Break­ing a bad di­ag­no­sis to loved ones

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Good Morning - Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a re­cent on­line dis­cus­sion.

Dear Carolyn: I’ve re­cently got­ten a bad di­ag­no­sis. My doc­tors and hus­band are tak­ing great care of me, but I have not shared this news with my adult chil­dren or my el­derly mom. It grieves me that I am go­ing to cause emo­tional up­heaval. The fear they will feel is the main thing I wish I could avoid. What do I say to my loved ones? I think I’ll be OK in the long run; I’m go­ing to do ev­ery­thing I can to get well. - Shar­ing Bad News I’m sorry about your news.

You know your fam­ily’s emo­tional wiring and I don’t, but, go­ing just on what I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, I think the best ap­proach is just to say what you know: You were di­ag­nosed with X, your doc­tors and hus­band are be­ing great, you’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing you can to get well, you think you’ll be OK in the long run.

Sure, it’ll be scary for the peo­ple who love you. It is not pos­si­ble, though, to have a life­time of com­plete in­su­la­tion from fear and pain. So, al­low them the next best thing: a chance to be in­volved, and to make any changes to their lives that they feel are war­ranted in light of this de­vel­op­ment. Let them all be in this with you to­gether.

I feel that needs a foot­note, since not every­one turns out to be strong enough to han­dle the “to­gether” part; some­times the re­sponse to bad news is to run from it. In that case, my ad­vice is for­give­ness: “OK, this per­son can’t face it – but my job is still to do what I can to get well, so I will carry on with that and let the per­son know the door is open if and when s/he is ready.”

Shar­ing with no ex­pec­ta­tions is not a bur­den, it’s a gift.

Dear Carolyn: I just re­cently found out I’m preg­nant again. My first child will be about 20 months old when this child hope­fully ar­rives, so we had a baby shower not that long ago. My mother thinks it would be nice to have a baby shower to cel­e­brate this baby, and that all ba­bies de­serve a cel­e­bra­tion, but the idea just makes me un­com­fort­able. It’s con­sid­ered tacky, right? Are there non-tacky al­ter­na­tives? - Tacky?

Why not just say no thanks? If your mom isn’t forc­ing the is­sue, then there’s no need to tie your­self up in knots … and if she is forc­ing it, then that’s all the more rea­son to hold the line.

Some­times peo­ple just want to be in­cluded, sure, but they will prob­a­bly see any cel­e­bra­tion as a shower and bring gifts, whether you call it a shower or not. You could make it a bring-your-fa­vorite chil­dren’ s-book shower, which would cost your guests very lit­tle, stir up some of their happy mem­o­ries, build a li­brary for both of your chil­dren, and maybe even help stock a li­brary or school or home­less shel­ter through do­na­tions (ask around – such in­sti­tu­tions ei­ther need books or they re­ally re­ally don’t).

There will al­ways be those who judge; just do what feels right. Con­grat­u­la­tions!

Email Carolyn at tellme@wash­post.com, fol­low her on Face­book at www.face­book.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her on­line at noon East­ern time each Fri­day at www.wash­ing­ton­post.com.

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