Leading from the Top Down

I have served as a volunteer for my local United Way for over 15 years on a team that recommends funding for afterschool programs in Lincoln. A thorough review of the program’s application, followed by an in-person interview with a program representative, is part of the process of awarding funds for a two-year period to worthy programs. In the second year of receiving the funds, our team conducts site visits to the funded programs to see them in action. It’s an opportunity to talk with top leadership, program staff, volunteers and kids and hear first-hand about their successes, challenges, needs and visions. Our top priority is to ensure the funding they received is positively impacting the kids they serve.

It’s interesting to see the similarities between all the programs as we visit each of them. But, what’s even more interesting to me are the differences between them. One thing that clearly sets programs apart from each other is their leadership. I’m talking about the leadership at the top of the ladder, whether their title be the Executive Director, Chief Executive Officer, Director of Operations, President or Principal. It’s obvious that their leadership style and the tone they set at the top drifts down to those below and can ultimately determine the program’s impact on the kids.

The leader impacts a lot. The leader impacts staff recruitment, morale and retention. The leader impacts staff work performance. The leader impacts the level of trust and respect their staff have towards them and with one another. The leader impacts the sense of community within the organization. The leader impacts the energy, enthusiasm and outlook of those they lead.

Again, the leader impacts a lot.

The leader may not be the one on the front lines working with the kids, but how they treat and interact with the staff and volunteers that do, indirectly impacts the kids. There might be many rungs of the ladder between the leader and the kids, but the staff in between who are working directly with the kids are looking up to their leader for guidance and direction on how to do what they do. What they see, hear and feel from the leader is what they are more likely going to model back to the kids.

It’s become clear to me as I have visited various afterschool programs that when great leaders do a lot of things right you can see it, hear it and feel it with the staff. And, I believe the kids can see it, hear it and feel it, too.

The bottom line is…if you want great outcomes with kids, you need great staff. If you want great staff, you need to be a great leader.

So, if you are a leader, here are some of the most important things I have seen great leaders do:

    • Great leaders recognize the value of every adult in the organization and they praise their staff members as often as possible.
    • Great leaders support their staff at every turn – with challenging students, challenging parents and challenging colleagues. They trust their staff, they have their back and they always try to give them the benefit of the doubt.
    • Great leaders don’t spend much time in their office. They are in the halls, in the classroom, at the bus stop, at carpool, in the gym or wherever the action is and they engage with those around them.
    • Great leaders do not try to do it alone. They involve others in the decision-making process whenever possible.
    • Great leaders are willing to do the things that are hard and difficult and in the best interests of the organization.
    • Great leaders do as they say. They follow through and model what they expect of their staff.
    • Great leaders intentionally foster a culture of collaboration in their organization. They recognize their staff are stronger when they work together so they create the conditions in the organization that facilitate this process.
    • Great leaders are never content with the status quo. They have high expectations for themselves and everyone around them. They articulate a bold vision for their organization and inspire others to elevate their game.
    • Great leaders equip their staff with the knowledge, skills and financial resources to do their job in the most effective way.
    • Great leaders understand the importance of morale and are intentional about creating positive and fun working conditions for their staff.
    • Great leaders commit to bringing positive energy to work every day. They realize that positivity is a nonnegotiable quality when creating a culture students enjoy being in and adults enjoy working in.
    • Great leaders always make it about the kids. They work to build relationships with the kids and they ensure that the best interest of kids drives every decision in the organization.

You may be one of those leaders who sometimes succeeds at being a great leader and sometimes you fail. The important thing is that you always keep working at it. Being a great leader at the top of the ladder should always be your goal with your outcome always being to make a positive difference at the bottom of the ladder.

Now, go forth and lead in great ways.

Being Promoted from Manager to CEO

Life is full of transitions. As a parent, it begins when your child is born and it continues throughout the years – when they go to daycare, preschool, Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and then on to life as a young adult. While each transition period has its own set of unique challenges, the transition after high school graduation is a particularly big one, especially if your child leaves home.

Ask any parent what it’s like to have a child leave home for the first time and you will hear about a range of emotions – happiness, anxiety, sadness, excitement, uncertainty and fear. Most parents will agree that, above all else, it’s a really, really hard transition.

Life after high school graduation is as much of a roller coaster ride for parents as it is for the high school graduate. The excitement and joy about opportunities awaiting your child are mixed with the waves of nostalgia and a sense of loss. Like your child, you are being pulled between the past, present and future.

Being a parent is a full-time job that lasts your entire life. Just because your child is a young adult now doesn’t mean that you don’t care or worry about them just as much as you did when they were newborns. This is also not when you completely abdicate and let go. Young adults still need their parents. You are not completely out of the picture; it’s just your role shifts from being a manager to a CEO.

For years as a parent, you supervised, micro-managed and organized the day-to-day everything for your child. You established expectations and provided consequences and rewards for your child’s choices and behavior. These are all functions of a “Manager”.

Now, you must trade in your manager hat for one that reads “CEO”. Effective CEOs are those who believe in their people and consult them. CEOs can be heard saying things like, “I wonder what would happen if you tried this,” or “I can see you’ve thought that plan out well. Check-in tomorrow and let me know how that goes.” This is a time when kids still need their parents to guide them, to mentor them, to give them feedback, to be a sounding board and to listen.

Here are a few “Don’t Go There” tips for any of you who have recently been promoted to CEO or will be at the end of this school year:

  • Don’t make their leaving all about you.
  • Don’t beat yourself up wondering if you prepared your child well enough for life after high school.
  • Don’t say, “These are the best years of your life!” Be open with them about the highs and lows.
  • Don’t rescue your child. Coach and empower them.
  • Don’t second-guess your child. Trust them. You will undermine their ability to make decisions.
  • Don’t monopolize their lives. Remember KISS (Keep It Short & Sweet) with texts and emails reminding them of your unconditional love and support.
  • Don’t talk too much. When you do connect in-person or through calls and video chats, ask open-ended questions and listen more than you speak.
  • Don’t intervene or react when your child calls home with a problem. There will be conflict and stress. Express your support and give your children time to solve their own problems.
  • Don’t feel guilty. There are “new beginnings” and adventures awaiting both you and them in this transition. It is okay to look forward to this new chapter in your life with excitement as well.
  • Don’t do wake up calls! Adult children need to structure their time on their own, including sleeping, studying, working, errands, eating, and life in general.
  • Don’t turn their bedroom into a home gym. The graduate’s room is their “home base” – try not to change it very much during his or her first year away. They need to still feel a sense of security and identity at home.
  • Don’t focus on outcomes. Instead, focus on embracing challenges, learning from mistakes, persistence and effort.
  • Don’t be an open ATM for your child. Talk about finances and set a budget.
  • Don’t make surprise visits. Be respectful of your child and their newfound independence. Plan ahead with proactive communication.
  • Don’t forget…your child will always need you!

Remember, you are still their parent, but your job description has been tweaked. Look at your role now as less the protector, disciplinarian and provider and more the coach, consultant and CEO. It’s a promotion for both you and for your child! Enjoy!

 

 

It Matters

I was recently looking through my high school senior yearbook and reminiscing (and sometimes grimacing!) as I thumbed through pages and pages of photos. They took me back to a time in my life that, now in hindsight, was fun, carefree and exhilarating. I vividly remember being so busy during my Senior year of high school with extracurricular and social activities, that even though I had plans for life after high school, I had little time to really think about them. I was living in the moment and loving it.

And then, BAM!

High school graduation happened and I found myself in a whole new world!

I had made plans for what I wanted to DO after high school, but I had not prepared myself for how life was really going to be DOING it.

For me, life after high school meant going to college. I was ready to move on in life and was excited and looking forward to it.

So I thought.

Instead, I found myself struggling with being displaced for the first time from my family and friends and experiencing loneliness. Going from living in a large home to a “cracker jack box” sized dorm room with a roommate I didn’t know added to my loneliness and made me sad feeling like I had lost important relationships in my life. I went from being the “big fish in the pond” to the “little fish in the ocean” and felt lost. My sense of purpose and direction was waning. I questioned what I was doing and why. I was experiencing idle time and boredom for the first time in a long time and didn’t know how to deal with it. My college classes required me to study harder than I ever had to before, but making myself do it was even harder. All of my newfound freedoms I was looking forward to were now frightening to me.

I managed to maneuver through my first year of college without quitting, but doing it wasn’t easy and came with making some bad decisions and learning some hard life lessons.

My story isn’t much different than it is for many high school seniors today. In fact, my son has a similar story to mine. The transition from high school to life after high school can be one of the biggest transitions in life. Even if you think you’re fully prepared and you’ve been dreaming of it for years, many of us struggle with it, no matter if we are going to college or trade school, joining the military or jumping into the work force. Sometimes we deal with these post-secondary challenges in unhealthy ways.

Data shows that the rates of alcohol and drug use are already high in 12th grade, but the rates continue to increase after graduation. Some may experiment with substances as a way of celebrating their independence or doing it to “fit in” with their new living situation or with the new people they are meeting. Others may use substances to deal with the negative feelings they are experiencing.

The research shows that this substance use can interfere with a person’s social emotional development, physical and mental health, academic progress, job performance, relationships with others and overall happiness and success later in life. Making a healthy transition out of high school matters. It matters a lot!

This is why itMatters: Healthy Transitions will be so important. It will be an online program for high school seniors designed to focus on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and vaping use and will be framed around the choices students encounter as they graduate from high school and into post-secondary life. The program will be completed by Seniors in less than 90 minutes on their own time or as part of a high school course or a graduation requirement and will not require any teacher training.

I say, “Will be,” a lot because it is a program yet to be designed. In fact, at this point it is a concept that is well researched, well thought out and being highly considered for funding.

I am honored to partner with , a prevention research company in North Carolina, along with the Pennsylvania State University research department, on a funding proposal that will develop, support and evaluate itMatters: Healthy Transitions. The proposal is a strong proposal and has already undergone its first review. The next submission of the proposal will be in early November and for this round we are adding letters of support from 50 high schools nationwide. A letter of support allows the 50 high schools to be first in line to be invited (not obligated) to participate in the project and eventually receive the itMatters: Healthy Transitions program at no cost! The first 50 letters of support we receive will be submitted with the proposal.

I am offering a 30-minute webinar next Wednesday and Thursday, October 13 and 14, at three different times for you and others to learn more about the itMatters: Healthy Transitions program, how your area high school(s) can get involved with the design and testing of it and the benefits it will have for your high school seniors, schools and community.

To register for one of the three webinars, just click on the image below.

 
 

If you are unable to attend the webinar and would still like to receive the letter of support template, along with a written summary of the project, ! I would be happy to forward the information to you or even visit by phone to answer any of your questions.

I am thankful I went to college and proud that I graduated on time four years later. But, I’m not going to lie. It was hard to accomplish. I just wish I had something or someone that would have made me stop long enough during my Senior year to really think about what life after high school might really be like. It’s true in that we really don’t know what it will be like until we get there. But, at the same time, some forethought and preparation would have mattered and perhaps made the transition easier and healthier for me.

Perhaps it would have mattered for you, too.

More importantly, let’s make it matter for today’s high school seniors.

Showing Up

As you know, every other Wednesday, around noon CST, I hit the “send” button for a blog I write and write to over 1660 subscribers across the country, including you and many others of whom I have never met or talked to. Even though my blog is read by many and generates positive comments on a regular basis, I still find myself wondering if it really matters to those of you who subscribe to it. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to write and it’s easy to talk myself into believing you wouldn’t notice if I didn’t write a blog post on my regularly scheduled Wednesday. But, somehow, I have always managed to push through my writer’s block and consistently show up in your Inboxes every other Wednesday.

Until recently…

Over the past several months I have spent a significant amount of time away from my office to travel back home and accompany both of my parents to doctor appointments to address serious health issues they were facing. Coming home after days that were emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting and facing a mountain of work in my office was overwhelming. Writing for my blog was impossible.

So…

I decided not to write a blog post on Wednesday, July 21.

In the days that followed, I began to receive email messages from many of you. Some of you requested that I re-send my blog to you thinking yours got lost in cyberspace. Others of you shared how you missed not getting my blog and how much you look forward to receiving it. Several of you talked about how you have applied some of my blog content in your personal and work lives. A number of you even inquired as to if I was doing alright as it was unusual for you to not hear from me on my regularly scheduled Wednesday.

Maybe you have experienced something similar yourself. Have you had someone reach out to you when you didn’t show up for something they were expecting you for? How did it make you feel? Did it make you want to show up again?

Or…

Have you had the opposite happen to you where no one reached out to you when you didn’t show up? How did it make you feel? Did it make you want to show up again?

We all need to feel that our presence is important to others. When someone acknowledges our presence, but also our absence, it matters. It matters a lot. It can determine whether we show up again or not.

Saying, “It’s so nice to see you!”, when someone shows up lets that person know they are seen, valued and welcomed. They are more likely to keep showing up because you made them feel like they matter.

But, it’s just as important to acknowledge those who aren’t showing up. Have you noticed or felt the absence of someone? Is there a student who has been absent from your classroom, afterschool program or other youth-related activities? Maybe it’s a student you saw regularly before the pandemic, but you haven’t seen since. Or perhaps it’s a student who was absent even before the pandemic began.

Now, more than ever before, it’s important to let students and others know they are missed. Reach out to them through a phone call. Start your conversation by simply saying, “You’ve been on my mind and I have missed seeing you”. Inquire about how they are doing. Be ready to listen. Show compassion and care. Invite them to attend an activity or event that is coming up. Whether they decline or accept your invitation, know that by reaching out to them and letting them know you miss them sends the message that they matter and they are important.

For all the times I wondered over the past two years if my blog mattered or if I even mattered, I got my answer in the emails I received when I didn’t show up in your Inboxes on Wednesday, July 21. It struck me that it took only once for me to not show up for so many of you to check in with me and let me know that I was missed and that what I do is important to you. Because of what many of you did, I am committed more than ever to continue showing up in your Inbox every other Wednesday. Why? Because I know that I matter.

And, so do your students. You just need to let them know it like you did with me.

One Last Road Trip

There’s a saying that if you wish for something long enough you need to be prepared to receive more than you asked for. Nothing is more true than this when it comes to the one wish I had growing up.

Living on a farm in a family of nine meant you hardly ever had alone time with yourself or with another family member. Being the middle child and the oldest of the girls meant my time was mostly spent doing domestic chores in the house, alongside my mom and younger sisters. Time with my dad, alone, was very limited. Providing for a family of nine as a farmer meant he was out of the house early in the morning to start his day. He would return to the house briefly for family meals throughout the day, followed by going back outside to continue his work until mid- to later evening.

There was something about my dad that made me yearn for more time with him, especially one-on-one time. He was one of those people you just wanted to be in the presence of. It didn’t take long to figure out that one way to make this happen was to earn the coveted ticket to ride with him in the truck when he took livestock to sell at the Omaha Stockyards. It guaranteed one full day alone with Dad. We wouldn’t talk a whole lot on those day trips, but we didn’t need to because Dad’s actions always meant more than the words he spoke. At least once during every trip I could count on him reaching across the cab of the truck and grabbing my hand to hold it. Riding down the road, together, holding hands in silence was enough to fulfill my yearning and to remind me that I was always loved by him.

The yearning to spend one-on-one time with my dad never went away the older I got. The image of still holding hands with my dad and the feeling of love and security it gave me didn’t either. I found myself wishing for one more road trip with Dad, alone, and holding hands.

On April 19, 2019, at the age of 88, my dad started experiencing ongoing health problems. It started with kidney failure that resulted in doing dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life. A month after his kidney failure diagnosis, he got a staph infection in a knee replacement. He underwent surgery to remove the knee replacement and he had to live in a rehab center for two months without a knee while treating the infection and before undergoing another surgery to put a knee replacement back in. He returned to the rehab center to learn to walk again with his new knee and two months later he went back home to the farm walking – but now with a walker. Four months later, in early 2020, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent treatments and eight months later a scan showed the cancer was in remission. Two months later, in the fall of 2020, a tumor was discovered in his ureter and a spot was also found on his bladder. In December 2020 (at the age of 89) he had surgery to remove the ureter and kidney it was attached to. It was a major surgery to recover from and doctors believed he would need to go to a rehab center following it. Ten days after surgery my dad recovered well enough to return home from the hospital. Shortly after, early this spring, he started treatments for the bladder cancer. He finished his treatments in May and initial follow-up scans showed he was free of cancer – again. We had so much to celebrate on his 90th birthday on May 24th and even he said he felt like he wanted to live to be 100 years old. However, it all changed when in late July tests indicated cancer had returned and this time it was aggressive. He had a tumor in his rectum, cancer in his bones and a spot on his liver. On July 26, 2021, my dad was told he had terminal cancer and was given weeks to live.

On April 19, 2019, my instincts told me to drive back home and go to the doctor appointment with Dad when I heard his kidneys were failing. So, I did. It would be the first of many doctor visits and hospital stays I would accompany Dad to.

And so it began…a 2 ½ year road trip with Dad, many times one-on-one, holding hands in silence.

This road trip, however, was a bit different from those in the past. This time it was a grown daughter reaching across to grab her dad’s hand, holding it, and letting him know he was loved and cared for.

Our road trip ended when Dad passed away on Monday, August 30.

I may have had to wait many years for my wish to come true, but it was worth the wait. I received more from this last road trip with Dad than I could have ever imagined.

P.S. Thank you for walking alongside me these past four months as I journeyed with my husband and dad through their final days and weeks of life. Through your many messages I felt your hands reaching out to hold mine and offering me hope, comfort and strength. As the saying goes, I received more than I could have ever asked or wished for from you. Thank you for going on the road trip with me.

P.S.S. In my last blog on July 28 I also shared that my mom was diagnosed with a severe heart problem at the time of my dad’s prognosis. Fortunately, she was able to avoid surgery. Her condition is being managed by medication and it allowed her the time to be with Dad at home in his final weeks. Blessings abound!

When It Rains It Pours

The saying, “When it rains it pours,” would best describe what I am feeling right now and explains my blogging absence the past week and perhaps in the next few weeks.

I’ve always been committed to being honest and transparent with you in my blogs and this blog will be no different.

I have been journeying with my dad through some very serious health challenges over the past two years. In fact, I’ve written about it in some of my past blogs. Over the last few weeks his health has been declining and after several unexpected trips to the hospital emergency room over the weekend we finally got to the bottom of his issues on Monday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news.

My dad has cancer in his rectum, liver and bones. The cancer is too advanced for treatments and it is predicted that he has “weeks” left to live.

As you can imagine, it was devastating news to hear. As surreal as the moment felt at the time, I also felt like I was always meant to be there in THAT moment.

For years I wondered why I was born into the family that I was. Growing up in a family with six other siblings I always felt different from the rest of them. I didn’t feel better than them – just different. I just never knew exactly how or why. Until Monday…

Sitting in the doctor’s office with my parents and hearing the devastating news with them finally gave me my answer. I was meant to be in this family for THAT particular moment. It was a spiritual experience being with them and sharing tears, worries, apprehensions, and even laughter together. While the moment will always be etched in my mind as a very sad moment, it is also a moment filled with gratitude and purpose. I now know why I belong in my family.

But, it doesn’t end there…

My Mom was diagnosed with a severe heart condition a few weeks ago. The main valve to her heart is leaking blood and pooling around her heart. Surgery is the only option to repair it. I will be doctoring with her later this week to talk more about how we will proceed forward with her care.

So, yeah. I’m not going to lie. It’s alot to deal with right now and all on the heels of my husband’s passing in April. Thankfully I am able to see all the blessings right now and I feel extremely grateful to be able to walk side-by-side with my parents as they face some of the toughest times in their life.

I have stepped away from my full-time work for the time being. My intention is to be with my parents as much as I am able to and enjoy every minute that I get to spend with them.

I felt it was important to let you know why you haven’t heard from me in the past few weeks and might not for a while longer. As always, thank you so much for your understanding.

Until the next time, hug your loved ones, say, “I love you”, often and practice kindness and compassion to others. You never know if it might be the last chance you have to do so.

P.S. In honor of my dad, I am re-sharing the blog I published on December 9 that speaks about the father he was and still is to me…

Giving the Gift Back

My Dad, Leland, with my grandson and his namesake, Hudson Leland, on his 90th brithday in May.

Building an Awesome Championship Team

What makes you so awesome?

Are you kind, gentle, strong, resilient, caring, assertive, hard-working, reliable, honest, practical, responsible, loyal, mature, creative, consistent, appreciative, capable, quick, sensitive, perceptive, patient, thoughtful, fit, trustworthy, motivated or versatile?

What if you asked your students or those you work with what makes them so awesome? What would their answer be?

I am choosing to assume that you and they are all awesome in some way – if not in many ways. What we choose to assume about people matters.

Many times we approach the improvement process with ourselves and others by identifying weaknesses or areas of need and then working on those. While we shouldn’t ignore our weaknesses, solely focusing on them is not the most helpful. What we focus on most can eventually become our reality and what we believe about ourselves or others.

There are numerous theories or approaches that focus on personal strengths, rather than weaknesses. The strategy with most all of them is to identify our areas of strength and then work to capitalize on them. The idea is to celebrate what is already awesome and figure out how to replicate it consistently over time. This approach taps into what motivates us to do good and be good – pride, self-worth, feeling valued and being a positive contributor. When we feel good about who we are and what we do, we are much more likely to work harder and do better.

I assume you serve and work with students and parents who already know what their positive strengths are. But, some of them are reserved and they go below the radar. They certainly don’t walk around tooting their own horn. It’s important for you to create opportunities for them to share their talents and passions and sometimes “toot their horn” for them.

You have other students who don’t have much confidence, aren’t aware of their strengths and they don’t view themselves as awesome. You need to build them up. If you are able to recognize their awesome qualities and validate them consistently, they will more likely view themselves in more positive ways and act differently.

I also believe that when you sincerely ask someone, “What makes you so awesome?”, it sends a strong message to them about you. I’ve learned that when you assume good things about others, it serves to strengthen your relationship with them. It characterizes you as someone who cares about and appreciates them and it can reinforce a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

Try embracing this mindset as you are interacting with your students or  others you interact with on a regular basis. Each of them adds value, has something to offer and makes your classroom, group, workplace, organization or community stronger because of their awesomeness.

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player in the 80’s – even winning an MVP award. But his team didn’t start winning championships until the 90’s. That is when he started making the players around him better.

YOU and all of your “awesomeness” can and will make a difference in the lives of others. But, you will make an even bigger impact if you recognize and validate what makes those around you also awesome. Validate their “awesomeness” at every turn and let them shine. We’re not interested in individual MVP awards. We’re interested in team championships!

Now, let me ask you again, “What makes you so awesome?”

4,500 Planes Crash, Killing 617,547 People and Leaving 5.5 Million Grieving

The newspaper headline on June 22, 2021, reads, “4,500 Planes Crash in the Last 15 Months in the United States, Killing 617,547 People, Leaving 5.5 Million Grieving.”

The headline is a bit misleading, but mostly true.

While there hasn’t actually been 4,500 plane crashes in the past 15 months, it would take that many to kill the number of people who have actually died from the coronavirus in 15 months. As of yesterday (June 22, 2021), there have been 617,547 COVID-related deaths reported in the United States and the number continues to increase each day.

Research shows that for every person who died from COVID, there were at least 9 surviving close family members whose lives were impacted by their death. If you stop and do the math, it means the ripple effect of 617,547 people dying impacted at least 5.5 million people.

Take a moment and think about these numbers.

5.5 million people in the United States have lost a loved one in the last 15 months due to the coronavirus. That’s a lot of people who have experienced death and loss in a short period of time.

Perhaps you are even one of them.

Wrapped up in the 5.5 million are a substantial number of people, including kids, who lost parents that would be considered younger adults and a substantial number of people who lost spouses who were in their 50s or 60s. There are a lot of children growing up in grandparent-led homes who experienced the loss of not just a grandparent, but also their caretaker. And, also wrapped up in the statistics are people who not only dealt with one loss, but multiple losses.

COVID-19 grief has been unlike anything else. There’s never been a time in our history when people have had loved ones die and weren’t able to say goodbye, weren’t able to have a funeral and weren’t able to grieve collectively.

Healthy grief needs community. We are not meant to be islands of grief. In normal times of grief and loss, we have people showing up and taking care of one another. During the pandemic, all of that was absent. Grief is isolating in a normal world, but during the pandemic it was extremely isolating.

Imagine if 4,500 planes had really crashed these past 15 months and 5.5+ million surviving loved ones’ grief went unwitnessed. You can expect that over time we would see a lot of compounded grief, complicated grief and trauma with them.

 
 

As I shared in my last recent blogs, my husband passed away unexpectedly on April 28. What I didn’t share with you is that despite being fully vaccinated and testing negative for COVID numerous times upon being hospitalized, he had COVID-like symptoms and was treated much like a COVID patient. His illness started with a chronic cough, fever, chills and exhaustion. Quickly, it turned into not being able to breathe. By the time he entered the hospital, his lungs were severely infected with pneumonia, he was septic, and eventually, he had to be intubated.

I remember being in the hospital room and feeling very overwhelmed by the sounds of the ventilator helping him breathe. Despite being heavily sedated, the medical team encouraged us to still talk to him as he could very likely hear us and know of our presence. So, we did.

As difficult as it was communicating with him without him having the ability to communicate back with us, I and my children were blessed to be by his side and for him to know we were there with him. There were many times I thought about all the people who were hospitalized with COVID, fighting the same fight as my husband, but doing it alone. They didn’t have their loved ones standing by their bedside encouraging, supporting, praying, comforting and caring for them or worst yet, present in their final moments of life.

I can’t imagine losing my husband the way many lost their husbands, wives or partners to COVID. I can’t imagine my children losing their father the way many kids lost their fathers or mothers or grandparents to COVID.

Trust me. Experiencing grief and loss in normal times is hard. Experiencing grief and loss during the pandemic, however, had to be unimaginably hard – if not almost impossible to process.

The toll COVID-related deaths has had on family members is still being documented, but new research is suggesting the damage is enormous. Bereaved individuals have become the secondary victims of COVID-19, reporting severe symptoms of traumatic stress, including helplessness, horror, anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt and regret – all of which magnify their grief. Not being there in a loved one’s time of need, not being able to communicate with family members in a natural way, not being able to say goodbye, not participating in normal rituals — all this makes bereavement more difficult and prolonged grief disorder and post-traumatic stress more likely.

Yelena Zatulovsky, vice president of patient experience at Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, the nation’s fifth-largest hospice provider, said, “Typically, 5% to 10% of bereaved family members have a “trauma response,” but that has “increased exponentially — approaching the 40% range — during the pandemic.”

As you return to more and more in-person programming and services for children and families, be conscientious of how many of them experienced a loss during the pandemic, who may not have had the opportunity to process their grief in a healthy or normal way and are dealing with a “trauma response.”

As someone who is personally experiencing grief and loss herself, here are some insights and tips I have learned and found beneficial when interacting with someone who has lost a loved one:

    • Respect the grief process. It is a personal and individual experience and can be different from one person to the next.
    • There is no timeline for grief.
    • Practice patience and be understanding with those who act out negatively as a way to cope with their grief.
    • Allow opportunities to talk about the person who died through one-on-one conversations or support groups.
    • Remember that not everyone will process their grief verbally. Music, art and writing are other ways to express what they are feeling.
    • Listen without judgement.
    • Validate feelings and experiences without pretending to understand or empathize if you haven’t experienced grief yourself, especially during the pandemic.
    • If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all. Sometimes actions, such as a hug or a gentle touch, can mean more.
    • If you ask someone how they are doing, be ready to give your time and ear to hear how they are REALLY doing.

While we didn’t actually experience 4,500 planes crashes these past 15 months, we did have 617,547 people die and 5.5 million loved ones left behind to grieve in isolation. Treat yourself with kindness, compassion and grace if you are one of the 5.5 million grieving. And, if you know of someone who is grieving, treat them also with kindness, compassion and grace. Let’s end the isolation and create a community of support. It’s what we all need right now – grieving or not.

P.S. Here are some additional resources for you, especailly if you are working with grieving kids:

Understanding Grief and Loss: An Overview

How to Help a Grieving Child

Helping Grieving Children and Teens

To Process Grief Over COVID-19, Children Need Empathetic Listening

I Don’t Know

After experiencing the birth of my grandson on April 19, followed by the unexpected death of my husband ten days later, it would have been easy for me to hide behind the words of my blog by continuing to write as if nothing had happened. I could have chosen to not let you know the pain, loss and sadness I was experiencing. Rather, I chose not to and decided to be transparent and honest with you in my blog on May 5. I am thankful that I was.

If you didn’t know, then I would have never experienced the comfort and peace felt in the condolences so many of you expressed upon hearing the news. Your messages did not go unnoticed or unread. I saved every one of them and have read and re-read them in the past weeks. Thank you for your words of hope and reassurance.

If you didn’t know, then I would have felt obligated to continue working and writing, while also tending to the details of my husband’s death and managing the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of myself and my family. This would have been impossible and even detrimental to do – even for someone like myself who can manage a lot at one time and who is known to be a ‘strong’ person. Thank you for giving me the time to grieve and to not worry about showing up in your Inbox.

If you didn’t know, then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to share with you some of what I have learned through this traumatic experience. It’s a really hard way to learn valuable life lessons, but in hindsight, I am grateful for it and feel obligated to share some of what I have learned. So, thank you for allowing me to continue sharing my blog with you every two weeks and the valuable insights I have gained through this experience that I hope benefit you, both personally and professionally.

One thing I have been reminded of this past month is how much we really don’t know is going on in the lives of others – whether it be our colleagues, students, clients, friends or even our own family members. It’s not because we don’t care or take the time to ask. It’s because we all choose what we share and don’t share with others. There will always be an element of privacy in our lives and consequently, there will always be people in our lives who will not know what is really going on with us.

And, I will be the first to admit…

I really don’t know what is going on with you. I don’t know what you have also had to go through and endure.

I don’t know about that time you had family stuff going on in your life and you really needed to take time off from work and stay home, but you went to work anyway.
 
I don’t know about that time you had a disastrous day, but you still smiled and did your work with a positive attitude.
 
I don’t know about that time someone had a terrible attitude, but you responded with grace and compassion because you figured they had something else going on.
 
I don’t know about that time you did something special for someone else, not for the recognition or praise, but because you cared about them.
 
I don’t know about all the times you rose above your own fears and anxieties to do what’s best for someone else.
 
I don’t know about the times you have experienced loss and grief and felt you couldn’t move on and yet, you found the strength to do it.
 

You do remarkable things, compassionate things, challenging things, and sometimes mundane things, every day. I don’t always know about them. But, I DO know they matter. They matter to others. They matter to me.

Thank you for inspiring and motivating me with your many unknown acts of strength, kindness and compassion.

From Good News to Sad News

I would have never thought I would have two blogs back-to-back that would announce one of the most joyous occasions in my life to one of the saddest. My last blog to you, Filling Some Big Shoes as a Grandparent, announced the birth of my first grandchild, Hudson. Today, I announce the unexpected death of my husband, Neal. He passed away ten days after the birth of our grandchild and was unable to meet him in person due to being ill. This is more than than my heart can take right now and focusing on work has been almost impossible. I just wanted to send you this quick message to let you know that if your Inbox is missing a blog from me for awhile, you will know why.

Until the next time,

Kathleen