I’ve had to deliver heartbreaking news to my parents twice in my life. I found myself thinking about both experiences recently at the oddest moment. It’s strange how my mind trails back to certain memories like a plate of spaghetti with one long noodle, twists and turns leading back to different memories, somehow all connected. Perhaps it’s due to the raw, vivid nature of some experiences?
A few nights ago I was laying on our ottoman watching TV balancing a bottle of water on my stomach. I tried knocking the bottle of water off using only my ab muscels- it didn’t work. The bottle came back to rest upright each time. This reminded me of being pregnant and watching my son kick the remote control off of my 8 month full, round belly. It was so amazingly weird to watch his little foot pop up like it was searching for a target. Remembering the first pregnancy I brought to term lead me to thoughts of the first and last pregnancy I terminated, which lead me to remember two of the most painful conversations of my life.
I became pregnant my senior year of high school. My boyfriend at the time was younger than me and I wasn’t about to ruin our futures or saddle our parents with a baby. We decided I would have an abortion. I hoped to keep my parents out of the whole situation, but my mom overheard a breakup conversation that included plans to confirm and terminate the pregnancy. She waited by the bathroom door, listening patiently to my outright weeping for a good 10 minutes eventually losing patience and demanding I come out to tell her what was going on. I lied. Told her I was upset over the breakup, but she knew better. She came right out and asked if I was pregnant. I said I didn’t know. She told me to show her my belly and poked at it with her finger and pronounced me pregnant. To this day I have no idea how that was an indicator, but she was right. She was upset, worried, and excited all at the same time. I told her there was no way I was going through with the pregnancy. Her smile broke she said, “we need to see what your Dad says.” This struck pure fear in my heart. I knew he’d agree with me, but I also knew I would have to endure a tirade that would change my relationship with my Father forever. I wasn’t wrong. The moment he branded me a slut I was no longer daddy’s girl. I was my own girl. I was strong and I wasn’t going to be bullied or berated. He threatened to kick me out of the house, I asked him how that would possibly help the situation. He yelled and blusterd and called me names. I stood there silently until he was done and went to my room. Hours later he sort of apologized after he had calmed down, I forgave him and although it did change our relationship I have rarely thought of his reaction since.
Eventually appointments were made, my pregnancy confirmed at 3 weeks and my Dad drove me to the clinic to begin the process. The night before the scheduled procedure the doctor gave me something that might cause a spontaneous abortion so the process could happen naturally. I went home and told my mom we were at the point of no return. I saw the heartbreak in her eyes. She cried for hours. I cried for hours. She was so disappointed. I was disappointed in myself.
She still tells me how much my choice to move forward with the abortion, when she thought I was only going to get information that night, hurt her. I remind her that she wouldn’t have her grandson or son in law if I hadn’t made that decision. I would’ve been pregnant when I met my husband or wouldn’t have met him at all. We’ve been together 23 years, we are happy and have a healthy son so I know I made the right choice.
I completed the procedure the next day. My parents were there for me, but things were strained until I was married and a mom and they were divorced and had other drama to contend with.
My brother, as always, was my rock and confidant during that time. The night before the procedure he hid my keys. I told him I wanted to take a drive. My plan was to drive my car into a tree and put an end to everything. I didn’t tell him this, but he knew. He made me promise never to end my life by my own hand, that he couldn’t go on without me. We made a pact that night to stay alive for each other. It’s one of my most vivid memories, I felt so alone during that time, but so loved and taken care of by my 14 year old brother, my best friend.
Four years later I had to deliver the worst, most painful news anyone can give a parent.
My brother shot himself and at 22 I had to not only come to terms with losing my heart but also had tell my parents part of their hearts were lost as well. I was first to arrive at the hospital, first to receive the news of his death from the doctors. I pleaded with them not to make me tell my parents, but they were nowhere to be found when my parents arrived just moments apart. I caught them one by one at the entrance, my Dad first. I don’t remember much about telling either of them, other than feeling numb. I remember both of them breaking down completely. I can’t remember what I said, if it was simply “he’s dead” or “he didn’t make it” or “he’s gone.” I think it may have been all three. I’ve blocked those moments from my mind so completely all I can remember is the dim light, the waiting room, the entrance of the hospital, my Dad screaming “My son, my son” and my mom wailing incoherently when we were taken to see him. I didn’t break down. I held it together for my 2 year old son, my parents, and the best friend I would ever have laying on the table with a hole in his head, growing cold.
Later the chaplain asked me how I was so calm, saying she was amazed at the strength I had for my parents, consoling them and caring for them in their grief. I mumbled that he was my best friend and they shouldn’t have made me tell my parents. I walked away, eventually sliding into a chair, staring blankly at the floor.
The funerals (yes, multiple funerals) and months after were just shit show after fiasco after nightmare. I couldn’t remove the horror of telling my parents my brother was dead from an endless loop in my brain. Eventually I did bury it so deep I can’t nor do I want to remember the whole scene. 19 years later I still relive parts that night frequently. The dread of telling my parents being one of those moments.
I’ve delivered a few messages of death since then. None have been as difficult as the news I delivered to my parents, but I realize I can calmly do so even though inside I’m falling apart. I’ve made peace with both situations. I’m thankful I could tell my parents rather than someone else who doesn’t know and love them.
Over the years I’ve been able to deliver good news too- marriage, babies, promotions, moves, graduations…all of it with an undercurrent of sadness, that dread of “I have something to tell you.”
It’s hard to deliver devastating news, but does make you grow a thicker skin and know you can be counted on to remain calm in a crisis. We always hope we’re not on the giving or receiving end of bad news, but eventually we all are. It’s up to you to wilt or grow from those experiences. I’d like to think I’ve grown.