The message came to me something like this:
Helpful Family Message Relayer (in a shaky, hesitant voice): I just talked to my mom... Your nephew [insert name here] was ziplining... you know what that is? ... where you slide along down a rope, you know?... and the rope broke or something... and he fell thirty feet.....onto some iron bars or something...........
The pause goes on a very long time. I fill in the blanks. One of my nephews, on the brink of manhood, has fallen to his death. About the time I'm ready to prompt the Helpful Family Message Relayer that I'm not only braced now but I'm about ready to scream and/or go nuts if the pause goes on any longer, he says:
....and he's OK, can you believe it?
I break the next long pause with a feeble, and perhaps rather stupid, "I presume he's in the hospital?"
...yeah, but he's alive and the doctor thinks he'll recover just fine.
All right, let's put aside that the story by the time it got to me might possibly not be identical to the story as it first came out of the hospital, much less that it might vary somewhat from actual facts - I mean, people do not fall thirty feet onto hard surfaces and survive, do they? I mean, I don't know but it seems highly unlikely. Let us also put to the side that although I'm delighted that they've found a doctor who has the guts, confidence, and politeness to offer a good prognosis, I am going to be worried for a week or two or three, until I'm more sure this young man is all right. Let's put that all aside and look at the presentation.
I hasten to say that I've forgiven my informant. He was shaken and incredulous and not quite himself at the time. Fine. No worries. Forget about it. He wasn't trying to draw the story out for dramatic effect (I don't think so, anyway). And it's not like I've always said things in the right order myself - but I hope we can agree that it might have been at least a wee bit better if the start of the conversation had gone something like: Nephew So-and-so is probably going to be OK but you are not going to believe what just happened to him...
One of the more frightening moments of my childhood came when somebody from a sheriff's office or something called our house, got Mom on the phone, confirmed her identity, or more specifically confirmed that she was my brother's mother, then without further ado said "Your son crashed his plane into Such-and-so Lake."
Not a good idea. Mom freaked. Silently, but totally. She didn't comprehend - perhaps didn't even hear - the next words out of the man's mouth, which was a doggone shame because the next words out of his mouth were that my brother was essentially unhurt but needed to find some way to get home. We didn't know this, you understand, until someone grabbed the phone and asked what was going on. The man was astonished that my mother hadn't heard his reassurances, but there it was. If he'd started with "Your son is all right, but..." I think there wouldn't have been much fuss at all. OK, there would have been a lot of fuss, but not like what we had. Certainly there wouldn't have been the confusion.
Do kindly try to remember that the next time you have an amazing survival story to pass along to someone who cares about the person who just had the close call. Please. Thank you.
Oh, wait, on second thought let's end this on a somewhat lighter note. Many moons back Amanda Witt posted a classic "how not to call a mother about her child away at camp" story. It's not just the brushes with death that call for some consideration of how to break the news, you know.
P.S. If you are wondering, my brother was trying to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake, but the ice didn't cooperate. Not in the least.
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