Inspiring Compassionate Communication
In Healthcare
November 2020
Turkey Hangover

“Thanksgiving was so different this year.”

As I’m writing this, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. This morning I woke up and, still enjoying the cuddly warmth of a belly full of turkey and family joy – didn’t especially want to get out of bed. So, being a typical American, I grabbed my phone and began to flip through social media for a bit… and I read post after post stating how different Thanksgiving was. I read how people are missing deceased relatives - especially this year. With distancing in place, everyone’s celebrations look different.

Here at Chateau Engel, we were minus at least half a dozen faces, including our usual rotation because two of our daughters are nurses. Thanksgiving was still good, just so very different.

As we crawled into bed last night, the Hotness began to cry softly. I wasn’t alarmed because, well, she’s an acute empath and tears: happy, sad, tears while laughing or watching “This is Us,” are not uncommon. I thought she could be crying because it was a good day with lots of family love. Or, she could have been teary because there wasn’t our usual big, fancy dinner and we were missing some of our dear family faces. Still, there was a possibility I hadn’t thought of.

“Marc, my heart just aches for all the people…all the people who have had such a lonely day today... who lost a family member this year, or who are isolated due to covid… all the people who are alone and hurting…for everyone who’ve had their lives touched by the pandemic…all of them. There is just so much... absence right now.”

My job is teaching presence. The opposite of presence is absence. And The Hotness is right: there IS so much absence.

In the compassion work I do with nurses, docs, therapists, techs, etc., one of the things I highlight is how we need to lean in. This isn’t my concept; it’s been studied at length by researchers. When a nurse is feeling burnout or compassion fatigue, they may feel exhausted and uninspired. They may question why they ever chose to dedicate their lives to healthcare. They may not have a compassionate response when dealing with patients or colleagues. When they first notice their feelings are affecting their work? That’s the time to lean in. To intentionally choose to neutralize that negative feeling by becoming super intentional about showing compassion to patients. When we’re resistant to change, that’s the time we really need to focus in on making the changes.   

But, how do we lean into loneliness? Loneliness is a feeling, an emotion. Do we try to be even more lonely?

No. What we do is to become more present. To pause and investigate that emotion. Don’t push it away, don’t wish it away, don’t distract yourself with more social media. Sit with that feeling. Feel it. Fully.

If you do, I bet you’ll find that resisting the feeling was harder than actually feeling it.    

When The Hotness cried for the world, I tried to get present. And fast. And that helped us both.

Yeah, stuff is so different this year. And in that time, we’re allowed to grieve the losses and feel all the things. That’s only human. But, what is also human is the ability to think and reason. To give those emotions a certain amount of mental space and then to intentionally move toward acceptance.

Here's to a season of differences. May we learn to accept and appreciate the lessons those changes have taught. If your Holiday Season isn’t Merry or Bright – know that we are holding you in our heart. We are wrapping our hearts around you - setting space for you. You are not forgotten – but you are loved and valued and held. And in this season that is so very different, may we all find a way forward together, with compassion and tenderness. Today and always, I’m thankful for each of you.
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