I watched her bottom lip as I spoke. My voice dropping involuntarily to the soft calm tone as I explained, as simply as possible, the concepts that I had called her to the hospital to hear.
She smiled as I spoke, in that brave way that someone who is trying desperately to be strong smiles. In that way where you're hearing the words but hoping against hope that you're not hearing what you think you're hearing.
I looked at her young skin, the braces on her teeth, and the way that her bottom lip quivered involuntarily as she nodded and listened and tried vainly to keep it together.
I was there hours after I was supposed to be, sitting in the family room with a nice family of a nice man, wishing I was at home with my own family, trying not to let my own lip quiver. Desperate to do this right, knowing there is only one chance to break bad news, and that it can be done so very poorly.
Telling a family that their Dad is going to die. Soon. That I'm sorry but it could be tonight even that he deteriorates and slips away. That I know that he's a stubborn old guy, a real "she'll be right", suck it up and get on with it bloke. But that as he's known for a while, that it's ending, and I thought you should know.
Trying not to overidentify, trying to work out if touching her shoulder when she finally broke was ok. Seeing myself reflected in her. Trying not to pretend to know how she feels. Reminding myself that every situation is difficult.
Maintaining the calm soft voice. Clearly laying things out, feeling shamed as I realised for a second that I felt pride in how well I was doing this breaking bad news thing as I reminded myself that this is not something that I ought to feel proud of. Feeling the relief at least that I was communicating clearly, that there was no misunderstanding of what I was saying.
The emptiness as I walked away from the room, confident that I'd done the best that I could do, but feeling inept, that my best was not enough. That I hadn't been able to make it better.
Drained and tired and spent, directing the deaf cabbie home in a numb fog to hear the Possum screaming from the front gate. Rocking him in the middle of the floor, talking and singing in that exact same soft calm voice; his damp sweaty head thumping forward into my chest as he begins snoring.
Holding him, heavy and flaccid in my arms and watching his future flash in front of me. Realising that life continues on, but that one day his body will fail too. Wondering how his family will feel when someone is having *that* conversation about him. When the soft calm words aren't to help him sleep but to tell those nearest him that he is approaching the forever sleep.
Sometimes this job is so hard.