Dear Ann Cannon • I am often asked a question that I have a difficult time answering. When asked how many children I have, I don’t know if I should say one or two, since one child is deceased. Inevitably I’m asked if it was an accident or illness. When I say my son committed suicide, there is usually an awkward silence or an apology for asking. If I tell people I have one child, I feel as if I am denying the existence of my son. Anyway, if you can think of a reasonable response to this question, I would appreciate it.
Dear Mother • Oh, I am sorry for your loss. So, so sorry. I can barely imagine how devastating this has been for you. As the saying goes, no parent should ever have to bury a child.
I’ve given your question a lot of thought and, honestly, I don’t know if anything I can say will be helpful. It does occur to me that there’s no single correct, one-size-fits-all response, and maybe that’s a good thing. This is your story to share, which means you can answer a question however you feel like answering it in the moment and depending on the circumstances. If saying that you have one child makes it easier and less painful for you at times, then say it. Don’t feel guilty. You obviously carry both of your children in your heart, and that’s all that matters.
I also wouldn’t worry about others’ responses when you choose to share that your son committed suicide. As you know, many families face this reality — more than we often realize. Your frankness can be helpful and healthy.
This is a tough journey, but I do sense that you have much courage. Carry on.
Dear Ann Cannon • I have a question. Why is it that when some people ask you a personal question and you tell them it’s none of their business, they make you feel like you’re the one who’s being rude? I don’t say really say it, but I spend the rest of the day stewing about questions people sometimes ask and wish I could have said something that isn’t quite so blunt but that will still get the point across.
Dear Bugged • Well, it’s smart of you to recognize that people would, in fact, think you were the rude one if you actually responded with “Yo! It’s none of your business!”
We all have different levels of comfort when it comes to sharing personal information. We even have different definitions of what constitutes personal information, right? When we lived in New York, for example, people would straight-up ask if we were Mormons as soon as they found out we were originally from Utah. For me, at least, immediately asking strangers about their religious affiliation is akin to asking about sex or money. But that’s just me.
I think it’s always wise to give our fellow beings the benefit of the doubt. Maybe those people asking you personal questions think they’re merely being friendly or showing genuine interest. Even if that’s not true, cut them some slack. At the same time, you’re not obligated to answer just because someone asked. My advice? Learn how to engage in a little open-field running. In other words, dodge the question. Smile warmly and give a short generic answer like, “it’s all good.” Then move on to the next subject.
Dear Tribune readers • A few weeks ago I offered to give advice about books. One of you asked for mystery recommendations. I crowdsourced booksellers at The King’s English Bookshop and they responded with a wide range of titles from classic to brand new, from cozy to hardboiled to supremely gritty. It’ll be on you to find out if one of these is your cup of tea. Have fun!
“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith
“Farewell, My Lovely” by Raymond Chandler
“The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey
“Redbreast” by Jo Nesbø
“Norwegian by Night” by Derek Miller
“American by Day” by Derek Miller
“Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz
The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
The Three Pines series by Louise Penny
The Maisie Dodd series by Jacqueline Winspear
The Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith
The Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger
For more suggestions, check out bookseller Paula Longhurst’s blog at Englishrosesloverain.blogspot.com.