"You won't believe what happened today," she says. "What happened?" you ask, beginning to worry about all the possible bad things it could be. She then begins the saga, "I was going grocery shopping, and..."
When you've dealt with family illness, you know bad things happen. You know life can change on a dime. My family developed a rule to protect us from undue distress: If any of us calls with news expected to trigger an emotional reaction -- upset, happy, angry, frightened -- we preface it with the story's ending. For example:
- "Everyone is alive and okay, but I have bad news." [useful after car accidents with no injuries]
- "Everyone is alive and will be fine, but I have bad news." [car (or other) accident, non-life-threatening injuries]
- "Our family is fine, but I have bad news about a friend/relative."
- "This story has a good ending" [anything that begins with potential for bad ending]
- "This is a fun/funny story" [anything that begins with potential for bad ending]
At the cost of ruining the surprise of jokes and happy stories, we spare each other unnecessary anxiety.