My father gave me a singular fact that shows how he felt when I was born. Our family was scattered all around town in about 20 homes. He could have called his mother and asked her to pass the news to the rest of the family, but he didn’t. Calling every home himself was far more personal. But he didn’t do that either. He drove to each home and told them face to face that his son had been born.
Sometimes the way you say something is as important as what you say. Today we can say things to thousands of people with almost no effort. Social media lets us tell our friends and their friends that we had a hard day, or we’re at lunch, or our heart’s been broken. We can share jokes, pictures, opinions, and insults. It’s fun and satisfying. But some messages are truly meaningful, maybe more meaningful to other people than to us. Hearing those messages almost by chance, through a largely frivolous medium, can hurt them in ways no one intends.
The birth or death of someone you love is probably the most meaningful event in a life. Bringing someone this kind of message deserves more intent and effort than it takes to comment on the weather. That’s why the names of the dead are withheld until the family is told. Learning about this kind of thing though a casual word, even if well-meant, is like finding out your brother is dead through a television commercial. It’s like finding out your child has been killed by seeing it on a billboard on the side of the road. It’s an effortless, throw-away message that capriciously tells someone they’ve received the only thing in life that’s irreplaceable, or that they’ve had the only irreplaceable thing in life taken away.