Beyond the challenge of going 14 innings in the first game of the 2015 World Series, the Kansas City Royals management had the additional pressure of dealing with an awkward and controversial situation: withholding news to one of their key players that his father had died earlier that day.
At the request of his family, Royals starting pitcher Edison Volquez was not given the somber news until after he had thrown his last pitch of the game. The timing of telling Volquez of his father passing of a heart ailment sparked a “what would you do” conversation on whether withholding this news was the right thing to do.
This dilemma made me think about the day my brother died. I was the one receiving the unfortunate call while my father was on a cruise in the Panama Canal. When I first found out the tragic news, I struggled to make a choice: Call my dad and ruin a joyous vacation or wait a few days until he returned?
My first hurdle in making this decision was actually finding my father. He had supplied details of his flights and pre-boarding accommodations but not the exact ship he was sailing on. This bought me some time to consider my options as it took a bit of investigating to track him down. This delay also, however, gave the media time to leak the story. After being informed by Australian authorities, various news outlets started running the story about my brother’s mysterious and sudden death while on location performing at the Sydney Opera House. Faced with not knowing how much news my dad would be consuming while out at sea, I felt torn: Did I want my father to possibly learn about his son’s death from the news or hear it directly from me?
I decided to muster up strength and make the uncomfortable shore to ship call.
Anxious to deliver the news and unsure of a way to soften the incredible blow about to be delivered, I could nothing more that blurt out the basics “There’s been an accident…Scott is dead.” I could tell by the confusion and delay of his response how shocking and jarring this news was to him. Simple and concise words with the power to simultaneously knock the wind from both of us. It is a call one never wants to give or receive. I, unfortunately, had just done both.
Weeks later while discussing this issue with my dad, he assured me I made the right choice. There was not much he could do in the immediate hours or days that followed since the death had occurred so far away, but he felt comfort in knowing as soon as possible and appreciated being able to travel home and be with family.
But not everyone agrees on timing and not every situation is the same. The shock of loss can be incredibly jarring making some situations of withholding information justifiable as in the case of Volquez.
Personally, I agree with the decision made by the Volquez family. As risky it was with the possibility of the news reaching him from a source other than a family member, it allowed him to experience a joyous life event that would have otherwise most likely been traumatized by the news. I’m all for finding out as soon as possible but if I was pitching in the World Series, I would be fine with waiting until after I took the mound to find out. A few hours not in the know would be acceptable — a day after, or in the case of telling my father, a few days after did not feel right.
It’s a delicate subject but it’s not rocket science…or is it?
Looking closer at how NASA deals with this situation when astronauts are faced with the death of a loved one while out in space, I realize it all comes down to open communication. Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, said the protocol in such cases is for astronauts to express their preference before they leave for their protracted, distant assignments. “Each astronaut determines for him or herself what they would want in certain circumstances,” she said. “What they would want to know and when they would want to know it.”
Like the NASA protocol, letting family members know ahead of time what and when you would want to know can offer huge peace of mind. Talking about it and writing it down takes the guesswork out of these uncomfortable situations. This practice can also extend to many of the other unmentionable topics we all tend to avoid such as our final wishes and wills.
My advice: Open up a dialogue — Write it down — Know
Trust me. It’s so much easier to figure out what’s right for you when you’re not in the heat of the moment of a tragic event.
What conditions in your life would justify withholding information on either receiving or giving news that someone close to you had died? Does your family know how you feel about this? Maybe its time to let them know.