Being a bereaved parent can be very lonely. You’ve been through what most people believe is one of the worst things anyone can experience, and you’re changed forever. You’re trying to figure out who you are now that you aren’t the you of Before.

Someone asks, in casual conversation, “How many children do you have?” Suddenly, what was once an easy question is now loaded with considerations. I find myself doing quick calcuations in that moment: What is the likelihood I will ever see this person again? Do I have any inkling of how they would respond to the full truth? Is this just polite small talk?

If I don’t think I’ll see them again, if they seem uninterested, if this is standing-in-line, just-passing-the-time talk, or if anything seems unsure, I usually keep things very simple. “Three” I say. “Two boys and a girl.”

If this could the beginning of a longer or deeper relationship, the person seems genuinely interested and willing to stick around to talk awhile, or something just seems sympathetic about them, I’ll answer more fully. “Four” I’ll say. “Two boys and two girls, but our oldest girl passed away last year.”

Even still, my calculations can be wrong. And there’s no conversation killer quite like death.