The last time I saw you, my son was alive. My son Charles grew up with yours. Yet when we ran into each other, you didn’t mention his name. In fact, you looked like you were afraid of me. I think if you had had enough warning, you would have avoided me all together.
When I lost my son, I did not erase him from my family tree. Nor did I erase him from my memory. But when I run into people who say nothing, it makes me feel like my child never counted for anything.
You worry that you’ll say the wrong thing.
What hurts the most is saying nothing at all.
What I want is for my son to be acknowledged. I want to hear his name, a memory or funny story. I lived with him for 20 years so I still have stories and memories. I am not going to have any new ones. So those that have already happened are all I have.
A hug is fine. Even, “I’m sorry for your loss” is acknowledgement enough.
I know you didn’t know what to say and seeing me took you by surprise.
So I made the first move. I asked, “Have you heard about Charles? He died by suicide in June of 2015.” I know you heard but I wanted to give you the opportunity to recuperate from the shock of running into me. I wanted to tackle the elephant in the room because otherwise it’s awkward.
I am not ashamed of him because he suffered from addiction and depression. Usually when I bring it up, others share related tragedies in their family.
You were still embarrassed and wanted to get away as fast as possible. “Deer caught in headlights syndrome” is what I call it. I am sorry you felt that way. I promise my loss is not contagious. And I promise I would not have made you late for your yoga class by talking about him exhaustively.
I do forgive you. I am not angry. What would that accomplish?