Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I had to tell a Mom that her son died. He was a grown young man, victim of a freak accident, out of the blue.

From what I could glean, Mom was essentially all alone. It was, or had been, a positive time in their lives. Her son was soon to be married, and they had been enjoying the pre-wedding whirl.

She knew, as they all do when we place the family in the ‘Chapel,’ that it was bad.

I tried to do all the things we are taught about communicating bad news to families – get down on eye level, use unmistakeable words and simple sentences, hold a hand, give her time.

Her sobs, though inaudible, were heartwrenching.

I told her that I don’t think he felt any pain, or even knew what happened. It was true this time, although sometimes I say it even when I’m not sure. It’s the only comfort I can offer.


  1. This connects with an earlier post as well, but I found that once I became a mother, I had much more trouble telling people bad news. In residency, I was proud (for lack of a better work) of my compassion and ability to sympathize w/ families. After having my first, I have found it near impossible to not empathize w/ families, especially parents. I was unable to hold myself separate from the parents who lost a child. I became acutely aware of the devastation of my news and the invasion of my presence in the face of their despair.

  2. They don't teach this in med school. It is an art, one I'm good at, one I hate.


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