Idle chatter filled the room as grieving friends and family gathered after the funeral service. Over coffee and cake we exchanged stories of our dear companion, celebrating life through sharing memories of times past. Anecdotes brought hearty laughter to stifle the tears and no one acknowledged nor truly remembered that the tales were taller and grander then when they actually happened. The silence between each story became longer and harder as memories became harder to remember and recite. Eventually we would run out of stories of our friend’s life, unable to create new ones. One pause went far too long, granting us time to reflect on the events of the prior days; the heartbreak of the news, devastation for the family, tears, prayers, memories and remembrance of a once vibrant person, now gone forever. In everyday life we spark conversation with questions about the weather, news or any other number of topics to break an uncomfortable silence. At a funeral, silence is disrupted with comments on the beautiful flowers, meaningful readings, strength of the family, fine preservation of the deceased, or the number of people who came to show their respects. As we launched into this customary funeral speak a friend looked me square in the face with a serious look and asked; “who will cry for you when you die?”
Her intention was not to present a rhetorical question sparking deep thought or reflection; it was directed right at my personal decision to live a childfree life. This funeral was not the first time or situation where a friend or acquaintance has enquired about who will cry for me when I pass away, take care of my arrangements, care for me when I am dying, or remember me when I am gone; some of the many reasons people cite for having children. Each individual who has ever posed one of these questions has been under the assumption that I have never thought of these questions. They expected their inquiry to instigate some cathartic experience, driving me to reconsider my decision and begin the procreation process that very same evening, thanking them profusely for enlightening me on the error of my ways.
Shocking as it is for many to hear, but the decision to bypass parenting is not one that is taken very lightly, often requiring more thought and reasoning then many put into actually having children. The “practical” reasons for having children; those based around having children to take care of you when you are old, or to mow the lawn when the back finally gives out, are important to consider when deciding against parenting children. Unarguably, every childfree couple has discussed and considered the answers to questions on aging, caretaking and their own mortality as part of their childfree decision.
The answers to these types of questions are as varied as the couples themselves. For some, the answer is simple; who cares? Who cares if anyone misses you, or cries for you, or cares about you after you are gone; you are not going to remember who was at your funeral. Being an oldest child, a narcissist and a Leo, It would be a lie to claim that I personally belong to this camp. I would like to be remembered when I am gone; to have a room full of people fondly telling stories of my impact on their lives, and theirs on mine, wiping tears from their eyes as they remember my life and kept my memory alive.
My desire to be remembered and loved after I am gone is not enough to start filling my womb with babies and my house with strollers for a simple reason; having children does not assure an answer to questions like “who will cry for you when you die.” Just producing children does not guarantee their lifelong love, security, companionship and devotion. We all know people who are parents and for one reason or another are left without the long-term security they thought having children would yield; individuals and couples whose relationships with their children are weak, strained or non-existent, who lost their children emotionally through events, circumstances or misgivings, or whose children’s death preceded their own.
Being loved and making an impact in the world is not based just on the children you bore or raised, but on the relationships fostered and developed both in and outside our families. If we live our lives right by being a good friend and making a difference in the world, then plenty of people will laugh, cry and carry those memories on when we are gone. If you want people to care when you are gone, you have to love and care for them while you are still here, whether you chose to be a parent or not; having children does not guarantee being missed anymore than not having children means dying alone and unloved.