Through a series of unexpected and unplanned events, I was put in a position just these past couple of weeks to tell a good friend of mine that his friend had died. I had never been put in this position to have to deliver bad and breaking news. I had never had to tell someone I care for about the death of a loved one.
I was always the receiver of breaking best news and breaking bad news. Most often, the news was about was my health that would be the polar opposites of the best news ever that left me high on life or the worst news ever that completely brought time to a standstill and my world crashing to the ground. I was the recipient of news of divorced parents and a mother that left, deaths of loved ones and in the transplant community that I hold so dear and fierce to me, professional and personal gains and losses, births, deaths, birthdays, funerals, pain, suffering, beauty, ugly, and the glories and stories of life. I have received lots of news in my lifetime thus far. Some news was given to me bluntly. Other news was given slowly and shyly. There was definitely an art to being a messenger. I was never really the messenger—until now.
Needless to say, I was numb and raw to this place I was put into. I only had a mere passing questioned thought of: “Do I really have to be the one to tell this news?” Without a moment hesitation, there was a resounding, “Yes, you have to be the one.” Then, my next question was, “Crap…how do I tell this person?” I thought about all the times people are put into unpleasant and extremely unwanted positions of having to deliver bad news, like doctors/nurses, police officers, or those individuals from organ procurement organizations who come in at the worst and most tragic moments in life to ask about donating a loved one’s organs. How did they do it? How was I going to do this?
First of all, I knew I could not do this through text message or email. I could not leave a voicemail message. I had to speak with my friend. As soon as I found out the news, I called up my friend only to hear his friendly voicemail recording and me having to leave a message. I left a message as cool and calm as possible. I waited two whole days to hear back from him. It was a painful and felt like a much longer wait to me because I just wanted to get this bad news over with.
When my friend and I were finally on the phone, I wanted nothing more to be in person and wrap him up in one of the biggest and warmest hugs. I stammered my way through niceties of “How are you? Haven’t spoken to you in awhile.” and “Oh, I’m fine.” Then, there was the pause. Then, I took a deep breath. I suddenly felt like I was on the swim block before I dove into the pool. I finally said softly, slowly, and as gently as I could, “Yes, we found out that he died.”
Another pause. I let the words sink in. And, as the words and truth sank in, I really just wanted to be a receiver than the messenger in life—yet, at the same time, I felt and thought what a privilege and power that comes with being the messenger that cannot be abused or taken lightly and must be executed sensitively and gently.
My friend confessed that he was not surprised and this was incredibly and horribly sad to hear, but it was better to know the truth. He said he was thankful for my sensitivity and for me to be the one to tell him over the phone. He was full of grateful sadness. Meanwhile, I was still reeling from the series of strange events that had occurred that led me to have to ‘own’ up and be the messenger.
The older we get, the more we are put in the most difficult, sensitive, and responsible of positions where we must deliver breaking, bad news. We are put in places where we must take responsibility and know our places of when and when not to say something and, most of all, how to say it. As you get older, you learn through life lessons what your unspoken responsibilities and places are and are not. As you get older, you realize that you are shoved into roles where you must be messenger and receiver too many times because of the responsibility that comes with adulthood. What is the most difficult or breaking news that you had to receive? What is the difficult news that you had to message out? When have you been the messenger?