Answering A Painful Question

Preparing for the Unexpected

I’m a firm believer in the Boy Scout motto ‘Be Prepared’. I sometimes think about various scenarios and wonder how I would respond. Now, I don’t often meet new people. And now, with the Covid situation, I’m not meeting anyone at all. But if I did meet someone for the first time, I wonder how I would answer the innocuous question: 

‘So, how many children do you have?’

This question seems harmless enough, but for me, it’s loaded with meaning and pain. It’s a question I dread being asked. Should I include Jacob in the count with his brothers or not? I could respond in one of three ways.

Choice A: I could ignore the question and change the subject. This response may be sufficient for my listener. Unfortunately, the person may not be able to take a hint from my evasiveness and will ask the question again.

Choice B: I could be brutally honest and say that I had this many kids but one passed away. This response would most likely elicit a shocked and sad countenance from my listener who would then ask more questions. How would I then extricate myself from discussing the whole miserable episode with someone I just met?

Choice C: I could just say that the number of children I have now is the same number I had before. I would include Jacob in the count.

I think choice C is the easiest and best option for me. Because I like to be prepared, I then imagine what this imaginary person might ask next:

‘So, where do your children live?’

I could say where my other children live, and as for Jacob, I could be vague and say ‘…and he lives elsewhere.’

‘Where’s elsewhere?’, asks my inquiring new acquaintance. 

‘Just elsewhere. I haven’t heard from him in awhile.’

Then I change the subject and hope that’s that.

I’d really love to believe that Jacob is still here to be included in the count with his siblings. But is this being dishonest, not only with the other person, but with myself?

I Know That Jacob Is Alive

The Torah Hints That Our Loved Ones Are Never Gone

The Biblical account of Joseph and his brothers tells me I’m not being dishonest at all. A quick summary of this story is that Joseph’s brothers want to get rid of him so they sell him as a slave to traders who take him far away. They then tell their father he was killed by a wild animal. The Torah recounts their father’s grief:

“All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him but he refused to be comforted, and he said ‘I will go to the grave mourning for my son.’”

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105) known as Rashi, comments on the verse ‘…he refused to be comforted…’. Rashi points out that Joseph’s father instinctively knew his son was alive and that’s why he couldn’t get Joseph out of his mind and therefore refused comfort. I’d like to go one step further with this idea and apply it even to one who has passed away.

Ever since Jacob left, a part of me is missing. It’s as if I have a big hole inside of me. I’ll never ‘get over’ the loss of my son. My sadness will never go away. But why is that? It’s because I know my son is still alive. As I elucidated in my post How I’m Coping With the Loss of My Adult Son, Jacob is living a life without a body in the spiritual world. I can’t imagine what his life is like, but it’s still a life. And I know he’s happy. This is why we can never forget any loved one who has passed away. We can’t get rid of that agitating gut feeling that tells us that the person lives on. It’s as if he’s far away on vacation and some day he will return.

I Still Ask G-d To Bless My Son

Even Though He’s Not Physically Here, I Still Pray For Him

When I talk to G-d, should I still pray for Jacob even though he’s not here? I used to pray that he get married, have children, and have a good career. I can’t ask for those things anymore. So what do I want G-d to do for him? I pray to G-d that, more than anything, I want him to be happy. I don’t exactly know what happiness is in the spiritual world but whatever it is, I want it for him. He was suddenly wrenched away from his family and I want G-d to comfort him for that. I pray that he’s not alone, and that he’s with his grandparents and all our relatives he and I never met. I pray that every time I give tzedakah (charity), learn Torah, say Tehillim (psalms), or do an act of kindness it should all be a merit for him. So yes, I still pray for him. I always wanted the best for my son when he was in this world, and I want no less for him in Heaven.

So, How Many Children Do I Really Have?

Jacob will always be a part of my life. My response ‘He lives elsewhere’ is totally true. He is living in a spiritual world with all of his relatives who have passed away and has a life. So if I’m ever asked ‘How many children do you have?’, I know what to answer. I’ll include Jacob in the count. He’s still my son.

3 thoughts on “Answering A Painful Question

  1. I agree with you. It’s a totally legitimate response.

    Do you know how your husband answers this question? Or the rest of your children (if asked about their siblings)?

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