How Many?

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” Matthew 19:13-15

Parents invariably are asked this question – “How many children do you have?” Bereaved parents don’t know how to answer. If they count the one who has died, they may have to explain all about the death even if the time and place seem wrong for such a discussion. Also, it’s risky to bring up this topic to someone you don’t know because you don’t know whether their response will bless you or cause pain for you. But if they don’t count the one who died they feel like they are discounting and minimizing the importance of that child. It is a real dilemma. It’s the parent’s right to decide how to answer. The answer might be different every time, tailored to each situation.   

Here are the guidelines I have learned from parents in the many discussions I’ve had over this question:

  • You get to choose whether or not to mention the one who died based on whether you want to talk about it here and now.
  • You get to decide what is in your best interest whether or not it makes the other person uncomfortable.
  • You might find a good answer to this question that’s comfortable for you. Something like one of these– we have 3 children and one in heaven; we have 3 living children; we have 2 boys and one girl and one little angel.
  • A similar question is “what do they do?” You might say: one is an engineer, one is a mother and one worships God in the courts of heaven.
  • If you bring up that a child has died, you have to be willing to have that be the end of the discussion, or the beginning of a different discussion altogether!
  • Just as all parents tell stories from years past about their children, when it relates to the conversation at the moment – for example, they’re talking about pee wee football and how funny some practices are, and your child played in a pee wee league and you remember when one day… - you can choose to tell a story about your child, even though he is no longer living. If it makes others in the group uncomfortable, that’s their problem. And if you keep telling stories at appropriate times, your acquaintances will become more comfortable with your stories and memories.

As a quick observation relating to the last point, the whole Old Testament is telling stories about someone who died, and telling about what we’ve learned through their lives.  The New Testament was written as “current events”, mostly, but now we read it as stories about people who have died. We tell those stories again and again because they instruct us on how to live today in the Light of Christ. They tell us, among other things, that God is with us always. You can tell stories of your child, even though he died, to encourage, to laugh, to remember some profound insight you learned from the child. Tell me a good one!