On Hallowe’en I lied about it for the first time

Angus went trick-or-treating with some friends.  Had a fantastic time, in a neighbourhood that goes all out with decorations.  He had deliberated about his costume for weeks: a T1000 (you know. . . the liquid guy in Terminator 2); a hippie; some kind of spy.

The spy idea won out in the end but slowly morphed into something even scarier–a business man!  Complete with bluetooth headset, full suit jacket and pants, whimsical tie (selected from the Value Village – fish wearing raincoats) and what every business man sports these days–a moustache?!  He was adorable I must say.  Reminded me of my favourite TV show from the 80’s, Family Ties, in which lefty parents are saddled with a budding Young Republican.

I arrived to pick him up and the kids hadn’t yet returned from their outing, so I joined the other adults (friends? family?), who were enjoying some wine and conversation.  They had been at it for a while and I don’t drink, so I mostly just sat back, listened, enjoyed the atmosphere and the anticipation of hearing the boys’ excited tales of the evening.  They finally came back, immediately dumped out their sacks and started to compare who got what.  (Brief aside:  someone got 5 cans of pop?!)

Lots of laughter, photos, stolen Coffee Crisps from the loot. . .  then, a question from behind me:  “Is he your only child?”

I turned to look at the woman who asked–she was, as they say, half in the bag.  In a friendly, amusing way.  Just making conversation.

I stalled for a moment, said “One is plenty!”

She was still looking at me.  Knew my thought was only half finished. Waited patiently for me to finish.

It was on the tip of my tongue. I almost said, No, no he’s not.  He had a brother.  He died a year ago.  He was 12.


But I just couldn’t do it.  Not here.  Not now.

I nodded and mumbled, looking away towards the boys, “Yes, he is.”  And felt a little bit sick for saying it.



  1. Oftentimes people who don’t know us don’t really ‘want’ to hear our full story.

    You’ll give the full version and they don’t know how to respond.

    It sounds like you were protecting yourself for good reason in that setting.

    I can’t believe how grown up Angus looks!

  2. Ouch. That must have been incredibly difficult — no matter how you replied.

    And yes, your boy is gorgeous! That smile! (They both have superb smiles!)

  3. Jennifer,

    You just need a little time to think about “what you wish to say, and to whom?” This, in no way, makes you a bad person or mother. Please, when you have a moment, visit BLOOM and type, “Forever 14”, into the search engine.


  4. Hi Jen, I think that is a great answer and a deserved one if it is someone that is asking in small talk. It must be so hard to say “yes, he is my only child.” I don’t know if this helps, but I appreciate the mom you were to Owen, he was a direct product of your love and dedication and you will hold everything wonderful about him. The mom you are to Angus, well you can just see how wonderful you are in his eyes!!! And that’s the truth!

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    I too had a son who died in Jan 2010 (hospital error). When people ask about my children I say I had two boys, but one died, and I find it is the same kind of conversation stopper as when I used to say he’s autistic. The experience of autism and death both set you apart and mark you with a little cloud of sadness over your head. After 33 years I was comfortable with proclaiming his autism, but his dying has erased all the drama of his life and made him “normal”. I feel sad about that.

    I think I heard you saying (CBC) that hope was snake oil. That made me smile because I have written about hope and how it nearly killed me (as it relates to having an autistic child). Hope has certain expectations attached to it which drive a parent to push onward while setting their child up for failure.
    My hopes should have been wishes which have no damaging expectations attached. Or how about acceptance? We could all benefit from some of that.
    I look forward to reading your book.

  6. Beautifully said Marcia. I think many parents feel the same, judging by the callers on the show. You mention having written of hope…? Is it posted anywhere?

    (Jan 20) – And thanks Marcia, for relating about your son. Hadn’t thought about it but what you say feels familiar. When I tell people I had a son who died and they didn’t know Owen, they picture a typical child. I too find it sad that whatever they are imagining is wrong, and that it’s not usually a good moment to fill them in.

  7. My brother died when he was 6 and I still find myself choosing the “right” answer to random, polite questions. My parents would skip church on Mothers Day and Fathers Day to avoid being asked “how many kids do you have?” My mom would sometimes say “I have one daughter here and a son in heaven,” but she was always sure that it made people feel uncomfortable. When people ask me if I’m an only child, I never know what answer to give. I was 3 when he died, so most of my childhood I was alone, but I also still feel like the little sister, so neither answer fits.

    Once, and only once, when I admitted to someone new that I had a brother but he died; she didn’t say “I’m so sorry” or give me a sympathetic look, but without hesitating, she asked “how did he die?” It was so refreshing. Maybe as a culture we’re just too weirded out by death, which doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • Okay so this is like 5 years later but for some reason I’m only now noticing I never replied. Shellie, if you’re out there, thanks for sharing. When Angus started middle school he left his old group of friends and started fresh – which meant people only knew about his brother if he told them. Now he’s almost done high school, and I think only a very small number of his friends know Owen even existed. I’m okay with it – it’s his story to tell when he’s ready. It’s just as hard for siblings.

  8. I worked with a man who said I have three children. After along Project ended he said ‘one of my children is not alive’. I cried as we had shared so much intimicy re families and he had always something to say about each child. My respect for him grew. He said ‘Katharine I have three chikdren’. I knew how hard it was for him to respond to what we all think is such a simple question. For me it’s when people say ‘only one why didn’t you have more’. I sometimes say ‘it just didn’t happen’ and other times say’he was born disabled and they thought it was a genetic flaw passed through my genes’. Huge hug. That must have been a painful moment

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Katharine. Yes indeed, it was painful moment, especially as I hadn’t really anticipated it! I had another moment recently – my other son was taking his driving test, and a mom was nervously waiting with me. She started chatting – her English wasn’t confident but she was clearly trying to distract herself. She asked if he was my only one and I said yes, and she embarked on a looooong speech about how he must be so lonely and he really needs a sibling – as though I was suddenly going to make one now :) I’m more used to it now I guess. But that first time was really hard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *