Sunset over the Pacific 1
Sunset over the Pacific (Miranda Hernandez)

I call it a nuclear bomb. It’s a conversation ender. You meet someone, you’re making good small talk, and then they ask about your family. I will never deny my son. He is a permanent part of me. And so it happens — I tell them, “Yes, I have a child. He died shortly before he was born.” And everything stops. It’s no longer a casual conversation. Depending on the person, they will either rush to apologize, as if the death is somehow their fault, or they will frantically try to change the subject. Nobody ever wants to just sit with me. Almost nobody asks me his name.

Somehow our society has created this destructive message that it’s not okay to not be okay. There’s always got to be some kind of solution. Here’s the thing, though, and I’m speaking from experience — sometimes, there isn’t. Sometimes, life just sucks, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. Except listen. Except be there. Except take ownership of this knowledge and say, “Yes, I hear you. This really, really blows.”

And there have been so many times over the past eight months that I wish people had understood this. So I’m writing it now, and it’s not just for me. I’m writing it because I can guarantee you there’s someone in your life who is hurting, and maybe they just don’t know how to tell you. And maybe they’re scared of what you’ll say. And maybe they’re scared of what you won’t.

So I think the most important thing I hope you take away from this is that none of this is about you. None of this is about your hopes or your dreams or even your fears. None of this hurting is directed at you. The person who is hurting isn’t trying to hurt you. So please don’t be offended if you know about that nuclear weapon and it isn’t because they told you. Because I can promise you, it’s so much harder from the inside. And sometimes when you’re hurting; when your world lies in pieces around you; sometimes then you realize that you just don’t have anything left in you to even pick up the phone. It’s a herculean effort to dial the numbers, form your lips around the words — “My son is dead. I’m broken. Please sit with me and don’t you dare tell me that everything’s going to be okay.”

I can promise you there is someone in your life right now who’s feeling something like this. And if they aren’t talking about it to you, your instinct may be to just leave them alone. But that may not be what they want from you. Please think about it. It may be the hardest, best thing you ever do.