The proper protocol at work after losing a child is to notify HR within 30 days and remove them from your health insurance policy. A few months after Jay died, I went on my company’s intranet and looked up how to do this. I needed to contact the office, inform them of my child’s death and send over a death certificate.
The web page warned me that any costs incurred by my child after his death would not be covered. I wondered what costs my child might incur, with him being dead and all, but decided against asking any hard-hitting questions on the matter. Our HR department is not comprised of the most sensitive, knowledgeable employees. No one there has a passion for human resources. There is not a great deal of tact over there. I recalled the situation where I asked if I could email a copy of my son’s birth certificate to get him on my health plan, only to be told that I would need to fax it because the woman didn’t know how to access the attachment on her email. The thought of calling them up and telling them the worst thing that has ever happened to our family seemed overwhelming and emotionally self-defeating. I also didn’t want some stranger looking at his death certificate. They didn’t know him and didn’t care about him. It was private. It is a piece of paper that I have a hard time even looking at. I couldn’t imagine faxing it to someone for their perusal. Week after week I told myself that I would do it. Next week, I told myself. Next week never came. I ultimately decided that I couldn’t do it. I was not going to put myself in a situation that would hurt more than it would help. So, he stayed on my policy. He stayed on my husband’s policy as well.
A few weeks ago I went to get my haircut. In perfectly stereotypical fashion, the hairdresser asked me a zillion questions about my life, including how many children I had. “Two,” I replied, sticking to my unofficial philosophy that I will never pretend I have just one kid. We had also just returned from the memorial and I didn’t have the strength to go into things.
She asked how old he was. “Thirteen months.” The questions didn’t stop. It was obvious she was really into kids. “Do your daughter and son get along? Oh, that’s wonderful. Is he a pretty good kid….?” I was fielding what felt like endless questions. The situation went from me just acknowledging the fact that I had a son to me just sounding like the crazy lady who pretends her son is still living. It started to feel totally dishonest, even though I took pains not to elaborate whatsoever on any question. The hairdresser was also giving me a great haircut, ensuring that I would have to go back there now (you know how hard it is to find someone decent). I finally understood completely why my husband just tells people he has one child. It is precisely to avoid situations exactly like this. I decided if I returned that I would just have to tell her the truth. I tried to avoid a weird situation and now it was going to be even weirder. She turned on the hairdryer. I watched her in the mirror, thinking that she was imagining what my life was like. Me, at home with my two kids, aged 4 and 13 months. He was alive and doing great in her mind. He was actually alive in her head. She styled my hair and I wiped my eyes before she could see me crying.
There is something very difficult about being forced to acknowledge the death of your child, whether it’s walking into the mortuary (one of the most traumatizing moments I’ve ever had) or having to tell someone out of the blue while getting your hair cut. Like the event itself, you can’t control it. It happens. Yes, I could just tell people I have one child. I hate that, though. No, he’s not living at my house. But there’s an urn in my house. There are pictures in my house. Who’s in the urn? Who are the pictures of? My son. My second child. Denying it makes me angry, and acknowledging it in unexpected situations is crushing. It’s a lose-lose situation.
A couple weeks ago I received a package from the human resources department. It is open enrollment season. I reviewed the paperwork. There are 3 people listed on my policy besides me. I looked at Jay’s information. It listed his full name and his birth date. There was a short form to complete in the event you wanted to add or remove anyone from the policy. The package sat on the living room table for days. I finally sat down and read the form carefully. It didn’t ask for any explanation or verification to remove someone because it was open enrollment. It didn’t ask for the death certificate. I quickly filled out the form, stuck a stamp on the envelope and mailed it off. “I love you JJ,” I whispered as I stuck it in the mailbox.
I felt OK when I did that. Today? I’m not so sure. At the moment it feels good to know he’s still on my husband’s policy. Acceptance is a hard pill. It doesn’t go down easy, or even at all. And it’s a pill you are given over and over again. Sometimes you swallow it. Sometimes you cheek it and spit it out.