“I have a baby brother named Sam. But he died.”
At almost seven years old, this is one of Abby’s favorite party tricks: making our dinner guests or new friends feel super awkward with this little bit of family trivia.
Abby still doesn’t really understand why, in conversations that seem to bounce around a wide variety of topics, that particular one leaves adults shifting their eyes back and forth and laughing nervously.
To be honest, I’ve had a hard time knowing how to coach her in conversation without making her overly self-conscious. Death came to our home when Abby was two, and having a brother in Heaven has always been part of her story. She doesn’t think it’s sad or weird; it’s just the way things are. And I love that about her outlook. But most people don’t know what to do with that conversation, thrown out matter-of-factly over spaghetti and meatballs.
“Yes, Sam was our second baby,” we acknowledge, keeping our tone light to assure our guests we haven’t ventured into volatile emotional territory. “He is a sweet part of our family’s story.”
It was a big deal, it is a big deal, but we are okay.
Sometimes I wish I could time-travel and let my five-years-ago self listen in on how we tell Sam’s story these days. In those early stages of shock and grief, I wondered how I’d make it through one day, much less a month, or a year, or any of those other milestones that the grief books said I’d have to weather. In those days, I’d melt at the sight of a stranger’s baby, at a song about Heaven, or if someone happened to look extra sincere when they asked “How are you?”
Would that grieving, stumbling mother even recognize the family sitting around our table all these years later? Would she be able to believe that the mention of her baby son would bring a smile to her face, that she’d bake his birthday cake with a celebrating heart, that she would sing “Be Still My Soul” to Sam’s brother and sisters with a faith strong and deep?
It’s all true.
And that’s why I don’t avoid the awkwardness by telling Abby that Sam is our family secret, because I never know when the person at our table needs to hear our story. Sometimes you think that you’ll hurt like this forever. Sometimes you wonder if you’ll make it through the dark days alive.
But friends, joy comes in the morning. Hang in there.