I wasn’t even planning to buy a box of cigars that day.  I was with a friend, and we were going to the cigar bar.  They had previously advertised these Espinosa No 6 cigars, and I have to admit, I thought about buying a box.  The whole package was just so unique.  The box is wooden, and the inside of the panes are hand painted and designed to mimic the upper windows of a building in Cuba.

Anyway, I was getting a drink and mentioned that I saw them online and thought they were cool.  The guy told me that they sold the last box the day before.  Oh well, my loss, I thought.

I sit down, and the owner says that he has one box left.  A guy was supposed to come by a few days before to buy it, but he never showed.  Said that if I wanted it, they were mine.  Long story short, I walked out that day with a box of cigars.  They are great smokes, but generally stronger than I prefer.

One of the most peculiar situations that I have had to learn to navigate is how to answer the innocuous question of

How many kids do you have?

If you are a parent, you have probably asked and answered this question a hundred times, and never thought a thing about it.  You probably gave an answer like one, or two, or three. For me, the answer was two.

But, after you lose a child the answer gets infinitely complicated.

Do I say two, and not try to explain?  Do I say two and explain that I’ve lost a child.  Do I say one, and just ignore that I’ve lost a child?  What if they ask about ages?

Here is the thing, there is no way you can say that you’ve lost a child and not completely take over the conversation.  And, there is no way you can not acknowledge your lost child and not feel like a complete hypocrite.

It’s a real mind-fuck.

That’s one of the first lessons you learn after losing a child…how to answer the “how many kids” question.  You have to learn to talk respectfully about both your living and your deceased children, while also balancing the weight of the conversation, and the other person’s reaction.  It’s a challenge, particularly in those early months.

And here’s the thing.  I own my own company, so I meet new people all the time.  I remember a few occasions where I’d be in a group conversation and the topic would migrate to kids.  There were times I was thinking “Please don’t ask.  Please don’t ask. Please don’t ask.”

Some time after my son passed away, I was shopping at a friend’s store and he asked how the kids were doing.  He said something like “You have kids, right?  Two boys?”  I said something like, “well yes, I don’t know if you heard, but we lost our younger son a few months ago.”

His response?  “OH MY GOD!  OH MY GOD!  I CAN’T IMAGINE! OH MY GOD!”  He’s literally yelling in the middle of his store.

That’s when I learned the second lesson that you learn after losing a child…you spend a lot of your time managing other people’s emotions.  And, I’ll tell you, that’s tough, I mean, really tough.

As if the question itself doesn’t pose enough challenges, but then to have to dig deep and exert the little bit of emotional energy you have inside of you to help someone else process the loss of your child…that’s hard.

A friend, who lost her daughter several years ago taught me a technique that addresses both of these.  It’s kind of like a ninja move for grieving parents, so I can’t fully disclose the details to civilians, but basically it comes down to saying you have 2 children, one is X years old, and the other would be Y years old, but passed away Z time ago.

The other person will say something like “oh, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t know” and then before they can say anything else, you say, “thank you” and change the subject.  The true ninja move always involves a pre-scripted transition to another subject with bonus points for touching the other person’s arm.

It sounds cheesy, but it really works, and it’s a requirement. Truthfully, it’s like a survival skill that grieving parents have to master.

The alternative is that every conversation becomes heavy and focused on the subject of your lost child.  And that usually isn’t the objective.

Sometimes you just want to have the shallow conversation that’s unfolding.

Remember, if this person was really close to you, they wouldn’t need to ask if you had kids.  So the relationship is new, and a heavy conversation usually isn’t what you want anyway.

I can’t really envision how this changes if you lost a child during pregnancy or shortly after birth.  I imagine that only adds to the complexity.  I have a friend who lost a daughter as a tween and also other children who were infants.  Imagine his answer.

It’s just a crazy thing, you know?  Before I lost a child, being asked how many kids I had was literally the simplest question. After I lost a child it was absolutely one of the toughest.