After Charles killed himself, my husband and I had to decide how to answer questions about the number of children we had, and Richard had to figure out how to answer the sibling question. Each of us had our own answers–none of which were wrong or the same as one another.
How each member of our family answers that question is a personal choice.
Immediately, I answered, “I raised two children. The oldest, Richard, is living his dream as a filmmaker in LA. And my youngest died by suicide.” I say it to anyone asks whether it’s in a grocery store, a networking event, or on an airplane.
My husband answered differently. At first, he said he had two children and left things at that, the emotions just too strong to say more. A little later, he said, “I have two boys. One is in California. The other in heaven.”
He says it depends on the situation. In a meeting or business situation with many sitting around a table, he only offers as much information as asked as he doesn’t want all the attention on him.
So if they ask, he says he has two children. If they ask, “What are they doing now?” He does tell them the oldest is a film editor in LA and the youngest died and leaves it at that and usually they don’t ask more. About seventy five percent of the time outside a business situation, he says Charles died by suicide. It depends on his mood, who asks, where it is, and the situation. And it took him years to arrive at this.
At first, he was not entirely comfortable with how straightforward I was when we were together but he never criticized, understood I needed to say it, accepted it and got used to it. After all, he knows me.
Now Richard. He said when he would be out at night and someone would ask, “Do you have brothers or sisters?” He would respond with, “No.” He said then someone might ask, “So you’re an only child, then?” to which he responded, “No, I’m not an only child.”
The person on the other side of that conversation must have thought he was the biggest mystery man. Imagine how confused they must have been. I couldn’t help but bust out laughing because Charles would have had a field day with that interaction.
He confides in close friends, but for Richard, a twenty-six-year-old single guy in Los Angeles, it’s too heavy a topic to broach in a bar or on a first date.
So what’s the right response? Whatever works for you. The only advice I have to give is to think about how you would answer the question so you don’t feel panicked by the question and just respect how other family members answer it. As you can see, all of us answer it differently. And I’m OK with that.