Not to say that this is the only way to handle tough news. What follows is simply my experience. Take from it what you will.
Our three daughters were 5, 9 and 12 years old when I first received the cancer diagnosis.
I gathered them around the dining room table. They climbed into the chairs and turned their faces my way, awaiting the news.
"You know I went to the doctor today," I began. "And they told me the results of all those tests."
I told them everything I'd been told; that I'd been diagnosed with cancer, that it was in its early stages, that I'd have to go to the doctor a lot while they wait and decide when to start chemotherapy. I told them nobody knew when that would be. It could be weeks, months or years. Nobody knew. But for now, we didn't have to do anything.
I chose a matter-of-fact approach, mirroring the same calm manner the oncologist used when he delivered the diagnosis to my husband and me.
I'd been concerned about the kids' reaction, especially since my own mother had died of cancer. But my concerns were unfounded.
Before I finished the first sentence, my five-year-old slipped off her seat and was crawling under the table.
At the end of my talk, my nine-year-old asked, "Can I go next door and play with (my friend) Erin now?"
Only the oldest remained, pondering the information. "Oh, I get it," she finally said. "It's like having the HIV virus but it's not really full blown AIDS yet." (That was headline news at the time. )
"Well, yes," I said. "It isn't HIV, but it is kind of like that."
And that was it...life moved on.
I'm glad I told them everything. It was one of those teachable moments that showed them how to handle tough news. It developed a trustworthiness between us. After all, wouldn't I want them to be truthful and candid with me? Especially in tough situations?
Later, when they asked me if I was afraid and I admitted I was, I realized this gave them permission to talk to me when their own fears surfaced.
In our role as parents, our kids watch what we do. They learn from us and imitate us.
Looking back, I realize my children, even the one crawling under the table, learned so much that day. They heard the tone of my voice. They understood the seriousness. They sensed the fear. They felt the camaraderie.
However, a bigger message surfaced.
As I spoke, they detected my underlying faith. They learned that while scary things do happen, we can be upheld by a strength far greater than our own.
Through the years, I've remained honest and straightforward. This diagnosis, scary as it was, helped me to grow in faith. There are many teachable moments, and they all point toward the overriding love of God.
I know this life isn't forever. I delight in each moment I've been given. I've grown in faith like never before. I cling to God, who loves us so very much, both now and to eternity.
We are here to do God's will, not our own. No matter what happens, it's all good. With God's help, we are posed for a win-win. Peace that surpasses all understanding is within our grasp.
My kids know that too.
For there is nothing hidden that can't be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Luke 8:17