I have rewritten part of this story I wrote in 2000. It's funny how a story is never really finished. There are always additional thoughts to add. All those years ago, I often pondered the question "How many children do we have?" It felt like six but...


One question I always have trouble answering is “How many children do you have?” My tongue stumbles over the words as I try to decide whether to reply “five” or “six”. Do I just count the children everyone can see or do I also include Thomas who died last year?

Perhaps it is easiest to say “five”. I remember this was the answer I gave someone shortly after Thomas’ death and I also remember how I felt that I had betrayed him. Didn’t I consider him important enough to mention? God had given us the gift of Thomas and I wasn’t acknowledging this gift.

But then again, a simple “six” gets me into trouble too. If I am questioned further about such things as the ages of our children, I sometimes get the feeling the enquirer thinks I have misled her. Only children that can be seen and have need of our mothering skills seem to count.

Earlier this year, I visited a local shop that I hadn’t been into for quite some time. The owner remarked how much Charlotte had grown and asked me how old she was. After I had replied that she was a bit over two, the woman said wasn’t it wonderful when babyhood was over – all those sleepless nights, nappies…She then said, “You have five children, don’t you?” I could hardly tell her that I’d been hoping for lots of sleepless nights but instead, our baby had died. She would have been so embarrassed. So I smiled and agreed, “Yes, I have five children.”

“Five on earth, one in heaven”, works well with some people but is not the right response for everyone. “Five living, one dead” is just too blunt. You can see people want to know how our child died but no one talks about death so the conversation comes abruptly to an end.

It is very interesting to listen to our children’s explanations of our family size. They definitely think there are six of them. On Mother’s Day this year, I was very surprised to receive a gift from Thomas. The children had decided that Thomas would have liked to have given me a present too so they arranged one on his behalf. Whenever there is a greeting card to be signed, someone always remembers to add Thomas’ name. ”Well, he is part of the family, Mum.”

Our eldest daughter, Felicity, once said, “There are six children in our family but Mum only has to feed five of us.”

We have a special family friend who regularly corresponds with Felicity. At the end of each of his letters, Father J always asks for his regards to be passed on to, “Mum, Dad, Duncan, Callum, Imogen and Charlotte and praying for the intercession of Thomas.” It gives me such pleasure to see all our names together.

Of course, numbers aren’t important. I don’t need my children to total a big number to increase my status as a mother. It’s the children represented by those numbers that are important. Each child, whether living or dead, is such a great gift from God. 

I used to think my children were mine by right, that I was entitled to each and every one of them. How clever I felt whenever we conceived another child. How proud we were of our ability to produce a growing family. The reality is that if we'd been given children in proportion to our merits, I wouldn't have any children at all. 

I ponder sometimes why some people have many children without a problem and others have great difficulty even conceiving one. Why would God bless me with children and not send another woman a child of her own? It is a great mystery. So much sorrow for those who never know the joys of parenthood. 

And so I am grateful. I thank God every day for each of my beautiful blessings including Thomas, on earth for such a short time but my son forever.


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  1. I am praying for Thomas right now.

    And for you and your family too.

    God bless.

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  2. Victor, you are very kind. I want to thank you for your prayers. God bless!

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  3. I love this post. Sue-your posts are becoming a must read for me--I always find something of value in your writings.

    I have struggled with this too. In the beginning I always included the one I lost then somewhere along the way, i just switched to avoiding the question "how many children do you have" by just answering, "well I have a 12 year old, 8 year old...etc" to me this seems less upsetting to me in this manner.
    I also understand about not deserving the children either...i think this all the time now, once I accepted this the loss of my baby was much easier to accept. It took many years to sink in for me though.

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  4. I'm so sorry for your loss, Sue. I was very touched by your post "All Grown Up" and your thoughts on what Thomas would be like if he were still here on earth. My prayers are with you.

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  5. Hi Kim. I love sharing with you. You have made my day with your kind words.

    Sometimes I say, "I have a 24 year old and a seven year old and some in between." I guess it's just like what you say, only a bit quicker. I really hate group introductions where we all, in turn, say how many chidren we have. I usually find some excuse to absence myself until the intros are over!

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  6. Mary, Thank you! Thomas seems to get into quite a lot of my stories and I am so pleased when anyone stops to read and share his story. Your prayers are very much appreciated. God bless!

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