Below are the episode show notes and transcript. Some episode transcripts have been edited more than others, but they are up in the meantime to help those who would rather read and for searchability on the web. Extensive editing has not been prioritized as I seek to both produce regular content and maintain my own wellness. Enjoy!
Life can change in a moment,
redirected in a heartbeat…or lack thereof…
Time beats on
even when the dark clouds
hang heavy on tear-stained hearts.
Join me on a journey we all face at different times,
part 1 of 2 of a journey, “Responding to grief and loss, a personal perspective”
on episode 28 of The MedEdWell Podcast.
She almost passed out. We’re taking her to the emergency room. You need to come down here right now. My colleagues take over for my afternoon clinic as I frantically drive downtown. Is she going to be okay? Stick around for the rest of today’s episode to hear the rest of the story and more of my journey and then how you can walk this journey of grief alongside others.
Welcome to the MedEdWell podcast, where physicians get empowered to take the next step in their wellness, personally, professionally, and financially. I’m your host, Dr. Ryan Stegink, a practicing general pediatrician and online entrepreneur.
Thank you for joining me here on MedEdWell podcast, we’re already to episode 28. I’m so thankful for all of you who have tuned in listening, subscribing and sharing these episodes. Wellness and medicine is a really big deal. That’s why I’m here trying to share what I’ve learned and engage on these topics that we can all take our next step. You’re looking to get home sooner to help your wellness by being more efficient at work, check out free guide, maximize your clinical efficiency, 10 tips for getting stuff done. You can get your free guide over at MedEdwell.com/efficiencyguide link will be in the show notes.
So today we’ll be talking about grief loss and coping with deaths. Part one in a two part series, looking at these first from a patient perspective and then from a physician perspective, helping both physicians and others around them navigate these topics. But before we get to the rest of today’s episode, let’s hear from today’s sponsor. The white coat investor has been helping physicians and other high income professionals with their finances. With wellness. Since 2011, they have a series of courses available online. They also have conference physician wellness and financial literacy. Afterwards these lectures get processed and packaged and some of them are eligible for CME. Consider checking out a course by checking out the link in the show notes. All right now, back to today’s episode
It was a frigid January morning, a Wednesday, the coldest of that winter and warmed up the car for my wife. She works as a nurse and has 12 hour shifts. We were expecting twins. She had maybe a little bit of pain the night before, but it pretty much resolved. So she headed off to work. I headed to work and it was understandably slow. Given that temperatures were below zero Fahrenheit, maybe max of single digits. Many of the parents, especially with young children were rescheduling a lot over the morning.
My wife texted and said her pain had come back. She’d called her OB. She had an appointment coming up that afternoon. Later that morning, she was waiting for a colleague to give report. As the pain became contractions. Her colleague said you don’t look so great. Let’s take your blood pressure. It was low. And they whisked her off to the ER. I get a phone call from the charge nurse. Come now. I leave clinic race downtown and I get to see her.
We’re both so scared. I hold her hand, her IV in place and we hear the baby’s heart rate on the ultrasound. It’s beating along nice and fast. Like it should then suddenly the bed fills with fluid as our heart sink. We know what this probably means. An ambulance transfer stop in the ER at the second hospital before finally making it to OB triage. The resident comes over, does her ultrasound and exam and sees it tiny foot. You’re going to meet your babies today. She said gently. I’m so sorry. A few minutes later we met her babies, twin boys. We hadn’t even made it that far to find out boy or girl before then we marveled at their perfectly formed little bodies. As we wept their tiny frames, barely larger than our hands. We named them, spent time with them in shared tears with a few local friends and family who were able to visit and meet them.
The nurses made an amazing memory box and took photos of our boys with little felt bears that couldn’t have been more than an inch and a half tall. Those are such sweet memories of our boys. Thus, we began our journey in the cold ocean of grief waves crashing over us though buoyed by my wife, friends, family, and faith. This has been the hardest journey of my life thus far.
So on this journey, I’ve learned things about grief, about myself and some things that are helpful in coming alongside those who are grieving. So first things that I learned about grief. The hospital told us, but it took time to see that grief is non-linear. There will be ups and downs forward and back all over the place and different things will be triggers for this grief for me a few weeks after we went for a walk and a special park nearby, neither I burst into tears knowing that I wouldn’t be bringing my boys there for picnic. Another time a few months later, we went to see a movie. It was based on a true story, inspirational movie, where someone was saved through the ice. But when the ambulance sirens were playing, it just brought me back to when I was rushing downtown. I couldn’t, I couldn’t take it. We had to leave. For my wife sometimes being around others who were pregnant, young children, twin boys at the park, it certainly changed over time. And but some of these things are still hard.
So in grief, a partner or other family members may experience the grief differently. Whether it’s losing a spouse, a parent sibling, and these waves of grief may be more difficult at different times. Certainly anniversaries will often be hard, whether it’s their birthday, the due date, some other special time of the year where you miss them, where you miss having them around, where you miss those memories, maybe you didn’t get to make it’s mourning the loss of the person while reflecting on those experiences you shared, or you never did the grief for me, at least doesn’t go away. It’s about taking that next step in life while not forgetting and not stopping the love that I have for them.
So first things that I learned about grief, and then second things that I learned about myself first years are good to let out. It could be really hard at, but good. I love my boys. I miss them. Not everything is logical and rational. Something this physics major knew with my head. But now with my heart, another thing I’ve learned about myself is that it’s really important to process feelings. It’s been really good for my wife to see me cry early on. We would ask what was hard for you today. Honestly, I need to continue to lean us and share when things are hard and check in with my wife. Because even now a couple years later, these things are still hard sometimes. And then checking in with those close to you, whether it’s family or friends, just saying, Hey, I’m struggling with this. Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of community.
Those who know me, that I trust. If you’re in this situation, who do you have around you? Whether it’s a partner, family, or friends, it could be others who have walked this particular journey before you, my wife’s found community with others here locally, but also some online communities for me, it’s been particularly helpful with you guys that have checked in on me whose experience has been similar. I’ve also learned the importance of asking for help could be meals. We had people bring us meals, give us gift cards. It was super helpful to not have to worry about a regular logistical piece of daily life could also be rearranging things that might be too difficult in the moment. It’s not going to cousins birthday party or holding on to that holiday card until you’re able to talk with someone who that may have been triggering for you sent that out. Also getting help includes going out and seeking out counseling if needed. I’ve also found that it’s easy to turn inward. We need to process these things and have community of some sort, even for introverts like me.
So through journey of loss and grief, I’ve learned first more about grief. Number two more about myself and number three, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what others might benefit from to understand how to support and care for come alongside those who are grieving. These can apply to coming alongside friends, family, and patients, and it includes discussion both of what to do and what not to do.
So first, the list of don’ts, many of these are from experiences that I’ve had. Please don’t do them. So first don’t tell them, don’t tell me that they’re in a better place. You may or may not know that. And regardless, it’s not helpful. It’s not helpful in coming alongside and don’t even think about go going further down the well, at least whenever the case may be, well, at least you had this time with them. Well, at least you could have other kids. You could get pregnant again. You don’t know that you can’t control the future. And it really minimizes the loss and the hurt that someone is feeling. Additionally, don’t presume to understand how someone else feels. Even if you went through this similar situation, don’t add pressure or expectations on their grief. You should be over this. You should be farther along by now. You’re overreacting. You’re not over it by now. It’s been how long those things are just extra weights that just eat you up inside when you’re grieving.
So don’t do certain things. Don’t say certain things, but if a friend, a family member, colleague, or a patient is grieving, what could you do? You can just sit there silently giving the gift of your presence. You can say, I have no words just being quiet and sharing tears with them. I found that’s so helpful when people would just cry with me and give me a hug. Yeah. Other things that you could ask would be, what would you like me to know about that you wanna share about your loved one? What was their name that you name your baby? Those things are a few possibilities of how to respond. Certainly not comprehensive, but it’s about presence, care and thoughtfulness being there.
Now I want you to take a moment to reflect, to reflect on when you have gone through grief in the past, what resonated with you from the lessons that I shared that grief is nonlinear. The importance of sharing feelings to process them, the importance of asking for help, maybe some of the dos and don’t about responding. What other lessons have you learned from your own experience?
Now, I want you to take action after this episode from lessons and mindset towards action, share one thing that you learned, something that you do differently in responding to grief, or maybe how you would think differently. You were going through this situation again, and then tell maybe a trusted family member or friend, regardless. I want you to know that though. We all go through this at different times, reach out for help. You’re not alone.
Thank you so much for joining me here on, on this episode, episode 28 of the meed, well podcast, please share, leave a review and subscribe. I really want to help others with their wellness. So I hope that by sharing part of my story, you can be encouraged to reach out to others if you’re currently struggling, or if someone around you is going through a hard time. Thanks for all you do. Please come back and join me for another episode. Have a great day.