Wednesday 16 October 2019

Bairbre Power: 'Sometimes people need to be told the truth - even if it hurts'

Mid Life

Bairbre Power
Bairbre Power
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Nothing quite compares to Sunday morning industriousness. Up with the dawn and both the kitchen floor and the work surfaces gleaming by the time Lilian Smith has finished her early morning RTE radio show. What a beautiful, modulated voice she has, plus she plays such feelgood music from days of old.

I'm working towards an 8.30am deadline with my mop so I can have tea and toast organised by the time John Bowman comes on. I love how he delves back in history and to things, often original radio interviews, that I remember from first time around.

Funny how the memory plays tricks on you. You can't remember where you put that book or keys, but you have perfect recall of schoolbook text you absolutely hated, like Latin grammar! Frustrating that, but just another midlife challenge to juggle, and beat.

'What It Says In The Papers' came on and it was there, in the middle of a boring Brexit story, that I hear a phrase I haven't heard in years. I was rooted to the sudsy floor. Critics say Theresa May has "run out of road".

She certainly has, but I've mentally moved on from the backstop debate and whether the Conservative PM will survive much longer at No 10.

I've been transported back 10 years and I'm talking to a man with honest eyes who brings my world crashing down around me with four simple words. I can still vividly remember my physical reaction and the sensation of my broken heart thumping so loudly, I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. "We've run out of road," he tells me matter of factly. I'm shocked but, in my confusion, I still manage to cobble together a reply.

This man who I'd never met before has just broken the worst news possible to me in a shiny hospital corridor.

There was nothing more they could do for my mum and, a year after she had suffered a bleed on the brain and had got better and then disimproved, here we were. We'd "run out of road". As shocking as the news was, ultimately I came to respect and appreciate the medic's straight forward approach.

He didn't do the empathic tilt of the head or the tone of his voice didn't change. Playing that hospital corridor conversation back over and over in my head, I've often wondered how many times in a day or a week that consultant had to break bad news to people? It's part of his job. It goes with the territory, but having to break bad news can never be easy.

Do you wait, deal with the butterflies in your stomach after rehearsing the lines and taking a drop of Dutch courage or do you just do it straight, with honesty and humanity, and then tick it off the list?

Beyond life and death issues like my mum's (Anne Power died a few weeks later, aged 78), it seems to me that daily life increasingly presents us with situations where the best way is to approach problems with clarity, honesty and courage. Be honest with yourself, your family and friends and, above all, in your dealings with people. Telling the truth to people is littered with emotional landmines.

Remember the teenage years - those high-octane romances that were destined for tears when the cryptic news was delivered: "It's not you, it's me!"

As devastating and cruel as it seemed at the time, I remember once being in the midst of a personal crisis and being told over a Monday morning espresso "s*** happens, get over it - it could be the makings of you".

And, as fate would decree, it was the makings of me, but at the time, it didn't quite feel like that.

Honesty is good, but it can also hurt at times. When do you have the right to turn honest talking into plain blackguarding, like telling someone they have put on too much weight?

Learning to know when to zip your mouth is an art. Best advice comes from the legendary Maureen Potter who used to say at the end of her Gaiety panto: if you didn't like the show, "keep your breath to cool your porridge".

That doctor taught me more than I could have guessed that day. Sometimes people just need to be told the truth, even if it hurts.

Irish Independent

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