How To Function After Getting Really Bad News


I'm no stranger to bad news -- the kind of news that makes your life come to a screeching halt. My younger daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate. I know what it's like to pick up the phone and hear your midwife say, "There's a problem with the baby." My older daughter was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. I know what it's like to look into the scared face of an emergency room attendant and hear him say, "There's a tumor on her liver."

Devastating news is paralyzing. It brings with it a fear of the future, a feeling of powerlessness and an aching heartbreak at what you've lost.

Devastated. That's where I was on Tuesday night when I knew, with agonizing certainty, that Hillary wasn't going to win. I turned off my phone and stared into the darkness remembering how scared I was when I got the bad news about each of my kids. Only this time, millions of people shared my very bad news. It rolled across cyberspace in waves, our anguish, our terror, our disbelief. We sighed or screamed or cried in collective dismay wondering, "How could this happen? What can we do?"

What can we do? I don't have the answer to that right now, but I can share some of the things that helped me pick myself up and move on when all I wanted to do was curl up and stay in bed forever.

Surround yourself with support. This election had an urgency to it that bordered on hysteria. It felt like all or nothing, like we HAD to win because losing was unthinkable. The vitriolic animosity coming out of the Trump camp was particularly hard on those of us with vaginas, people of color, immigrants and the entire LGBTQ community. We've been called names, demeaned, threatened, bullied and dismissed. Trump's malevolent rhetoric rippled through the country like a plague. Trump begins his presidency beneath a dark cloud of negativity. Those of us who desperately thought it would finally end are now dealing with the nagging feeling that the worst is yet to come. Now is the time to reach out to your friends, loved ones, and community for support. Eat together, drink together and turn off all your screens. We have some healing to do.

Talk about it (a lot.) Right now we're all reeling. We're wearing white pant suits and trying to figure out how to process something that feels too big to think about, much less talk about. The posts I'm seeing from my (like minded) friends on Facebook range from, "How can I possibly explain this to my kids?" to, "We need to rise up and DO something" to photos of kittens. This election brought a torrent of dirty little secrets to the forefront of our national conversation for the entire world to see. The double standard that allowed a man with a documented history of misogyny, infidelity, and inexperience to rise to the top of the political ticket is, frankly, embarrassing. It's all so obvious now. Our nation's dysfunction has crystallized into a loud-mouthed bully who personifies intolerance. We should be better than this. It seemed to me, lost in my echo chamber, that the level-headed competence and clearly superior qualifications of Ms. Clinton would triumph over the obvious shortcomings of Trump. Now we need to talk about why it didn't so that this doesn't happen again in four years.

Learn everything you can about the problem. When my children were diagnosed with their various conditions, I learned everything I could about them. I read clinical studies, spoke with experts and talked with other parents about how to best advocate for each of them. I have no idea what my president-elect believes in - beyond money - and how he can possibly relate to me. I know that money already pulls the strings of our government to a large extent, but I don't know how to change that. You can't fix something if you don't know anything about it. You can't advocate for yourself or your children if you give up hope and let the "experts" do all the leg work. So, as much as you want to turn away from the news and stare at cat videos all day long, you can't. Learn about Trump and the people that he'll be appointing to run the government. Learn about the political process. Stay vigilant! Complacency and ignorance are what got us into this mess.

Keep moving forward. My daughter is still sick. In fact, she's now terminal. Some mornings, right when I wake up, there's a split second when I forget about this crushing certainty. But then it hits me (just like the results of this election...) and all I want to do is stay in bed. I lie there and imagine the house falling down around me, the car being repossessed, my body wasting away until I'm not here anymore. But then I remember that's not an option. I need to get up, work, walk the dog, drive my daughter to school and keep moving forward. There's always laundry to do.

Remember, our kids are watching us. The way we handle this news can empower them to shape the government into something that works for them...or not. It's up to us.

America, keep doing your laundry.