How many brothers do I have?

I am a middle child, well at least I was. When I was 14 and he was 16, my older brother was killed in a car accident. Everyone in our high school knew about it. I started college last month and it seems like everyone I meet wants to know “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I had 2 brothers, now I have 1. I was in the middle now I’m the oldest. I don’t want to lie but I don’t want to talk about it with everyone either. What do I say? - Used to be a Little Sister

Dear Sister - You’re certainly not alone in trying to figure this one out. You don’t want to get into the details of the worst thing that’s ever happened in your family with near-strangers, but you don’t want to lie or pretend like your older brother never existed either. This is one of those times we thought we were “over it” or at least ok with our grief, and surprise! it’s back.

I know some bereaved parents who have navigated a similar question (“How Many Children Do you Have?”) by answering, “I have an angel in heaven and a boy and girl at home.” Or “I have a son who lives in my heart and a boy and girl at home.”

Of course, how you answer depends on your belief system and how much you want to reveal. I think it’s ok to say, “I have a little brother at home” to people you’re just getting to know or with whom you expect to have a brief or superficial relationship. That’s telling the truth and protecting your story.

If you want to get closer and share more, you could say, “There were three of us, but now it’s just me and my little brother. My older brother died in a car accident a few years ago.”

No matter how you introduce the subject of loss, you will doubtless hear some insensitive responses or questions. You get to decide if you want to educate your new friends, (“I know it’s hard to know what to say, but it’s not helpful to me to hear that ‘everything happens for a reason’ when I can’t imagine a reason my brother should be dead.”) or if you want to just let those insensitive remarks and questions go.

Congratulations on starting college. You already have more of an education in living then a lot of your peers. Hugs, JRB