Before I even get into this post, I need to alter my title. It should read “The Death of a Friend (Who Happened to be Childfree).” Okay, that’s better.
Earlier this year, a friend of 20-plus years lost her battle with cancer. Mercifully, her fight wasn’t prolonged and the end came quickly and with little pain and suffering. My grief, on the other hand, was debilitating. I slept at odd hours, I burst into tears at the grocery store (spotted something I knew she liked, realized she’d never enjoy it again), I read something that made me think of her, went to call her, and remembered all over again that she’s gone.
As I told friends who are moms about her passing, what surprised me the most was how often the first question was “Did she have kids?”, to which I answered “No,” to which the response was “That’s good.” This exchange always left me feeling yucky; did this mean that her death and my loss had less of an impact because she wasn’t a mom? I get that it’s good that young children were not left motherless, but I can’t quite agree that it’s good she never had any, yet I know she didn’t feel that her life was lacking in any way. She had an extraordinary life—full of travels and adventures and loving friends—one that wouldn’t have been possible if she’d filled her days with parenting duties.
I wallowed in my grief, and I wallowed in the anticipation of what I perceived will be my own inevitably lonely passing. But before I could start hating all reproducers for their insensitivity, I got a call from another long-time friend, a stay-at-home mom. Even though she had only met the other woman a few times, she cried with me over my loss. She listened to my memories, she shared a few insights, and before long she had me laughing so hard that I was crying again.
In earlier posts I’ve complained about the comments made after tragedies in which children are lost, such as “Only a parent can understand.” I’ve argued that compassion isn’t exclusive to people who happen to be parents. So this experience was my lesson in reverse. In my vulnerable state, I so easily could have locked myself away with my childfree friends. Many friends offered their condolences, yet the one person who really understood, who was able to reach my heart and truly comfort me, is firmly established in the mommy club. Compassion isn’t exclusive to anyone, it’s a human trait. And aren’t we lucky that, when we really need it, it comes to us from many different sources.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with being childfree.