Bad News Fatigue

Is there such a thing as empathy burnout? If so, that is what I am feeling. All my get-up-and-go got up and went. For the last couple of months, I have received one piece of bad news after another. People I know and love have died, are dying, cannot get the surgery they need, or are coping with the effects of catastrophic climate events.

Do You Ever Get the Bad News Blues? Image from
Stuart Bradford via New York Times

In October my brother-in-law in San Jose died. I loved him very much and have been consciously trying to remember all the good times we had before he got dementia. Then in November my niece’s mother-in-law died. Whenever I was in Monterey, I enjoyed her company and admired her oil painting talent as well as her joie de vivre. Her death came as a shock.

Last week I was notified that my father-in-law was in decline. He had been in a nursing home but was transferred to hospital when his condition worsened. Now he is in a different nursing home and his mental faculties are not what they once were. When I called one of my sisters-in-law to check in on him, I discovered that she uses a motorized wheelchair now because she cannot get the knee surgery she needs. Hospitals are full of Covid-19 patients and so doctors are not doing “non-essential” surgeries. She and I used to share an apartment when we were young and single, and I still think of her as energetic and lively. She probably still is, but … damn.

While these conversations were taking place, family members in Merritt, British Columbia were enduring disastrous flooding. One family member had to be evacuated from her 103-year-old house which is now full of mud. She and her dogs are taking refuge with her parents whose house, thankfully, is on higher ground.

Merritt Flooding. Image from Bailee Allen via CBC.ca

In all the conversations I have had with family members regarding these issues, I realize that the people closer to these tragedies also have other difficulties going on. They have health problems, or relationship problems, or money problems, or time-and-travel problems. Nonetheless, they keep on keeping on. They even find things to laugh about, and that gives me hope.

If there is any good news in all of this, it is that I have had more conversations with more family members in recent weeks than I have in years. I didn’t realize how much I missed hearing their voices. I’m not fond of using the phone, but sometimes it can bring sunshine to a cloudy day.

25 Comments

  1. Hello Anne

    So sorry to hear about the many losses, these are certainly challenging times.

    Take care of you.

    Best,

    Linda McFalls, LCSW, Ph.D. Student

    Touchstone Counselling Inc.

    10042 116 st. (co-located with MJB Psych).

    Edmonton, AB

    780 996 7655

    780 451 3075 (fax)

    TouchstoneCounselling@shaw.ca

    TouchstoneCounsellingEdm@gmail.com

    http://www.touchstonecounselling.com

    “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain” Carl Jung.

  2. Anne, I am so sorry to hear that Sal has died. Dementia is a real evil beast. I will add here that in my limited experience, I find that the older I get, the more issues everyone I know seems to have. Health, family problems, financial woes, etc. And I am not exempt either. Seems to come with the territory. I can look back many years to what seemed like all sunshine and smiles and now appreciate that the adults in my life then also had multiple issues not shared with children. Well, my experience anyhow. Please extend my deep sympathy to your sister. It’s been less than 2 years since Frank died with dementia.

    1. Thank you, Mary Beth. I will pass on your condolences.

      I am also thinking about the multiple concerns people have, in addition to whatever is the primary problem. Is it because we are aging or has society changed so much in recent years? I don’t know. That’s a question for wiser heads than mine.

      1. Possibly a combination of both aging and society, and I might add technology. Instant communication may not always be best? Like you, I simply do not know. Additionally hanging over all of us is the dark cloud of Covid and, to me, it seems to put everything into stark clarity. So we soldier on as an aunt of mine used to say. Take care.

          1. Yes, I suspect that is behind the phrase. My aunt lived to be 100. Her husband was a bombardier on planes during WWII flying over Germany. I can’t imagine. And he died with dementia in the early 2000’s. I age myself with such memories!

  3. Sorry to hear of so many family health issues. Yes, we hit a certain age, and our list gets longer. Then we hit an older age, and the list gets more serious. Aging is not for the faint of heart. If there is a Boomer out there who understands society today, I hope they give me a call. On the other hand, email me because I don’t like talking on the phone. 🙂

  4. I am sorry for all your losses and woes, Anne. I have not many people left, myself. My cousin, Jack, just died at age 92. Apparently his wife did not allow him to smoke cigars in the house, so he had a “cigar shed” in the garden. He was smoking a cigar in the cigar shed when he had a heart attack and fell against the door. His wife had to get the police to break down the door, but he was gone. In his case, I think it was his time. He was in the army from age 18, had an interesting life and had many friends – always cheerful.
    Meanwhile my nephew Ian who has been away for many years in England, Kenya and most recently South Africa is coming back to Toronto area with his wife to live. He will be with me for 2 weeks at Christmas, while his wife finishes up the house sale details in SA.. Haven’t seen him for about 35 years.

  5. PS I know what you mean by empathy fatigue or burnout. Sometimes it’s just too much- and you just want to turn off or close down for a while.

  6. I think part of the challenge is the cumulative effect; of so much in so little time. It is wearing on a person, to be sure. I think the pandemic is already wearing us down, so everything is a touch harder these days. It’s neat to hear that the folks with difficulties still find something to laugh about. That would help me; to know the ones in the struggle still have their humor and perspective. And thanks for the video; love that song!

  7. I reckon we all reach a ”certain age” and some of those around us start ‘popping off’. It isn’t nice at all to consider we are this vulnerable and worse, our dance card may be marked as well!
    Over the past two years. I’ve lost a couple of friends, a cousin (to cancer) and my long standing guitar tutor.

    I used to watch the movie Grumpy Old Men (one of my all time favourite films) and wonder what I’d be like at the age of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau?
    Well, I have a years to go yet, but when I watch the film these days I can relate more and more to their antics! Fortunately, I still laugh at the film!

    So, what can y’do, Anne?
    It’s life, I guess so we just have to embrace as much of it as we can, while the opportunity presents.

      1. Being ‘older’ does have a few advantages. Today I had to go to Home Affairs to get a new ID.
        Visiting Government edifices of any description is a daunting prospect at the best of times but now, during Covid, the lines of people go on forever.
        Having more grey hair than blond these days ensures I get ushered through to the front of the queue!
        It also helps if one stoops a little more than necessary and uses terms such as ”Young man”, and ”Young lady” when addressing counter staff.
        And …. ” ….can you help filling in this form, please? My eyes aren’t as good as they once were.”
        Shameless, I know!

          1. I think it’s only because of Covid.
            Normally I wouldn’t play the Ageist Card, but, dammit all, Anne, Government Departments are the absolute worst! And there’s always one more bloody form or document you have either forgotten or need to fill in.
            Sheesh! They drive me round the twist.

            1. No arguments from me on that score. I think all our governments, in trying to be more thorough, have become more difficult to deal with. Computers have only added to the problem. They provide more boxes to check.

  8. Such a string of bad news, Anne! Sorry for your losses, made all the more difficult by our relative immobility these days. As bleak as memorial and funeral services can be, the ability to get together and mourn (and celebrate) is something that is sadly missing now. I don’t know whether this ties into your idea of grief fatigue, but I think we are in a strange purgatory where we are mourning the ability to mourn, or at least to mourn in ways that we are used to and that comfort us.

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