“So how many children do you have?” It’s a simple enough question like, “So what do you do for a living?” Innocent and straight forward. “Three…,” but I hesitate. I think about my oldest son who died almost three years ago.

Do I tell them? What do I say if they ask, “Oh, where do they live?” Do I change the whole conversation? Will I make them uncomfortable?

One time I said, “Two…. three,” as if I forgot somehow. I felt stupid and was so glad the other person didn’t ask more questions.

I will never forget. Never. Never will I forget the day he was born, his first day at school, the day of his  prom, and the day the cop walked up our path to give us the news. Never.

When asking others what they say, the responses are mixed. Some say none but most just answer the question. All of them, I could tell, have thought about it. Most of them, like me, hesitated at some point.

It’s not that you want to deny you child’s life or death. You just don’t want the pity. You don’t want the other person to feel bad. Maybe you don’t want the attention. You just want to pay for your groceries and go home.

A friend once blurted out, “HE’S DEAD,” to a nosey cashier and stormed out of the store to her car where she broke down in tears. Times like these cause us to retreat to shelter and avoid the light of public. We feel marked, like “FRAGILE” is stamped across our foreheads.

Inside our house we feel safer where no one knows we are hiding from the questions, the looks, the stopped conversations. We try to hide from our guilt, our sadness, and our pain, but we end up wallowing in it. We can’t and don’t want to avoid the pictures, the videos, and the things that bring us closer to those who we lost. Being alone is quiet and it’s predictable.

Being alone traps us. Time stands still. We create a cocoon but end up in a coffin. Being alone is good for reflection, rest, and regroup, but avoiding the light is suffocating and self-centered. Maybe selfish, even.

I hesitate to say this to a people who have lost so much but as I look at my walk, I know I’ve been selfish at times. I just couldn’t shake it. I really didn’t want to shake it. I would go out to eat, or to some party and find a way to show up late and leave early. I stared at the conversation desperately hoping the silence wouldn’t turn to the guy who lost his kid.

After picking up a Christmas tree, my wife turned to me with tears and said, “I’m just not ready to be out.” I felt her pain.

Too much alone time can kill us. How much is too much? If you spent most of you time alone or if you spent most of your time with others before their death will cause this answer to vary greatly. If you are an introvert, you will be reinforced by solitary pursuits but if you are an extrovert, and most people are, then you will get your energy from being around others.

The real answer is choice. Can you honestly say you are choosing to stay home? Choice is a good thing. It means freedom. The problem is we trap ourselves in our house, maybe our room, because we feel safer there. We believe it’s a choice but it ends up being a prison as we get stuck in our own misfortune.

Here are some suggestions for a people who like choice, but don’t like being told what to do and don’t know what to do:

1)     Start by taking short walks around your neighborhood. Start at dusk when the sun is setting and most people are inside. The setting sun is significant for us who have lost.

2)     When doing your errands, space them out so that you get out every other day or every few days.

3)     Next, ask one friend to meet you while you are out. Coffee shops are great places to go because they have low lights and people are focused on their keyboards. And they have coffee.

4)     Social media is a good short-term substitution but it’s not real. It’s not the same as looking at someone, feeling the look in their eyes, being touched by their outstretched arms and the sound of their voice.

5)     When the phone rings, look at the caller ID then pick it up. Calling back later is always harder than pushing talk.

So what do you do when someone asks, “So how many children do you have?” Answer the question. The question isn’t how many children are alive? The question isn’t where do they now live? The question isn’t how old are they? Just answer the question and wait for the next question.

“Three,” is my answer then I take control by asking, “How many do you have?” “Really?” How old are they?” People like talking about their kids. Based on what I hear I may choose to change the conversation.

If I like what I hear, I chose to tell them about my three wonderful kids including my one son who is waiting for me in heaven.