Alan Stewart is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling at the University of Georgia who has studied death notifications for 14 years. Stewart says death notification lingers.
"Oftentimes, people will never forget the way they got the news," Stewart says. "If it's done properly, they'll be able to get through the mourning process. But a bad notification can get in the way of them going through the mourning process. It can create a sense of ill will toward the person who notified them."
Last year in the USA, 32,788 people died in motor vehicle crashes. That's 32,788 times that a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend had to be told bad news. Since 1988 MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) have trained police officers in death notifications.
It matters how bad news is delivered. It also matters how good news is delivered.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:1-7)
First let's agree that all Christians are to further, or advance, the good news of the grace of Jesus Christ. We are told in Paul's letter to Titus how to deliver this news: "be gentle, show perfect courtesy."
One of the complaints from those who received bad news was that the person who delivered it just simply dropped the bomb in a cold, uncaring, inconsiderate manner.
It's interesting that the characteristics of gentleness, peaceable, and humility (courtesy), are all characteristics which are used to describe Jesus. As His followers, we are to follow His example.
On what basis does Paul insist that we behave in such a way? Because "we ourselves were once..." It was Karl Menninger who once said, "It's hard for a fish who is no longer on the hook to remember what it's like to be on the hook." The Scriptures provide for us a humble reminder that we ourselves were once a mess. We must never forget this as we deliver good to news to those still on the hook.
Another thing we must remember when we are delivering life notifications is that we who were so messed up are now loved and accepted by God, "not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy." Remembering this will keep us from excluding anyone; it will prevent us from coming across in a cold, condemning manner. When you realize that you are in by the grace of God you can deliver good news with the confidence that there is hope for everyone, no matter how messed up they are.
Do you have someone to deliver good news to this week?