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How Does One Share Bad News

The conversations that follow are formidable. The sting of having the share such devastating news is worse than any wasp could dole out. My parents know we had this big appointment today. There is no way I can protect them from being blindsided, although I yearn to find a way to transform this into a soft blow. My hand does not want to pick up my phone. My hand does not want to dial. The phone and I have a stare down. The abhorrence between the small digital box and me is almost palpable. Inhaling deeply, I grab the phone as fast as one would rip off a bandage. With a swiftness usually reserved for escaping dangerous situations, I find my mom’s name under my contacts on the phone. The green phone icon which previously taunted me is now activated. Now my brain catches up with what my body just did, and I tepidly hold it to my ear. Sitting on the edge of the couch, fingers tapping, my heart is in my throat. My face is taut. Just maybe, my tight muscles will keep my tears inside my eyelids. I can barely swallow, and I just about hang up. My mom answers.

“Hi, Laura. What’s up?” The casual words linger in my ear. If only this could be a casual conversation. No amount of clenched muscles can hold my anguish at bay.

“Hi, Mom. We just got back a little while ago from my doctor’s appointment. We had the ultrasound done,” the first words uttered got out mostly unaltered.

 “Oh? How that did go?”

 “Well, they think there is something wrong with the baby. They found something they called an ‘abnormality’.” The enormous tsunami of sorrow, starting from deep in my gut, is rearing its ugly head. Pushing the lump back down my throat, I forcefully, and rather loudly, proclaim what we were told. I wanted to be as matter-of-fact as the doctor had been, trying to convey the horror as best I can. It is nearly impossible to do this, to remove myself from the situation long enough to tell another person the awful words. Only after a prolonged pause, I can attempt to quelch the wave of sorrow-filled nausea.

My mom fills the space. She knows something is horribly wrong, yet remains pragmatic.  “What do you mean, Laura? What did they see?”

I find it hard to explain something to someone else when I barely understand what is happening myself. I can’t even fathom the gravity of what is occurring.

The emotional wave immerses me; I am overcome with sobs. Motherly words of encouragement filter through the phone line.

“Well, sounds like we don’t know exactly what is going on with the baby yet. All we can do is wait for the next appointment tomorrow and see what they say. We shouldn’t speculate too much because we could drive ourselves crazy with what we think is happening, and it may all be wrong. Just be sure to keep us posted. What time do you go in?”

Between sobbing breaths, I croak, “At one tomorrow afternoon. We will let you know what we find out.”

 “OK, Laura. We love you guys. Just hang in there, and we’ll take it one step at a time.”

“Thanks, Mom. We love you too.”

Sitting on the couch, the aftershock of the tsunami swells. Burying my face in my hands, I can’t stop the tears, the pain, the anguish. Passing along the hurt and disappointment to the people I care about most in the world is almost as heartbreaking as getting the news ourselves.

I feel Jason’s arms envelope me. I didn’t see him enter the room, but his embrace is soothing. Our tears and cries are the only noises for several minutes. As we calm each other, we try to move on with the evening. I haven’t eaten for hours, and I know I should be hungry by now. We go through the motions: eating dinner, watching TV, taking the dog outside. I welcome any minute normalizing effect this has to our otherwise detestable day.

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2 thoughts on “How Does One Share Bad News

  1. I am sure I must have made those phone calls, but I’ll be danged as I don’t remember them at all. Doreen was pregnant in the morning, a week or two overdue, and we went to the hospital. By 3 that afternoon Peter had not survived his trip down the birth canal. It’s a short but perilous trip. Her parents came that night and mine showed up the next day. She didn’t make the phone call, she hated making phone calls even under good circumstances. So I must have made that call to both sets of parents. His 30th birthday was just this last April and the memory is still fresh, just tucked away. He rests in the cemetery next to Swedesburg Lutheran Church, the only Lutheran Church in Henry County. I remember enough about that time that missing this memory is alright with me.

    • Doug, thanks for sharing that memory. I understand not wanting to remember every detail, or not being able to. Such circumstances are so complicated and difficult, it can be nearly impossible to remember it all. For me, I tend to remember many things in great detail. I struggle with hanging on to those memories for fear of forgetting too much, and letting go because it is too painful. I think this writing project is my compromise.

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