It’s not uncommon for parents to fantasize about their children’s future, especially when they are first born. We wonder about their personalities and how they will develop; we look into their eyes and predict what career they’ll have.
We go so far as to plan the inevitable conversations we’ll have with our future adolescents and young adults. We plan what to say when they ask for the car keys for the first time or when they say, “Dad, um, something happened to the car.”
We build up our courage to deal with the inevitable “Where do babies come from?” question and no amount of planning will prepare us for THE TALK, but we think about it for years, mustering up the courage.
From first kiss to first break up, college application to job interview, we parents tend to plan for every situation, every conversation we’ll have with our kids — except for one.
The one conversation we don’t plan is the one we’ll have with our child while standing over his or her grave, the one that requires the most courage, the most consideration, the most preparation. This is my dilemma today.
The Conversation We Never Plan For
When my son was born, I had the chance to hold and walk him up and down the hospital’s corridors while my wife slept. I thought about his first steps and how proud I would be and the “Atta boy!” that I would shout.
I thought about the patience I would need when teaching him to drive and I distinctly remember thinking, I won’t raise my voice or judge. I struggled with the irony of my own experiences dating in high school and the wisdom I would share about how to treat women right.
Then, when he was on the cusp of turning 20 years old, a disease called depression led him to take his own life. The next set of conversations I had planned about marriage, mortgages and kids were silenced forever.
When I came face-to-face with my son’s tombstone, I realized that I had never planned this conversation. What do I say? What does he want to hear? What needs to be said? It’s the one situation that I had not pre-strategized.
If you’re faced with the unspeakable horror of being in my shoes, I can tell you that speaking to your child over his or her grave may give you some comfort, but it’s a lonely conversation. I tell him how much I love him and express my hope that he’s in peace. I tell him how much I miss him.
However, whatever I offer, I receive no reply. It’s a one-way conversation. At no point in my life have I ever felt so alone as I do when I’m standing there, speaking to my son, and hearing no response.
So, why am I depressing you with this tale? What have I learned and what should you know?
I’ve learned that the most meaningful and comforting conversations I have with my son today do not occur at his grave.
They occur when I’m parked in the shopping centre lot where I first taught him to drive. They occur while sitting on a chair lift moving up the mountain where my son and I used to ski together. They occur when I still yell “Lucas!” just as the toilet backs up.
In fact, unlike the conversations I have at his grave, these are the moments when I feel my son is actually responding. The memories that flood back while sitting in the car, the sunshine and wind on my face as I ski down the mountain, recalling the “Uh, what?!” look on his face when I blamed him for blocking the toilet again, these are the conversations that give me some comfort.
So have conversations with your deceased children at their graves if it comforts you, but if you’re looking for a reciprocal conversation, I suggest you have them in the places and situations each experienced together.
A version of this originally appeared on Huffington Post.