This is about words, and how our family’s realities collide with other non-suspecting people’s conversations.
We’ve spoken about it here before…about how difficult/weird/awkward it can be to talk with people about Liam. Especially people that we don’t know, or ones that we run into on a very casual basis (friendly faces at the gym, barber, etc). Ahna and I have gone from not even mentioning Liam in fear of ruining an otherwise superficial conversation to now being honest and straightforward when someone asks. Why should we hide or not include Liam’s life, even in these simple talks? The paraphrased exchange: do you have any children? yes, two. How old are they? our oldest son is almost four, and our youngest passed away when he was seven weeks old. Oh, I am so sorry. …and now we enter the awkwardness.
But the thing about this is that the question/answer is between two adults. We choose to ask the question because it’s the normal thing that you do. We choose to answer the way that we do because it’s important for us to talk about Liam, and to acknowledge publicly that this is our normal. We are (generally speaking) no longer afraid of where it goes.
Enter Ezra. Since day one, we have been honest, straightforward, and upfront with him about Liam. We have included him in our conversations, in our visits to the cemetery, and in our sadness. We talk about Liam all of the time, and so does Ezra. He understands. But his understanding is constantly evolving. We worried about how Ezra was going to react to Liam’s death, and how he would continue to deal with it over time. We listened and read about how this would be an on-going, never ending dialogue between us, and that he would have different reactions at different times in his growth.
For now, he knows what he knows. Ezra talks about Liam a lot, says hi to him when we pass by the cemetery, and will say that his brother is Liam. Sometimes he makes jokes using Liam’s name, we nervously laugh them off and direct him to a better punch line, but inside we are very happy that Liam is a part of his normal – even in loss. And its this comfort that he exhibits that finds us in bizarre places.
Last week we were in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office, and Ezra was making nice with a young lady about his age. She started talking about her brother/sister (I can’t remember), and Ezra – plain as day – said “I have a brother. His name is Liam and he died.” The girl didn’t react – it probably went right over her head. The girl’s Mom turned and started to look at Ezra out of uneasiness, and I immediately blurted out “Ezra, that’s true, but we don’t need to tell everyone that.” Then the clarification questions came from the Mom and the surrounding parents, followed by the explanation, followed by the sympathy, followed by the awkwardness.
The part that didn’t sit right with me wasn’t what Ezra did, or what the girl didn’t do, or what the other parents did….it was my reaction. This is Ezra’s life, why should we be suppressing it when he tells other people about it? He didn’t lie, exaggerate, or make anything up – he told the cold, hard truth – in a 3.5 year old, stripped down kind of way. Now, I could certainly understand being a parent and having your child exposed to a topic of life that you weren’t prepared to expose them to yet. I know how that would be concerning, but I’m on the other end of the line on this one. Ezra’s not breaking news to them about guns, violence, sex, politics, hate, love, or money….he’s breaking news about his life. The coping of a 3.5 year old dealing with a loss of his brother – and I think I’m fine with that.
We continue to realize boundaries that have been destroyed for us still stand for others, and Ezra is running head first into walls of them everywhere. We are amazed at how much we learn from him learning. Maybe some parents will be disturbed if they hear Ezra talk about Liam. Maybe some will ignore it, maybe some will open a conversation with their child, and maybe some will understand completely due to their own experience. I don’t know. But at the risk of allowing Ezra to talk about Liam in a positive and productive way, I’ll take the gamble.