained to my husband, the reason I wanted to go to the wedding was that if Karalee was alive we would have gone and as her friends were kind enough to want us to come even though she was not there, that was reason enough. So back to my initial question to my husband as to what he says when asked 'the question'. His response was to just say...

"We had three children, our eldest passed away, and we have another daughter and one son."

Saying it as a statement, matter of fact, putting it out there and then moving on. Apparently it had worked with success for him. The usual reply was "Sorry to hear about that" and then the conversation continued with no direct questioning to our deceased daughter. Okay, I was ready. I had my response and I had my support person right beside me. What could go wrong? The people who joined our table happened to be the photographers and were both women. After some initial pleasantries the question came.. "How do you know the newlyweds?" My response was light and to the point, "Our eldest daughter was a very close friend of the bride." The next response and question came (as expected) quite quickly, "They are such a lovely couple... so how many children do you have?" With my new found confidence I answered, "We had three children, our eldest Karalee passed away, and we have another daughter Kelsey and one son Kyle".

I waited to see if this was the magic response that had eluded me since Karalee's passing. After the initial looks of concern, they asked if Karalee was the young lady in the picture at the head table, how she knew them and how she had passed? I really didn't want to get into any details, but I explained the friendship and a little of Karalee's illness and then asked about their families. However, somehow the conversation came back to a friend of theirs that had cancer and to be honest I don't remember much of the rest of the conversation, as I kind of checked out thinking that I really didn't want to get into a cancer conversation.

I really do appreciate the condolences and looks of sympathy from everyone and I don't know what the magic answer is. All I know is I have three children - one in my heart and the other two living. I still haven't found the perfect response that flows easily across my lips. However, time is a great healer and at some point I will feel more comfortable with my answer. Although until that time happens, I know I will never not mention her. So until I find my perfect response, I will still have that angst and anticipation of what will eventually be asked...

"So how many children do you have?"

By: Kim

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