Those first few minutes after bad news comes are a whirlwind. Your mind is spinning, you can’t hardly catch your breath, your knees buckle, etc;. You see the doctor’s mouth moving but you don’t hear a word; the pounding of your heart silences everything. You look at those sitting with you yet somehow can’t bring yourself to look at them in the eye.
It’s just too much. It’s all just. too. much.
Getting bad news sucks. For me, those initial moments after it comes are the worst. The physical response to bad news is running rampant, and it’s all I can do to maintain composure. To make matters worse, I’m a people pleaser so almost immediately, I temper my reaction in order to not upset those around me. It’s awful.
Unfortunately, I’ve had my share of bad news. For the most part, the news has been related to my health. Starting from the original diagnosis to the news that the cancer had reached stage 4 and spread to my brain, I certainly know what it’s like. And while it hasn’t really gotten easier, I have realized that there is a process that for me, makes it a little easier and has taught me how to get from Point A (hearing the news) to Point B (being able to function well) a lot easier and thankfully, a lot more quickly.
1. BREATHE & FEEL
I remember being a kid and playing that awful game where one team just throws dodge balls at the other team, hoping to hit them to get them “out” or knock over an orange cone, whichever came first. I hated that game. Anyway, remember that feeling of being nailed right in the gut? Automatically, all air is sucked from your lungs, and you don’t know whether to fall over, vomit, or both.
That’s what happens when bad news comes. Life immediately seems sucked out of you, and you’re left with a choice. Do you fall to the ground, scream, cry…or salvage every bit of strength you can for that one, deep, life-giving breath of air. Choosing the latter isn’t easy and in some ways, requires that you deny your natural reaction to devastating news. However, I’ve found that taking a moment to wait and take a deep breath gives you more clarity and energy to move forward, whatever that might look like. It sounds simple but in over-complicated situations, it’s sometimes those simple things that make the biggest difference.
Over time, I’ve also recognized that trying to avoid feelings just causes more harm than good, and allowing myself to feel whatever it is I feel, even if it isn’t based on truth, is a natural part of the process. There are a variety of reasons that we think we shouldn’t feel: crying means I’m weak, being scared means I have no faith, feeling worried means I must be running from God. Newsflash! Emotions are not the enemy–the enemy is your enemy. So the problem arises NOT when we FEEL but when we give our enemy ACCESS to those emotions. So, let yourself react how you react. Just don’t stay there and certainly don’t allow the enemy to have access to how you feel.
Here’s a few examples of healthy vs. unhealthy emotional reactions:
Healthy emotional reaction: I feel so sad and my heart is heavy.
Unhealthy emotional reaction: I am doomed. My life is over.
Healthy emotional reaction: This sucks. I’m so angry this is happening.
Unhealthy emotional reaction: Screw life, screw it all. Let’s go skydiving.
I don’t always react the same to news I don’t like. It really just depends on where I am & the state of my spirit. Sometimes my “recovery” time is a few hours and sometimes it lasts a day or so. Either way, the process always makes me emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted; consequently, rest is not optional.
After few years of weekly and monthly appointments and scans, my close friends and husband know that if it hasn’t gone exactly the way I had hoped, I need some rest and refueling. I need to do something fun and rejuvenating and get my mind off of what is happening. While of course I’m still thinking about it, taking a break creates a dam for the emotion, not allowing it to affect more than it should.
And REST! Working through your “stuff,” whether physical or emotional, is hard and it takes A LOT of energy. So get some rest. Take a nap. We really do underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep and how it can rejuvenate, inspire, and refocus us for the upcoming season.
I won’t say too much on this topic now but this is one of the moments in life when friends are everything. And not just good friends—great friends. Having people that know you, what you’re going through, and what you really need in these types of situations can truly make or break the bad-news recovery time.
After you allow yourself to react and have gained some strength back, emotionally and physically, it’s time to refocus. It’s time to get with Jesus. Obviously, Jesus has been with you the whole time but it’s after allowing yourself to feel what you feel and getting some energy back that you can really receive truth and its healing and life-giving power.
For some reason, we have this misconception we can only give Jesus the best versions of ourselves, as if he doesn’t know how we’re actually feeling. We (try to) hide from Him, thinking that we’ll return to Him when we’re in a better place when He DESIRES to meet us when we’re weak and in a place of need. Remember John 3:30? Let Him become greater and let me become less? When we are in a place of weakness, we are automatically at a place to receive more of Him, giving him room to do GREAT THINGS!
So, get with Jesus. Turn on your favorite worship music, get out the Word, and just be with Him. Allow your heart to be saturated in his presence. Let Holy Spirit fill you up. Open your Bible & just read. Let Him remind of you his truth and his promises. Remember the testimonies of your life and those around you. Don’t try to do anything—just be with him. Time with him is far more powerful than anything you can do for him, and it’s probably what he desires more anyway. Present your emotions to the Father, and allow him to replace your fears with truth, your tears with laughter, and that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach with an undeniable and impenetrable peace.
4. MOVE FORWARD
Here’s something I know for sure: you can’t be in the presence of Jesus and NOT be changed. Even if you don’t feel different, you are different. We don’t always know exactly what He’s doing so in those moments, we trust and rest in the knowledge not of what He’s doing but in WHO HE IS!
And we move forward. We keep going. We surround ourselves with people who speak life and truth into our hearts but understand when we need to cry and just relax. We feel what we feel but run everything through the filter of the truth of Jesus, allowing only what remains to penetrate our spirit. We rest in the peace of the knowledge of WHO IS IS. And we take steps toward wholeness in the natural, whatever that might look like for you. For me, it’s doctor’s appointments, it’s medications, it’s pursuing health, it’s scans, it’s waiting on results. It’s being a wife, mom, a writer, a non-profit director.
It’s choosing to move forward and never ever underestimating the power of one small step.