Nursing is considered a helping profession. Nurses are compassionate, and empathetic, and helpful. They are trained to be sensitive to the feelings of others. My father and mother trained to be nurses; they met at nursing school. After graduation, my mom became a mom, but my dad continued working in the nursing field. He is considered to be very helpful by everyone who knows him.
Both sides of my family also
have a long history of nuns. Nuns are helpful sorts, and we have nuns
out the wazoo in my family. They're almost genetic. Being a nun is all
about service to others. Nuns are pretty empathetic, unless they are
working at a grade school. With that sort of background, and that sort
of career choice, you'd think that my parents would be good at
delivering bad news.
You would be wrong.
Neither of my
parents are good at delivering bad news. My mom tends to minimize, if
she mentions it at all. It's been difficult for me to keep track of
family members over the years; my mom either never tells me when aunts,
uncles, etc., have passed away, or she mentions it in passing. Most of
the time, if I mention a relative's name in passing, my mother looks at
me like I am insane.
"Aunt Dorothy died six months ago!"
"What?!! When?!! How?!!"
"I just don't know why you can't keep track of these things."
be fair, I gave my mom lots of fits growing up. I got a double dose of
the empathy gene, so I'm a crier. Any bad news would have had me
bawling for hours. To my reserved and stoic mother, I must have been a
complete mystery. By waiting to tell me bad news, she avoided the
inevitable waterworks. I was too confused to cry by that point.
father, on the other hand, is all about ripping that band-aid off
quickly. He usually waits until I am doing something else, like eating
or working on a crochet project. That's when I am a little distracted.
He tends to make small talk before he drops his news like a brick of
"Oh, by the way--your dog has heartworms and the treatment will probably kill her. Gotta go. Bye!"
he leaves the room while I sit there, my spoonful of cereal/soup
halfway to my mouth, my eyes filling with tears. Phone calls are no
different--everything seems completely mundane, and then the hammer:
"...your dog died last night. Call you next week. Bye!"
learned to adjust to these surprises as a matter of survival, and face
these sudden news flashes with a little more dignity than when I was a
kid. I have even tried to find a bit more empathy for the two of them
in my middle ages; they did their best, whether it was good or bad.
Everyone feels uncomfortable sharing bad news, no matter who they are or
what they do.
But it's not the news delivery--it's what a person does after that that counts.