The Bearing of Bad News: A Chronology

07.10.09 | 2 Comments

Bruce Leavitt and Don Leavitt

Uncle Bruce and my father in 2004.

A Few Weeks Ago

My father was going to Cincinnati to visit John Dupree. John is my father's cousin and they grew up pretty much like brothers. John has been fighting colon cancer for a couple of years now, but my father didn't get a chance to visit him during that time as my mother was fighting pancreatic cancer. She passed away last summer, so my father was hoping to catch up with John now. Unfortunately, John has taken a turn for the worse and his wife, Helen, told my father that there wasn't really much point in a visit now, but she would see him at the funeral. My father came to visit me in Pittsburgh instead and even brought my brother, which made for a very nice father's day, despite the factors that led to it.

A Few Days Ago

My father's little brother, my uncle, Bruce Leavitt, passed away at his home in Santa Rosa. I do not know the circumstances other than that he died in his sleep.

Last Night

Bruce had not been to work in a couple of days, so his wife Louisa (who maintains a separate residence) went to his home and found him. Among other calls she presumably made, she called her daughter, my cousin, Christie, who lives in DC.

Christie then called her and my Aunt Jean, my father's only sister, who also lives in DC.


Between 10am and 11am

Louisa called my father and Jean called my father.

Sometime before 2pm

Jean sent email to my cousin, Robin in Westchester, NY, letting her know that Bruce had died and that John was very near death.


Robin sent the text of the email to me as a message on Facebook. She also left a comment on my status telling me to check my Facebook messages.

Around 2:30

On my way out the door, I checked my email and saw the status comment. I quickly checked my Facebook messages, wondering what was up. Quite shocked by the news of Bruce's death, I told the kids to sit back down for a minute and called my father in Massachusetts.

Now, I assumed that my father had been called already. And he had been, of course. But neither he nor my sister who lives with him had listened to the messages. So, instead of just offering a call of support and condolence, I found myself telling my father about his little brother's death. He was more solemn about it than I expected, but then he does have what is probably the stiffest upper lip in all of New England. After a short call, he let me go.

Close to 3pm

I called my brother so he'd know what was going on. All of my siblings live in Massachusetts quite close to my father, so I wanted to make sure that (a) they knew that Bruce had died and (b) they could be there if my father needed them. My brother was home sick from work, but said he'd try to head over to my father's house soon.

I then called my sister (the one who doesn't live with my father) to let her know. She told me that she had my father on the other line, so I let her go.


I called Louisa to offer my condolences. We chatted for a few minutes. It turns out my Uncle Bruce had been in poor health for some time and "didn't take care of himself." I told her about my phone call with my father and she mentioned that she had called my dad that morning. I suggested that they might not have checked the messages. A good guess.

Sometime between 3 and 4pm

My father called my cousin Toni, Robin's sister, in North Carolina to share the news.

Close to 4pm

I called my sister back to see how my father was doing. She told me that she and my father had been talking on and off for weeks about John Dupree's illness, about how many people seem to be fighting cancer, and dealing with death. Sadly, my father is getting a lot of experience with death, even before my mother passed away last summer. I mentioned that I had spoken with Louisa and told my sister about the call. Then she mentioned that my father wanted to go to Cincinnati for the funeral and that he was going to call Helen to find out what the arrangement were.

Uh oh. Cincinnati is where John Dupree lives and Helen is his wife. John Dupree was dying, but was not dead. I asked my sister if he was going to California for the funeral. She seemed baffled. Now, my father does not have the best hearing and he has no interest in getting that corrected, but he is pretty good at figuring things out if you repeat yourself a little and speak loudly and clearly. I had thought that I had done so on the phone, but apparently not. I explained that Bruce had died, but not John. She was stunned. This was NOT what my father had gotten from my phone call. And he was going to call John's wife to offer condolences and ask about a funeral. Bad.

My sister let me go so she could hightail it to my father's house and fix things. So, both she and I had the unpleasant task of telling my father that his little brother had died.


I called my brother again to let him know about my failure to communicate, so he wouldn't walk into an unknown situation.

Around 4:20

My sister arrived at my father's house, grabbed my other sister, who was on her way out the door to go to work, and cleared up the situation for both of them.


I called my father and apologized for not explaining things clearly. He was very nice about it, but I felt pretty lousy about the whole thing.


Robin sends me another Facebook message letting me know about my father's phone call to Toni and that he had had things confused on the call.


I get Robin's message and reply, explaining about my father's hearing and the whole confusion thing.


I get a reply from Robin with a fairly heavy comment:

Sigh. This stuff is just going to keep happening, you know. Until they're all gone, and then it'll be us. Oy.

An unpleasant reality.


I finished this blog post. The news of my uncle's death traveled from Santa Rosa to DC to Westchester to Pittsburgh to Massachusetts. The incorrect news of my cousin's death then traveled from Pittsburgh (accidentally) to Massachusetts to North Carolina to Westchester and back to Pittsburgh. The incorrect news also traveled from Massachusetts back to Pittsburgh directly and then was replaced by the correct information going to Massachusetts again. All this by phone, email, answering machine, voice mail, and Facebook.

Tags: , , ,


have your say

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. Subscribe to these comments.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>