the best question anyone could have asked

With laughter from the party still ringing in my ears, I headed toward the coat rack, hoping to grab my jacket and slip quietly away into the early evening cool to make it home before dark.

But just as I reached the door, he turned and caught my eye. We smiled. Who can resist the chance to greet a beloved teacher?

I leaned in for a hug over my awkward pregnant belly, the obvious conversation starter.

“How are you?” he asked, listening in the genuine way I always admired in the classroom.

“I’m good,” I answered. (Knowing this is always what people want to hear.)

“Really grateful. Just a few more months.”

I waited for his next question, anticipating the follow-up “And everything’s normal this time? Baby’s healthy?” or the requisite “Do you know what you’re having? Is it a boy or a girl?”

When you’ve been pregnant this many times, you know the routine. And when everyone who asks for an update leaps to answer their own question – “How are you, good? You seem great!” – you learn to smile and play the game.

But instead his face grew serious. He leaned in closer and asked me in a low voice, “Is it scary?”

Is it scary? Not a single person in my life had asked me that before.

And it was the perfect question.

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, maybe for months. And I smiled with relief.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes. It’s completely scary. Every day is scary. Every day I wonder if it’s going to happen again. But every day I remember this is how I want to live. I don’t want to be afraid.”

He nodded. He knew our story. And he was a father and a grandfather and a man who has suffered. I knew he understood.

(Even if he never had to stand with swelling pregnant feet at a cocktail party and make small talk with strangers and decide whether to tell the truth when they ask what number baby this is or whether to lie and keep conversation smooth and polite.)

He understood.

Is it scary? Yes. It’s terrifying. But thank you for asking.

Thank you for not assuming I’m fine.

Thank you for not pretending that a new baby makes everything okay.

Thank you for recognizing that pregnancy after loss means carrying grief alongside love – and that both can be equally hard to bear.

More than anything, thank you for giving me the space – the smallest space, from the simplest question –  to say how I feel.

Without judgment. Without expectation. Without worrying I’d overwhelm you with my Big Emotions and my Willingness to Talk About Taboo Things Like Grief and my Voicing Uncomfortable Realities Like Babies Can Die.

Turns out I can be scared and hopeful at the same time.

Turns out I can live with anxiety as well as assurance that this is the right decision.

All I needed was someone to ask the question I never knew I needed to hear. 

What a gift we give each other when we do not assume. Or rush to fix. Or hurry by the painful possibility.

When we simply let each other be human. Which is to experience a hundred conflicting emotions and yet still be able to move forward.

“Is it scary?”

In that instant when he asked, I saw before me a thousand times when I could have asked that question, too. When I could have set aside the cliché and offered someone the chance to be honest and open. When I could have stopped worrying about what to say and simply closed my mouth to listen.

He taught me an important truth that night. That the best question to ask is often the easiest and the hardest. The one with no crisp answer.

But to let the mess and the brokenness into our conversation is to let the grace flow, too. If I have learned anything from death and grief, it is the remarkable resilience of grace.

I’ll ask better questions now. (I’ll try, anyway.) I’ll practice being ok with complicated answers.

And I’ll remember this gift. What it means to lean in and drop the facade and ask one real question that someone might have been aching to hear themselves answer.

Yes, it’s scary. And hard. But it can still be right.

Thank you for asking.

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  1. Sue Valind on 5 July 2017 at 10:24 am

    I loved your piece on “What one good doctor taught this mother about grief.” I was an OB RN for 17 years and but by the grace of God, was serving two couples during their loss of their newborn. One couple I am still in touch with. They just prayed a few days ago on his 26th birthday. Your honesty is wonderful

  2. marsha partington on 7 June 2017 at 11:57 am

    gorgeous piece of writing…again, and so true. thank you for sharing, thank you for the gift of your honesty and for giving voice to all the words that often remain unspoken. Marsha

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