Not to sound like my mother, but it seems to me that people just don’t know how to break bad news anymore.
It used to be that if something unfortunate happened, you would sit down and write a letter. Or, in really urgent circumstances, such as an unplanned pregnancy or the reading of a will, you sent a telegram. This kind of advanced warning gave people plenty of time to compose themselves, think about what they needed to say when they met the writer of the letter or telegram, and choose the appropriate outfit.
When my friend Jon suddenly announced over lunch that Ray Bradbury had died, I looked at him blankly. My first reaction was, “Who the hell is Ray Bradbury?” and my second, “Why does his name sound so familiar?”
Jon saw my flustered look. “The science fiction writer?” he prompted. “Your favourite writer when we were in school?”
The penny dropped. “Oh my God! He’s still alive? I thought he died ages ago!”
Amanda later said that this was probably what people would say when they found out she had died. “It’s so depressing to be forgotten like that!”
“I’m sure that can’t be right,” I insisted. “He’s been around forever. I was ten when I first read ‘Dandelion Wine’. And that was…that was…years ago. He must have been 110!”
“That’s probably what they’ll be saying at my funeral,” Amanda muttered, firmly trapped in her morbid parallel universe.
“I’m still in shock!” I told Saffy yesterday morning. She’d just sat down at the breakfast table, staring at her handphone.
“Not in as much shock as I am right now!” Saffy said dramatically, her magnificent bosom inflating like two perfectly made soufflés. “I was literally in the toilet just then doing a number two. I don’t know what it is about me and that vegetarian bee-hoon. I only need to take two mouthfuls and…”
“Excuse me,” Amanda said, icicles forming around her bowl of cereal.
“Oh, right. Anyway, there I am sitting comfortably when I get this text message from Patricia. Here, let me read it to you.”
Even without looking, I could tell that Amanda had edged back in her seat away from Saffy’s handphone.
“It says, ‘Hi Saffy! How are you? Are you enjoying your holiday? I am back in Sarawak for a few days. My father passed away. Am here to help my mum with the funeral arrangements. Talk soon.’ And that’s it. What do you make of that?” Saffy sat back in her chair. “Don’t you just love how she rattles on about how are you, how’s your holiday, I’m here in Sarawak and then, bam!, my dad is dead!”
Amanda leaned forward in her chair. Instinctively, Saffy also leaned in, no doubt with the expectation that they were about to bond over Patricia’s oddly phrased SMS.
“Saf,” Amanda began.
“Did you wipe down your phone after you were in the loo?”
Later in the afternoon, Sharyn reported that she’d just had lunch with Saffy and that all Saffy could talk about was Patricia’s SMS and Amanda’s neurotic germaphobia. “Aiyoh, I so tired or-redi!” she exclaimed. “She won’t even let me eat my yong tau fu. She keep saying I must pay attention to her! Udder-wise hor, when she die and I got no one to talk to, I regret. Choy! Where got appetite to eat when your fren keep talking about dying! And that Amanda, hor, she think the whole world so clean as her, meh? Everywhere got germ! How you live with those two, har? I have one lunch, I or-redi sian, ah, I tell you!”
All day, Saffy has been sending Amanda and me emails attaching various drafts of her response to Patricia’s SMS. My favourite one so far has been: “Dear Pat, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I always thought he was really cute. LOL. Do you need me to come with you to the reading of the will? Maybe he left me something too? LMFAO!”
Amanda says that we’re now at an age when more and more people we know will die and the important thing is that we learn to take the news in our stride and not become slightly unhinged the way Saffy has.
Meanwhile, Saffy says Patricia’s SMS has upset her so much she thinks her constipation is back. “I sat there on the loo for an hour this morning,” she reported. “And nothing. The entire time, I kept looking nervously at my phone!”
“Wah,” Sharyn said, “far-der of fren die also can get constipation, ah? When I die, then how?”