Perhaps one of the only things as difficult as learning that you are dying is breaking the news to those that you love. Articulating such a heart-wrenching message is never an easy task and there’s no right time to do it or one-size-fits-all approach to tackling it, but there are a few things you may want to consider.
• The medium. A face-to-face conversation is the best method of communicating the news for most people, as it allows you to process the news yourself and be there for the person when they receive it. However, if you’re the sort of person who struggles to articulate their feelings or talk about difficult subjects such as this, it may make more sense to write a letter. This way you can take time to compose your thoughts carefully and your loved one will have time to react to the news in their own way. Think carefully about which way is right for you.
• Location. If you do decide to break the news in person, choose a location where you and the person receiving the news will both feel comfortable. Being in your own home – or theirs – is often the best option, as you can act naturally without worrying about the reaction of others. It’s also perfectly acceptable to want to have a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional present when you break the news, so consider that option if it suits you.
• Timing. While you might feel it’s best to wait until you yourself have processed the information before passing it on to others, doing so together can actually be a very helpful process. Furthermore, it’s not a good idea to leave the matter for too long. A problem shared is a problem halved, and people invariably feel better after having this difficult talk with those that they love, no matter how much they may dread doing so.
• Preparation. You may want to give the person advance notice that you’re going to have to communicate some serious news, so that it does not come as such a shock when you eventually do tell them. Alternatively, some people have a tendency to worry too much so trying to prepare them in this manner may only make things worse. Consider the specific person in question when deciding whether or not to give them a heads-up before meeting.
• Clarity. Depending on your relationship to the person, their own disposition and your feelings on the matter, you may not want to communicate the specifics of your condition – and that’s fine. However, you should make sure you make the severity of the situation absolutely clear, because any misunderstanding is only likely to lead to more heartache in the future.
• Honesty. Speak frankly about how you feel and how the news has affected you – loved ones are there to share in the difficult times, as well as the good. Be honest and direct about how they can help you, as well, since many people simply do not know how to react when confronted with news like this and would welcome guidance. Try to just be yourself and communicate how you’re feeling and how they can help.
• Expectations. People react to bad news such as this in all sorts of ways, so it’s not a good idea to go into the meeting with any fixed expectations on how they will take it. Shock, grief, disbelief or simply stunned silence are all common ways to respond when confronted with the news that a loved one is dying.
• Encouragement. Try to make them feel as comfortable as possible by inviting questions or reactions. Because many people still feel death is a highly taboo subject, they may clam up or become uncomfortable around you. Reassure them that the news hasn’t affected your relationship by eliciting their input.
• Privacy. Consider whether you’re comfortable with the person you’re telling communicating the news to others. In some cases, it may ease the burden you; in others, it might be something you wish to do yourself. However, talking it over with others is a natural reaction, so if you’d prefer they kept their discretion, be sure to tell them.
• Creating a network. If you do wish to break the news individually, it’s a good idea to inform people about who already knows, so that they can reach out to others and share their feelings. In this way, you can create a community of support which can not only be incredibly helpful to you in this difficult time, but others as well.
• Maintaining contact. After communicating the news, some people may feel an urge to shy away from the world, including those they love the most. While this is perfectly understandable in small doses, avoid isolating yourself for prolonged periods. Your friends and family are capable of helping you and will certainly want to – so let them.