A friend (really an acquaintance) runs into me on the sidewalk. It may be several years since I’ve seen or talked with him.
He asks, “How are you doing?” I give him a curious look and hesitate. Does he know or is he just asking how I am doing? Because of my hesitation he now steps closer and asks with concern, “Are you doing ok? Really, how are things going?”
Ok, he must know. He is acting sorrowful and is looking into my eyes. What does he mean? Does he really want to know how we are doing or is he just being polite? Am I giving off an aura of sadness or grief?
I don’t really want to get into a huge discussion if he is just being polite but I don’t know how to answer. I say “we’re doing ok, really we’re doing fine.” He is still looking at me and hesitating. He must know. “Well, you know about our son Isaiah, right?”
“No. What happened?”
Oh, man – ok I really meant “Damn”. Why did I bring it up. I could have just shared pleasantries and moved on. Now I have to share this awful story to someone who might not even care and was hoping for a quick exchange himself. It is beyond awkward. It is painful. It’s not painful to share the story. It’s painful to start over and try to fill in the gaps and brush over this story like I was telling about getting a tooth pulled. Some days I look at the stares that I get and wonder – should I just put a big sign on me that reads “Yes, my son committed suicide, but we are ok.” I’m not blaming anyone else. No one is treating us wrong. My issue is not knowing what to say to people. I still don’t know what to say to a stranger when they ask how many children I have. “Well, I have 4 children but one is dead.” That’s a great ice breaker. Do you cover it up and say “I have 3 children, or 4 children,” and leave out that one small detail?
There isn’t one correct answer. Every situation is different. Most days I follow my previous pastor’s example (Dave Neupauer) “I have four children, one is living in heaven.”