How to Deal With Devastating News
I hosted a back yard picnic and pool party at the end of this summer with four of my long-term staff members and their families. Looking around, I was happy to see all of their smiling faces as their young children frolicked in my pool and nibbled on hot dogs. Little did I know the futures that would await half of them. Looking back, it feels a bit like a scene from Final Destination as their destinies soon after changed drastically.
A couple of months later, a freak accident occurred while my associate was making dinner. As she was busy on the stove, her two-year old son pulled a butter dish off the counter. It shattered, and shards of glass lodged in his eye. For 53 days, she and her young family attended appointment after appointment, enduring numerous procedures, eye drops, eye patches, you name it. Despite that she and her husband worked tirelessly to advocate that their son receive the best medical care possible, they eventually learned that their son’s retina could not be repaired. He will need glasses and a prosthetic eye covering for the rest of his life.
She blames herself; although this was just an accident, the consequences have been catastrophic.
Then there’s the lawyer who has worked with me since she graduated from law school, for over thirteen years now. Since the birth of her first child, she has worked from home, so it’s always especially lovely to spend some time with her in person. And knowing that she had struggled for years to conceive a second child, I enjoyed watching her at my BBQ with her six-month-old daughter. But we were all concerned when her husband, bouncing their four-year old son on his knee, shared that she had been losing her voice for months and that is why she could barely make herself heard. She was in the midst of attending appointment after appointment, and undergoing procedure after procedure, with doctors from ENT to gastro to neuro, to try to pinpoint what exactly was wrong.
Soon after our picnic, she received the call that no one wants. An MRI had revealed an enormous mass on her brain, and they had to rush her directly to the hospital. The brain tumor was so large that it had paralyzed her right vocal cord.
A few weeks later, she endured a ten-hour brain surgery to remove only that part of the tumor that wasn’t too close to the nerves that such surgery would damage.
Her recovery from surgery was nothing short of amazing. However, at her three-month follow-up, the remainder of her tumor, which the dotors had prophesied should not grow any more, had grown. As she begins radiation, there is no guarantee that it will even work to reduce the size of the tumor. Meanwhile, she struggles to communicate with the shadow of a life-altering feeding tube, hearing loss, vision loss, and facial deformity looming over her future.
What To Do
I, myself, when I was just 32 years old, discovered that I had “come down with” Type 1 (misnamed Juvenile) Diabetes overnight. I’ve learned to manage it with an Insulin pump and regular diet and exercise, but being informed that I had developed a condition that doctors could not “fix,” and that could kill me in my sleep if not monitored constantly, was terrifying.
If you are coping with devastating news, try the following:
1. See the Good. My associate with the two-year-old tells me that her five-year-old daughter has become even more loving to her baby brother. Her husband more protective. She, more fierce in her fight. They have all become better people because of the pain that they have experienced. They know that there is a deeper meaning behind all of this.
2. Get Help. There is no shame in seeing a counselor. There is no shame in taking anti-anxiety medications and/or anti-depressants. You may just need them for a short time. You may need them forever. But they can help, and there should be no stigma attached to them.
3. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol. You will probably feel like you need and deserve a bit extra when you’re struggling. But understand that, while they may take off the edge for a brief period, they do more harm than good. If you are sick, they make you sicker. If you are depressed, they make you sadder.
4. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Didn’t finish your laundry today? Didn’t get your Christmas tree up in time? Your kids were five minutes late to school? In the grand scheme of life, do these things really matter?
5. Don’t Waste Your Time With “What Might Have Been.” This is your reality now. Think of ways that you can make it livable, rather than focusing on how it used to be. Visioneer your future the way it might be if things go well. Make it happen that way.
6. Discover a Hobby. Find what you love to do, and do it. Run every morning, Spend an hour reading a book every night. Take walks in the park. Go to yoga once a week. Learn to crochet. Play an instrument. Whatever it is, do what you enjoy, whatever takes your mind off your struggles.
7. Stay Busy. If you sit around depressed, you’ll find yourself partaking in other unhealthy habits, like using drugs and alcohol, overeating, and overthinking the bad in your life. Keep busy with your hobbies and work. Life shouldn’t stop because you experience pain or tragedy.
8. Smell the Roses. That being said, take the healthy time that you need. People should understand that you need to put yourself first for a while. (If they don’t, you don’t need them in your life.) If you need time, take it. But be sure to spend your time in constructive, rather than destructive behaviors.
Understand that we will all undergo hard times in our lives. This just may be your time. It is just another reason why we should always show compassion to those around us. You never know what it’s like to walk a day in someone else’s shoes. You may never know the burden others carry.
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.