Oh, and by the way

As a trucker’s wife, you are the guardian of your husband’s home life. Sometimes this means being the bearer of bad news. Knowing when to pass along bad news while he’s in the truck and when to wait can be one of our hardest decisions. I’ve run the gamut from withholding important information to blurting out painful news, learning that setting aside my own emotions and thinking is clearly the best approach.

“I only tell him news that can’t wait,” says Debbie Leader, an independent trucker’s wife from Savanna, Mo. Leader’s wisdom has been hard-won. Diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago, she had to bring her husband, Steve, home for her urgent operation. “I did wait until he was loaded and headed this way before I told him,” Leader says. Now in full remission after surgery that removed one lung, Leader found the experience changed her attitude to conveying bad news.

“I’ve decided even though all my checkups have been good, I won’t tell him on the road if I ever do have a bad report. Other than my surgery and family deaths, I’ve learned that bad news always keeps until he’s home,” Leader says.

As she discovered, the severity of the news has to be balanced with the timing. Even something as major as the death of a close family member is best not told on the cell phone while he’s in rush hour traffic. If possible, wait until he’s parked for the day. On the other hand, if an emergency dictates his immediate return, he should be notified quickly.

Before telling bad news, ask yourself how he may be affected. Can he do anything about the situation right now? When you must speak, be prepared for any reaction. Stay calm and as emotionally neutral as possible. Listen, and don’t react negatively, even when grief or worry push him into anger. Remember, he’ll feel helpless and frustrated if he can’t be there when he’s really needed.

One of the biggest problems with family emergencies is getting a driver home. Be ready to work with dispatch. And be reasonable. No matter what the circumstance, your driver should not abandon his truck or trailer without making proper arrangements. But don’t be railroaded by uncaring company officials, either.

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Genuinely bad news is a rare occurrence in most lives. Save the bounced check or stopped-up toilet until after he’s home an hour or two. On the other hand, lighten his life on the road with cheerful information. As Leader says, “I pass on good news at the first possible moment.”

Before it happens

Making a plan for dealing with emergencies while he’s on the road allows you to swing into action without having to make decisions while you’re upset:

  • Ask how he wants to be notified of bad news. What things does he always want to know about immediately?
  • Who should call dispatch if he has to come home?
  • Be sure you understand his company’s policy on getting drivers home for family emergencies. Call the human resources department if you need information.
  • Keep an emergency fund or credit card to cover a flight home.

Grief support

GriefNet, wwwrivendell.org , is an Internet community that helps adults and children deal with loss through e-mail support groups, newsletters and other resources. The site is supervised by grief psychologist Cendar Lynn.