At curriculum night we got an unexpected pop quiz. The parent next to us was chatting pleasantly enough about his kids and asked us about Maggie. His twin boys had talked a bit about Maggie at home so he’d heard stories.
Then he asked if Maggie was our only child.
I was stumped. I didn’t know what the right answer was. As a kind man told Kim the next day, the answer depends on what you are willing to share at the moment. This man has also had a child die. Sometimes he answers four and sometimes he answers three. When you are chatting with someone, they will naturally ask questions about the other kids so your answer is really an indication of how much you feel comfortable discussing at the moment. It can also be an assessment of what you think the person is asking.
Kim paused a moment too and answered that yes Maggie was our only daughter. The man asking went on to talk about other things. And that was Kim’s goal. This wasn’t the place to talk about Elena. It was a simple curriculum night with a room full of people we mostly didn’t know.
Neither one of us thought much more about it at the time. But I asked her about it the next day. I asked her how she had decided what the right answer was. She said she’d just talked about it with this man on the playground and she’d told me what he had said. He’s one of the many people who has been there for us. He came to the wake and introduced himself and gave us material to read when we are ready. We haven’t looked at it yet. He is a Math teacher at Maggie’s new school and he’s talked to her teacher already to help them understand where she is. He’s offered himself to us as a resource without forcing himself into our lives. He seems to know the right way to offer help and to answer these questions of strangers.
The science teacher came in full of energy and excitement. She is doing a CSI type of project with the kids next week. I read about this last year and it looked like a great way to captivate the kids and teach them science. The teachers are setting up a crime scene and the kids have to use the clues to figure out who committed the murder.
She smiled at the parents and said that some of the kids thought that someone had actually died – that there was a dead body to investigate.
Would Maggie make the connection to the last dead body she had seen? I stayed afterwards and talked to the teacher. She was very nice and understood my concerns before I had finished introducing myself. She offered to find another activity for Maggie. “No,” I said, “I just want you to keep an eye out, if you wouldn’t mind. If it looks as if she is reacting badly to this activity can you please call me. Otherwise, I think it would be worse for her to be singled out and not allowed to fully participate.”
I don’t know what the right thing to do was. That night, Maggie was my only child. That night that was the answer that came to me.
Kim and I will make many decisions about who to tell and what to do in light of Elena’s death. Some will be right. Some will be wrong. Some will be right for that moment and situation.