No One Wants to be the Bearer of Bad News

By Jonathan Weinkle, MD


But what if it isn't news?

What if the unpleasant facts, the inconvenient truth, has been there in the open for a very long time, but left unspoken? What if there is an elaborate effort being made to behave as if everything is OK, or will be made OK, when it is very clearly not?

What happens when you realize that it falls to you to speak the truth?

And what happens when the person who needs to hear the truth you have to tell them is someone you care about?

This is what happens when people die in sickness and in old age. And for those who find themselves in the position of needing to say the unspeakable, to point out that the sign over the door says "Cancer Center," or to call attention to the fact that the dinner tray has been sent back untouched every night for a week, here is what happens:

You don't wait a second longer. If you don't speak the truth, someone else will do it more clumsily and cruelly than you would have.

You don't delude yourself into thinking that you are doing anyone any favors. There will be sorrow. There will be tears. There may eventually be understanding and acceptance, but you are doing the dirty work. Expect to get dirty.

You don't swing your words like a sword or a club, cutting or bludgeoning people with them. Hold a hand, and press it, firmly but gently against the truth. "I am here and holding you tight, but you need to touch reality, run your fingers over the surface of sorrow, sense the thing that you have been denying all this time – and then I will hold you tight some more."

You don't expect an immediate reaction. Babies and toddlers fall, bump their heads, and often look around to see how others are reacting. If you are calm and compassionate, maybe there is no meltdown. Or perhaps the pain is so acute that they enter the silent scream, gathering strength to wail with all their might. You must be ready for either.

You don't walk away. You are at the bedside, the graveside, the fireside when you are needed, to continue holding that hand. You can be remembered as the one who shattered hope, or you can be remembered as the one who carried the burden as the survivors woke from an impossible dream and began a painful journey toward acceptance and reintegration.

Written by robots= on January 29th, 2013 at
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