Recently someone very dear to us in our community passed away suddenly after a car accident. When I found out about the news via an email that arrived in my inbox, I struggled with whether or not to relay the news to my sons.
As my sons were each very close to this man over the years, their hearing the news would no doubt upset them. My first instinct was to let them hear the news from someone else. Unfortunately, bad news travels fast. Two of my sons live in the New York area, two live here in Los Angeles, and one lives in Israel.
And yet, and yet. I thought what if they find out in an abrupt manner from a stranger? Or what if they don’t find out until after the funeral? I knew that there would be several memorials held – one on the East Coast and another in Israel. A video hook-up was held here in LA during the East Coast set of eulogies.
So I ended up calling a few of my sons and telling them slowly. One of my sons told me afterward that he appreciated my telling him the news, but he felt I said it too slowly and gradually. He said he got overly frightened and felt that it was not necessary. But he moved right into “Thanks Mom, I will go to the funeral. I’m glad I know. You had to tell me….”
Another son was so upset when he heard the news that his knee jerk response was anger and denial. “Ma, why do I have to hear this now? I can’t stand this!” He was clearly very upset and felt safe letting his sadness expressed as anger out on his mother. Soon, he also calmed down and moved forward into visiting the family, writing a letter and also attending the funeral.
And so it went with each of my sons. One son already had heard the information from one of his brothers, and another son heard about it from his wife.
At the end of the day, it’s not about us and how our family hears the news. It’s about the family. My first thought when hearing about the sudden passing of this man who was a Torah giant, brilliant man and the kindest person you’d ever meet, was “Oh my gosh – that poor wife and children…how does someone handle such news?”
Of course there is no “good” way to share sad news. And sometimes it’s best to say it quickly and abruptly. Other times maybe more gradually. I know of a case where someone heard bad news in a gradual way – as she was told that her dad was in an accident and later told that he didn’t survive the accident. She told me she guessed even before the words were said.
It’s important to be sensitive to others when sharing bad news -and maybe sometimes it’s best not to share it. Why be the one to pass around bad news if there’s no actual benefit to the person hearing? If they don’t know the people or if the news will ruin their day, why tell them?
Sometimes we feel as if we want to unburden ourselves and share something sad, and in those cases maybe it’s best to check our motivations and put off sharing. Praying, writing, and planning how to help the family may be a better initial reaction.
It’s certainly not black and white, right or wrong. These things are in the grey areas. We don’t know what is the right way.
We don’t want to bury our noses in the sand and pretend bad things don’t happen. We want to be able to be there for our friends and community and we know others want the same thing. But we only hope that we are gifted with sensitivity and wisdom when we have unhappy information to pass on.
I welcome any and all opinions on this matter.