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Do I owe new people in my life the truth about my son's death?


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My older son died 5 years ago, homeless, mentally ill, addicted to drugs and alcohol. This kid was the love of my life. I'm still not sure that I have accepted this.

Because he lived several states away, people who knew him didn't know how wretched his life had become. I have had quite a few occasions where I have met people who have asked how he is doing, just out of general interest-for example, teachers who taught him, former work colleagues, etc. I started a job a couple of years ago and I only told one person that he had died. I kept up the pretense of saying he was alive. 

I felt ***ty doing this,(like I am denying his existence, or the trauma of what we went through as a family) but I feel that I don't want to see people's reactions when / if I tell them he's dead. I don't want them to feel awkward or embarrassed and I don't want them to pity me.

So, I just started a new job last week and yesterday, my very nice boss asked me how old my sons are. I had the same reaction and just said their ages and that my oldest lives in California and how he has a challenging life. She was very sympathetic and hugged me. For the love of God, I don't know why I'm telling this lie and not just telling the truth and letting them deal with my response. 

Then again, people are not going to be asking THAT much about me, so do I owe them that truth? I feel that if I told the truth, they would forget about it anyway, as most people are only concerned with their own lives. Again, I felt that I had not honored my son and felt cowardly. A friend suggested to me that I go back to my boss and tell her that I lied and that he is dead-but again, I think that's making too much of this issue and it might create a kind of distrust. I don't even know this woman, why should I feel the need to spill my guts?

What do you think and can anyone understand my point of view?

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37 minutes ago, blackgnat said:

What do you think and can anyone understand my point of view?

I think you're clearly still in the process of working through this extremely complex and difficult tragedy, and that is ok. You've brought up many concerns and perspectives and they are all valid. You are learning as you go--that's all you can do.  

42 minutes ago, blackgnat said:

A friend suggested to me that I go back to my boss and tell her that I lied and that he is dead-but again, I think that's making too much of this issue and it might create a kind of distrust. I don't even know this woman, why should I feel the need to spill my guts?

I agree with you. I don't think it's necessary to spill your guts at this point. If you want to talk about it with your boss in the future, fine. But you are entitled to your privacy.

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1 hour ago, blackgnat said:

My older son died 5 years ago, homeless, mentally ill, addicted to drugs and alcohol. 

Sorry this happened. Please attend some bereavement support groups and some Nar-Anon support groups. You would benefit greatly from therapy to help you cope with the grief, guilt and shame.

Don't live a lie. You don't need to give people details, just tell them he died after battling an illness. As far as people asking start being honest, with vague explanations. Do not confide in people you barely know or don't trust. But be honest so you can move forward with peace and acceptance.

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As for work, I think it's ok to say "I prefer not discussing family at work" to those who ask questions. This way you do not have to lie but also you do not have to deal with reactions at this point if you aren't comfortable. If you change your mind down the line, you can decide who and in what way to share. 

 

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I wouldn’t say you won’t discuss family since general stuff is expected.  So saying that would raise alarm bells and be really odd. I think it’s fine if you gloss over what happened particularly since he was an adult when it happened. I’m so sorry for your loss. Also I’d avoid then having coworkers connected to you via social media to avoid any awkwardness.  
 

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Do I owe new people in my life the truth...

I wouldn't think of it as owing the truth to them, I'd think of it as owing MYSELF an un-conflicted exchange that, although unpleasant, doesn't require me to continually cover my tracks going forward to avoid looking and feeling like a liar.

It was actually liberating when I decided that I owe myself the simplicity of either always telling the truth OR stating, "Maybe we can talk about that at another time...," because it only takes a second to lie, but the rest of my life to dodge it or keep track of who knows the truth versus who I've positioned as my unwitting land mine.

Sharing details is not necessary. You may want to practice in private to de-sensitize yourself to an answer of your choice that can become rote and unapologetic, such as, "I originally had # children, but my eldest passed some years ago." Then a rote, "Thank you," when they apologize for asking, or they say they're sorry--or whatever. 

Then that's it--it's over and done. No more weight to carry on the subject. If anyone is ever rude enough to ask a detail, you can simply say, "Maybe we can talk about it at another time..." then change the subject.

I'm so sorry for your loss and for your continued discomfort. I hope you will liberate yourself from any need to suffer the discomfort of others, that's their job. Credit people for being able to handle it--so you don't have to.

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I like Catfeeder's advice.  I can relate to an extent because as the mom of an "only" child I often am asked by people I don't know when I will have another one, why I had "only" one etc.  Moreso when he was a toddler and I was still in my 40s - I had him late, I looked younger. I was at a Thanksgiving gathering one year and someone I'd just met asked me this question.  I decided to be very "open" and said "because I had a stroke shortly after he was born so the risk of pregnancy after that wasn't worth it to us". 

Her jaw dropped with the "Oh I'm sorry" (I looked young plus no lasting effects from stroke so she wouldn't have known)  -you could tell she was probably never ever going to pry like that again.  Obviously my situation is not tragic -again I am so sorry for your loss- but it's really common for strangers to pry into stuff about kids/family planning, etc.  (I also used to respond "when the kids are grown" when people used to ask me and my then boyfriend -when are you getting married??? - we had no kids).

I wouldn't do snark at work of course but I just wanted to share that this is common, unfortunately.  I always tread lightly on marital/family status with people I don't know and usually ask absolutely nothing and follow up on volunteered info with discretion.

Good luck.

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I'm very sorry for your loss, blackgnat.

People will usually respect your privacy if you're deliberately vague.  They will get the message by backing off.

Simply tell them that your son passed away and if they pry, tell them honestly that this is your private pain which you will keep to yourself.  If you word it right as with my example, generally people will take a hint and get your message. 

The more you talk, the more curious other people become.  The less you say, the more they will learn to refrain from asking nosy questions.  You control the conversation.

You don't owe anybody anything.  You have every right to retain your privacy and your private pain.

I wouldn't lie. However, I wouldn't divulge and disclose details either.  I'd tell your boss that your son died and leave it at that.  I'd say, "I'm sorry I liked to you.  My son passed away and I prefer to leave at that.  Thank you."  Then graciously and politely walk away.  As long as you apologize sincerely, your boss will accept your apology and move on.  Never allow lies to fester otherwise it will come back to haunt you. 

Whenever I've caught people in a lie, it's over.  Eventually people find out if you've lied to them.  I've permanently lost all respect for liars.  Same with deceit and betrayal.  They're all major deal breakers.

The only exception would be making it right with a humble apology and making sincere amends.  Without those actions, relationships fail. 

It's possible to have trust and privacy simultaneously. 

Give most people the benefit of the doubt.  They won't pity you.  They'll feel compassion towards you and when you've made your stance clear, they won't pry.  They'll respect your privacy.  Everything hinges upon your behavior.  Your behavior teaches others to know their boundaries with you. 

I understand your point of view.  I don't reveal everything about my private life.  Some topics are too painful for social idle chit chat whether in person, online, social media, etc.  I only express my feelings about my life to my husband.  I don't even express my true feelings to my siblings nor mother.  I'm a very private person in general. 

 

 

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On 5/1/2022 at 1:02 PM, blackgnat said:

. . . can anyone understand my point of view?

I can, unfortunately, as my young-adult daughter was murdered a few years back, and honestly I wouldn't even know where to start with some of these comments here.

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On 5/2/2022 at 3:58 AM, Batya33 said:

I can relate to an extent because as the mom of an "only" child I often am asked by people I don't know when I will have another one, why I had "only" one etc.  More so when he was a toddler and I was still in my 40s - I had him late, I looked younger. I was at a Thanksgiving gathering one year and someone I'd just met asked me this question.  I decided to be very "open" and said "because I had a stroke shortly after he was born so the risk of pregnancy after that wasn't worth it to us". 

 

Whenever people have asked me when and if I'll have more children, (with my best poker face) I told them (in person), "I plan to have 10 more children!"  They looked at me with bewilderment and shock!  They shut up very quickly and never bothered me again.   <== That was my mother's wise advise and it works every time.

My husband and I are fine with our two sons. 

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I realized I'd recently been in a situation where two of my friends met through their kids now being at the same school. One friend was a newly single mom because her son's father -with whom she'd been involved seriously but not in the last couple of years - died suddenly - and she enrolled her son at a new school - and the other friend was very pushy with me trying to find out info about the father (not knowing he was deceased) and my other friend's marital status, whether she was straight even.  I felt this all should come from my single mom friend, not me given the complicated and sad circumstances.  So my responses were basically a rinse and repeat "you should ask her."  I was surprised at how my friend kept asking so many questions.  It was really awkward.  I'm sorry you're experiencing this.  

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I think it’s important for you to tell the truth to accept this situation for yourself. My grandmother was my favorite person in this world, and we had a bond that most people wouldn’t understand. When she died, I both changed the country I lived in and took a break from my university in my new country. Everyone who knew me recently asked the reason for this change. The only sentence I said directly was “My grandmother died.” Everyone said consolences no one asked any questions. Either no one expected such an answer, or they expected me to talk about the difficulties I had on the subject. Whatever it is, I think that making a direct sentence like this is the best thing to do about this subject. 

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I am sorry about your son. 

I don't think you owe anyone anything and you should do what you want.  There is some truth to what others are saying about healing and facing it for yourself. But I also think grief and healing are personal experiences. And maybe this is best you can do for yourself right now. 

I hope you have compassion for yourself and are kind to yourself.  Maybe it would help to talk to a grief counselor. Maybe you just need me time. 

Don't worry about other people... 

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5 minutes ago, Lambert said:

I don't think you owe anyone anything and you should do what you want.  There is some truth to what others are saying about healing and facing it for yourself. But I also think grief and healing are personal experiences. And maybe this is best you can do for yourself right now. 

I agree and it's similar to women who have had miscarriages or stillborns and don't share with everyone how many kids they actually had -or that they had a child if they do not presently have children.  I can imagine it's much harder when the tragedy occurs much later. It's personal.      

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8 hours ago, wealthydior said:

 I said directly was “My grandmother died.” 

You're missing the point entirely. It's not about telling people there was a death in the family, it's about people prying into the circumstances of death.

You're 23 there's a lot to learn. 

 

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2 hours ago, Wiseman2 said:

It's not about telling people there was a death in the family, it's about people prying into the circumstances of death.

I agree and most people don't pry if they hear it was an elderly person.  

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My condolences OP.

I am with the "you owe no one," but I will say you owe yourself that honesty. That element you need to acknowledge, as it will help you over time. Letting others know, is about you processing your mourning.

Those who I know who have suffered similar losses, use that question to cherish the memories of those they tragically lost; and I hope you will get to tell those wonderful stories.

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I always feel that whatever I don't want to share is no one's darn business.  I only say what I want to say and that's it.  I wouldn't go so far as lying but I do refrain from divulging and disclosing information which is private whether it's painful or otherwise. 

Shift the way you think and you will know what to do with practice. 

You don't have to be "nice" to people by being completely transparent and too honest to the point of not keeping your information to yourself.  Retaining information to yourself is your right and freedom to do so.

Not confiding in others is a way to protect yourself, give yourself strength and toughness.  Not that it happens to everyone, however, in my past, whenever I've naively confided in too much information to others, it backfired.  I've been deceived, betrayed and lied to and it was my fault because I revealed too much about myself, my family, my past, my opinions, etc.  All of it came back to haunt me eventually. 

During a weak moment such as future arguments, people are so mean and will use YOUR personal painful information in their arsenal to mock you, gossip about you behind your back, snitch, humiliate and ridicule you at your painful expense.  After discovering what people are capable of, I don't trust anymore.  I don't want to get hurt anymore.  Those bad memories taught me harsh lessons I will never forget. 

I'm a private person nowadays and it's 100% guaranteed safety.  I can sleep at night knowing that tomorrow morning will feel safe and secure.  It's better to keep your mouth shut and don't write what you'll regret later. 

You don't have to reveal everything about your life in order to be accepted by others.

Shift your thinking, step back and you will see this with clarity. 

Be careful.  Not everyone in this world is trustworthy.  Trust at your own risk.  I tend to be risk adverse and always err on the side of caution due to past, very painful outcomes.  Better safe than sorry.  No one has your back except you. 

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On 5/1/2022 at 3:36 PM, Batya33 said:

I wouldn’t say you won’t discuss family since general stuff is expected.  So saying that would raise alarm bells and be really odd. I think it’s fine if you gloss over what happened particularly since he was an adult when it happened. I’m so sorry for your loss. Also I’d avoid then having coworkers connected to you via social media to avoid any awkwardness.  
 

I've thought a lot about this since you posted this. 

I used to feel I had to or it'd be weird too. But I got so tired of fielding off nosy and inappropriate questions. And honestly, there were situations where I felt like there was discrimination coming into play over my status. And no real way to stop it, as it isn't unusual for it to go up the chain. I won't go into all that, but I do think that it is a valid concern to not want coworkers and managers to know because when people go off, it's rarely dealt with seriously. In an ideal world, yeah, you'd just go to HR and people would stop. But that's not always how it goes. 

 

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23 minutes ago, itsallgrand said:

I've thought a lot about this since you posted this. 

I used to feel I had to or it'd be weird too. But I got so tired of fielding off nosy and inappropriate questions. And honestly, there were situations where I felt like there was discrimination coming into play over my status. And no real way to stop it, as it isn't unusual for it to go up the chain. I won't go into all that, but I do think that it is a valid concern to not want coworkers and managers to know because when people go off, it's rarely dealt with seriously. In an ideal world, yeah, you'd just go to HR and people would stop. But that's not always how it goes. 

 

That's really interesting but I'm not quite sure how it relates to what I wrote.  I simply wouldn't make a blanket statement at work "I don't discuss family" or refuse to answer any questions at all no matter how mundane.  Prying and nosy is never ok  That's all I meant.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

The hardest thing I've ever had to do, to date, is have the funeral director open the door 2 hours before the public viewing, and be the first one of my family to walk in.  The casket was across the room, and open, and my heart sank because even from the door I could tell it was her.  It was a full week after my daughter's murder, because it took a few days for the autopsy and for the medical examiner to release the body, and all that time I was thinking, "maybe it's not her.  Maybe there's a mistake.  Maybe she just pretended she was dead, and she's really alive somewhere."  Even though I knew that wasn't the case, even though the funeral director told me she had been shot in the forehead (I asked, he didn't volunteer that information) and cautioned me that he'd do his best but wasn't sure we'd be able to have an open casket (he did an amazing job and we did).  But when something as traumatic as that happens, it is too much for your mind to take in and too much to make sense of.  Sanity has to come in smaller doses in these cases, and over time.  Then I saw her in the casket . . . and it was her--except it wasn't her.  It was a lifeless and still version of her, it was the outer shell but she was not in there.  My child was gone.  And I wanted to turn around and leave.  I didn't want to do this.  And in that instant I asked myself "you're going to abandon your daughter?"

So I went in.  And two hours later I smiled and greeted family and co-workers and friends, and her friends, and former classmates and former teachers who told me "out of ALL of my students, she is one of the last ones I would've picked to have this happen to her", and so many other people, people I hadn't seen in I don't know how long.  And people talked about how strong I was.  And I stood up in the front of the church a couple days later and talked about her as a little girl, and growing up, and learning to drive, and graduating from high school.  And how she had stayed at my house that weekend, and I saw her right before she left, and what we talked about, and three hours later she took multiple gunshots to her chest and abdomen, and one in her forehead.  In public, in broad daylight.

Unless you've experienced that living hell, first-hand and personally, you don't have any idea how you would handle the questions that may come, how you would handle the extreme stress and trauma, and you don't get to say what you would or wouldn't do because you don't have the first clue.  You don't get to say you wouldn't lie about it, because you don't know that.  I've lied about it.  I've been asked by the lady who does my highlights every 6 - 7 - 8 weeks (so I see her fairly often) how many kids do you have?  And I told her.  And I didn't say one was dead.  She asked their ages at my first appointment, and I told her their ages, and the age my oldest would be--even though she never reached that age.  I don't know if I will ever tell her any different.  I might.  I might not.  

All I know is if I ever found out that someone I knew--co-worker, acquaintance, whatever--had had this experience and chose not to talk about it, and I found out . . . instead of calling them a liar I'd give them a hug.  And likely a few of my tears.

Edited by waffle
always gotta have a typo or two
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My child died before he was born. So I didn’t have the trauma of knowing him and losing him. I did have the trauma of giving birth to him knowing he was dead and holding his little body in my hand and then having the nurse hurry him away never to see him again and only know what happened with his body 9 months later . 
 

Not the same I guess. But I was very traumatized and severely depressed for about 5 years. I have a lot of post birth trauma. He will be gone 15 years this coming Sunday. 
 

I just know what I have done. I talked about it extensively on here and I do tell people he is dead and died before he was born. I lost 3 others as well , very early. 

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Posted (edited)

I think it's common when something traumatic happens and a stranger or acquaintance randomly asks you about that person or situation, to just answer on autopilot.  I know I felt guilty too, and very surprised that my autopilot answer was a lie, but I think it was my brain in survival mode or something.  

Don't beat yourself up OP... I think you're still on autopilot.

Edited by maritalbliss86
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yes completely understand , we all have our ways of working through our loss and pain. I never spoke about my father's demise for some years, until i was ready.

We are not some software without emotions although few functions of software like delete files from memory, block access to unwanted people, could be handy with humans in many situations.

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