TED-Ed Lesson for TEDxTalk “How Grief Can Enable Nurses to Endure” is now available!

For all nurse educators, managers, leaders, bookclub facilitators, or bedside nurses looking for a guided way to talk about work-related grief with other nurses:

I have created a new TED-Ed lesson based on my original TEDxTalk, “How Grief Can Enable Nurses to Endure.” It includes some introductory prompts allowing for people to share about their work-related grief experiences as well as their perspectives towards grief. The lesson then provides additional insights and references to other authors who have addressed grief and self-care in less traditional ways. Finally, the lesson concludes with closing discussion prompts to help participants consider how they can begin reframing their perspective towards work-related grief in nursing.

Participants do not currently need a TED-Ed account to participate in the discussion, as my desire is to reduce all barriers for voices to be heard in this conversation.

Please share this lesson with nurses, nurse leaders, managers, administrators and educators. It is my deep conviction that these conversations need to happen for the betterment and well-being of nurses who regularly encounter suffering, death and dying, and all the accompanying emotions.

Click here to access the lesson, and thank you in advance for contributing to this vital conversation!


Keynote Speech to RN Residency New Grad Nurses: The Best and Most Vital Thing You Can Give Your Patients

I had the privilege of delivering the keynote speech to our hospital’s recent cohort of RN Residency New Graduate Nurses as they have completed orientation and will now be working independently in their respective units. One of the things I was most excited about was the opportunity to also briefly address the many friends and family members of these new nurses, as they probably rarely hear how they can support their beloved nurses from the start of this amazing but very challenging profession. The speech seemed well-received, so I am sharing it here in hopes it might encourage all nurses along the entire spectrum of experience.


Congratulations graduates, you made it to today! You have earned all the joy and pride and relief that comes with today – so congratulations and strong work. You have been on quite a trajectory of growth in the last 22 weeks. You’ve gone from shadowing your preceptors to walking into your own self, gone from being introduced to introducing yourself. As you have gone through Residency, you have gone through a process of becoming and being. Becoming more independent. Becoming more of a critical thinker. Becoming more confident in your skills. And your being: growing into who you are as a therapeutic presence at the bedside – a listener, an empathizer, a teacher, a professional, a servant in all the very best ways – and some of the very hardest ways – one can be a servant to others.

It is a unique profession, this thing called nursing, in which you use your mind, heart, physical being, and your soul to tend to the suffering of others. And it is a unique time for this profession, as the medications, therapies and technologies administered by the hands of nurses are developing at an incredibly rapid pace. It is every part of who you are, slowly learning to do all of these things. This is no small thing that you have signed up for – so thank you for rising to the challenge with such courage.

It has been an intense 22 weeks of growth for you throughout your Residency, and I know it is no surprise to you to hear me say, there are intense times of growth ahead. You will rightfully continue to be very focused on your growth and progress. But the temptation and the danger for every nurse, as we look to master our skills, deepen our knowledge, and establish our footing as that steady, confident presence at the bedside… the temptation is to believe that growing into a strong, independent nurse is somehow subtly equated with becoming a bit superhuman, and leaving key parts of our humanity behind because we think they make us weak.

But what I want you to take to heart is that your humanity will forever be the best and most vital thing you can give to your patients. Don’t despise your humanity – because it is the one thing that will keep your care patient-focused rather than task-focused; gracious rather than defensive; therapeutic rather than mechanical.

When I speak of giving your humanity, I’m not talking about compassion, because you all already know the importance of compassion. When I speak of giving your humanity as a gift to your patients, I’m talking about something more, perhaps something unexpected. (And before I lose all the friends and family members here, before you all start to think that this Talk is for my nurse graduate and not for me, I want to invite you to stay connected…because this is very much about you too, and you’ll hear why.)

When I talk about giving your own humanity to your patients as a gift,

  • I’m talking about Fear. You are human when you feel fear about being a brand new nurse; I know it’s scary. But this fear does not have to be what makes you a weak nurse; it can be what makes you a safe nurse – asking questions, asking for help, listening to your gut to advocate for your patient when something just doesn’t feel right. This fear is what keeps you focused on the well-being of your patients, rather than just trying to get through a list of tasks. It makes you safe, and this is a gift to your patients who are trusting you to make them safe.
  • I’m talking about Vulnerability. Let’s take a step back outside the hospital for a moment. Have you ever misplaced your keys, or lost your wallet? Do you remember the panic you felt about how you were going to manage the rest of your day now that this unexpected crisis has interrupted your plans? We get edgy, anxious, and generally much more focused on ourselves. We are human, which means we are susceptible to losing our keys. Now come back to the hospital where your patients and their families are human…but here, they are susceptible to losing something much more substantial. You as a nurse, as a human, know what it’s like to feel out of control, to feel vulnerable. Carry this understanding of your own vulnerability, and let it make you gracious in your patient care rather than defensive, particularly when your patients and families are having a rough day because their world is spinning out of control. Give your own vulnerability as a gift of empathy to them.
  • I’m talking about Grief. And maybe some of you are thinking, hey this is our graduation ceremony, are you really going there right now? Yes…I am. Because I want you to know from the beginning that grief is not an enemy you need to conquer on your road to becoming a strong, independent nurse. If you have been human long enough, if you spend enough time with other humans battling illness or facing death, you will see grief is a natural companion in life, and it has much to teach us. Because what is grief, if not a sign of how deep love can run, a sign of how much a human life is worth? What is grief if not a sign that it is always worth it to somebody that you and I would expend ourselves in the work we do to try and save a life, or help someone die a peaceful death? Grief is not our enemy but rather our motivator to come back and press on in our pursuit of excellence as nurses. So don’t despise it; learn from it and give even your grief as a gift of your humanity to your patients.

So friends and families of our nurse grads, I just asked your beloved nurses to embrace their fears, vulnerability and their grief. And this is where you come in, in the most indescribably valuable way. Because I’m asking for your humanity too. Your beloved new graduates here have already grown into incredible nurses, and they will continue to grow. But they are going to be stretched by their fears, their vulnerability, and their grief from their experiences here. And my question to you, friends and family, is, will you open your hearts to being stretched in the same ways your loved ones will be stretched? We nurses understand that if you don’t live in our world here, it is not an easy thing to hear about what goes on inside a hospital. But the space you generously choose to give when your loved one comes to you for support can make all the difference of how well your beloved nurse can learn to embrace his or her humanity. Don’t ask them to be superhuman; give them space for their fear, their vulnerability and their grief. Help them to walk with it. Help them to give it away as a gift.

For all of us – nurse grads, family and friends of nurse grads – if there was ever a time when we needed a collective group of people to come together and say, we will make space for the humanity of ourselves and others, in all its beauty and brokenness, and let it transform us into an ever more compassionate, courageous, resilient community, this is the time. And you are the ones to do this. Graduates, what a privilege for me to be able to now work with all of you, because you are the ones to do this. Congratulations again, and welcome to the family of nurses here in our hospital!

Goal-setting and measuring sticks

The past 30 minutes are fairly typical of my current life.

While boxed mac ‘n cheese boils on the stovetop, I stand at my computer trying to take in some of today’s Bible reading while my 2.5 year-old plays and intermittently chats with me. Meditation on the suffering of Job is interspersed with mindlessly echoing of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and pretending to take bites of slime-based “pizza” that my daughter “cooked” for me. Somewhere in the back of my mind also looms the pressure of my half-baked nursing presentations that are coming up fast. I’m not sure what my plan is for dinner and toys are scattered throughout the house. Notifications keep popping up from social media outlets – some matter, most don’t. I’m perpetually two steps behind on current trends, news and nursing-related issues. I need to touch base with different friends. I ache for focus and clarity, and just keep going.

It’s the New Year and it’s a time when we set lofty goals. We want to push ourselves to excel beyond last year’s limits and failures. But today as I feel the all-too-familiar pressure to be “better” (read: perfect) in all the areas of my life, I have to wonder how much this goal-setting has really profited me when it becomes the measuring stick for how well I feel I am doing. I find myself looking for a humbler freedom to be at greater peace with my human limitations. I have a suspicion there has been more grace than I have realized, from God, from friends and family to live within my limits and imperfections. The ones in my life who truly know me and want my best are not measuring me; they’re just loving me. As more demands than ever seem to lie before me, it’s the year to live more freely and joyfully in this grace for myself.

Help Bring the Voice of Nurses to the TED/TEDx Table

I love hearing people’s stories about their lives – their work, their family, their experiences of joy and of sorrow. Hearing the stories helps break down my misconceptions and false assumptions. The stories give me a deeper appreciation for life experiences that are far removed from my own. They teach me more about the depth and breadth of life.

This is the power and beauty of TED/TEDx Talks. People share stories and ideas in succinct, digestible talks that challenge your thinking about politics, culture, medicine, family, autism, psychology, technology, you name it.

But nursing? One of the top most trusted professions? The profession that brings nurses into such close contact with people during some of the most profound periods of their life? A search on the topic of nursing in the TED library brings up a beautiful Tribute to Nurses done by journalist Carolyn Jones, but otherwise the options that come up are only indirectly related to nurses and our practice.

If the general public is to understand, appreciate and support this profession that they trust and rely on so strongly, they need to hear our stories. They need to hear the real thoughts, the real experiences, the real heart of nurses.

This is why it is such an incredible privilege for me to have a TEDxTalk about nursing to share with the world: “How Grief Can Enable Nurses to Endure.” Would you help strengthen my nurse voice by watching my Talk below (just under 10 minutes), and then sharing it with others (you can click on the right-facing arrow on the top right corner of the video, and choose your platform to share the video)? The more views I can get for my TEDxTalk, the greater chance I have of getting the Talk curated to the main TED site, which will finally bring a direct voice about nursing by a nurse to their library! For all we do, and all we bear in our hearts, we need our own clear voice to tell the world what they may not have fully considered or understood about this profession they trust so much.

Watch the Talk here, and then please share away!

YouTube Link for my TEDxTalk “How Grief Can Enable Nurses to Endure”

On Sept 30 of this year, I had the incredible opportunity to give a TEDxTalk with TEDxPasadena on “How Grief Can Enable Nurses to Endure.” This talk is for all healthcare professionals, but nurses in particular, who have grieved with and for their patients and families, and have went home wondering what to do with this grief we bear in our hearts. This is not a standard inspirational talk with an underlying “You’re doing great!” tone. Rather, it is one that I deeply hope gives validation and voice to our humanity as nurses, and then gives a different perspective that allows us to live with our grief in a way that is honestly painful but ultimately life-giving.

Here is the link. Please share, for all the caregivers in your life, or perhaps, just for you.


FAQ After TEDx Talk Day

Just like my pre-Talk blog post about my journey with my TEDx Talk, I will now try to answer some of the more specific questions about what it was actually like to deliver the Talk in a FAQ format.

Were you nervous?

I was #11 in a lineup of 13 speakers for the day, which started around 10:00AM and ended close to 5:00PM. This meant I didn’t deliver my talk until around 4:20PM. I thought I would be extremely on edge from the moment I woke up until I was on stage, but I actually slept decently the night before, and only felt low-grade butterflies through the majority of the day. When I arrived at the venue around 8:30AM, it was a completely different experience to see the audience arriving, the venue decked out with décor, and the interactive space inviting everyone to enter into the theme for the day, “RISE.” The energy from the crowd and environment shifted my own internal energy from pure nerves to more of a deep excitement and passion to finally deliver the words I’d been working so hard to find and express in just the right way.

After I got makeup done around 3:00PM, however, I couldn’t stay in the “green room” with the other speakers for long to chat or watch other speakers on the screen. At that point, I needed quiet focus, which meant I mostly spent that last hour just pacing the hallway and muttering my Talk a few final times.

How was it when you got on stage?

I took a few moments to close my eyes and center myself before walking onto stage. I felt decently relaxed as I started talking, and it was amazing to finally be talking to a crowd of engaged listeners, rather than the walls of my bedroom or a theater of empty chairs. About two minutes into my Talk, however, I hit a built-in pause, and then the dreaded happened – my mind went completely blank. I felt my lips move in awkward silence but my mind was literally empty. It felt like an eternity, but hallelujah, thanks to the endless hours of practicing the Talk over and over, the words returned just before I ran off the stage screaming, and I was able to go on.

That was enough to throw me, though, just enough so that I felt like I moved in and out from a strange out-of-body experience for the rest of the Talk. I remember feeling really connected at certain points, and really out of body at other points. Overall it was just incredibly surreal. All of that said, I felt it was going really well and I felt especially thankful for my dear friends and coworkers scattered throughout the audience, whom I could always redirect my eyes to when I needed to ground myself again.

How did you feel afterwards?

I felt as though the entire world was lifted off my shoulders! Going for three straight months on nervous, stressed energy was a lot. It felt so great to finally have the Talk done, and to feel that it went well overall.

I felt, and still feel, a profound sense of gratitude – and calling – given that of all the medical professionals who applied to speak for this particular TEDx community this year, I was not only the only female, but also the only nurse. This is incredibly telltale to me, that nurses remain so underrepresented even amongst the applicants. It is also amazing that I have dreamt so long to both grow and be a voice for nurses, and now I had this opportunity as the sole nurse applicant. What is more, of all 13 speakers, 12 were discovered or invited (though they still had to go through the application and review process), so the one spot remaining for “outside” applicants went to me. This is incredibly humbling, and truly testifies to me that this opportunity was an absolute gift from God.

Curiously, one remaining feeling I have had since the day of the Talk is a good amount of regret that I did not stay out on that red spot for a longer period of time after I finished, to more fully receive the applause that the audience was giving. This is not about vanity. It is about receiving an expression of openness, response, acknowledgement, engagement, and thanksgiving from this crowd who generously opened their hearts and ears to listen to a challenging talk about a heavy topic. Their applause was a gift, an acknowledgement of my words, my message on behalf of all my beloved nurse colleagues, and I deeply wish I had stayed out there longer to fully receive it, and to fully thank the crowd for their gift of attention.

When can we see the official YouTube video?

I am not sure, but I am estimating perhaps another 1-2 months before it will be available. I will be sure to post it when it is up!

Thank you again for all the support and encouragement. This has been a tremendous experience, and it’s not over yet! I truly hope the YouTube video will be a helpful and powerful resource for other nurses and healthcare professionals to look at grief in a very validating, and also very different light.


FAQ about my TEDx Talk journey

It’s been lamentably quiet here in my blogging world, as all my energy to articulate clear thoughts has been poured into preparing for what is arguably one of the biggest events of my life – giving a TEDx Talk. It is 11 days away and it still feels incredibly unreal, despite the fact that I have been immersed in preparation ever since I got that incredible “Congratulations!” email in late June.

The writer in me wants to compose a smoother reflection on the experience thus far, but efficiency and quite honestly, exhaustion, drive me to share some thoughts via the “FAQ” format for now.

How did you even get the opportunity to do a TEDx Talk?

Those who know me and who have been following my journey awhile know that I’ve had a growing passion to build – and be – a voice for nurses, to begin and develop conversations about the internal things nurses experience as we care for people all along the spectrum of health and illness, hope and despair, deep love and profound loss. One day, I posted on Facebook about how appalled I was at the lack of books and video resources that hit on these topics in a more honest, gritty, deeper way. Somewhere in that Facebook conversation, I said I would love to do a TED Talk about nursing. A friend saw the comment and connected me to her friend who just happened to be the Director at TEDxPasadenaWomen as they just happened to be looking for applications for TEDx speakers. It was May 28, three days before the deadline and my parents were over to help with my kids, so I jumped on my “free time” and threw together an application, including a one-minute selfie video of me talking about my Big Idea. I submitted the application and held my breath for a month, playing all kinds of mind games with myself. I swung between “You’ll be relieved if they say no! Less stress and less work in your already full life”, and “You really, really, REALLY want to do this!!!”

It was a Saturday at work when I fully did NOT expect to hear back since it was a weekend. I checked my email and my jaw dropped as I saw the word “Congratulations!” from the TEDx Director. I was literally shaking, and quite honestly for a good five minutes, I thought to myself, “I can still say no! … Who am I kidding, I can’t say no!” And so, the incredible journey began.

How has the process been to prepare a TEDx Talk?

The writer in me loves to find words for deep thoughts and issues, so that passion translated over into finding words for a Talk. However, it is an altogether different process to write out a text that you will be speaking, as naturally and conversation-style as possible, rather than putting on paper for people to read. I had to learn to write for speaking, which required a lot of reading out loud, and video-taping myself, to get a sense of what works with speech versus written text.

I also had to learn how to talk about nursing for an entirely different audience. Up until now, my main audience really has been nurses, though many non-medical friends follow and seem to understand and appreciate my blogs about my nursing experiences and reflections. But for the first time, I had to think about how to concisely talk about a very big topic to a very broad audience (aka anyone and everyone!).

This leads me to the next challenge I encountered, which was probably the most arduous of all. I had to learn how to shift my mentality (and all my training, really) about speaking on a topic the way I would present a lecture to a class or at a conference – talking about one topic but with 1.) usually at least 30-45 minutes; and 2.) the liberty to address one general topic but touching on multi-faceted ideas. I had to go from this traditional style of public speaking, to the most razor-focused (and thus intense, and most agonizingly thought-through) 8-9 minute Talk on literally one idea, not one topic with multi-faceted ideas. At one point in my process, I had to essentially revamp my entire Talk, which was terribly painful at the time, but after working through it, so much better because it is truly so much more clear.

How do you feel about this kind of public speaking?

I actually love public speaking, which is funny because in person, I tend to be a rather quiet, somewhat shy person who is very uncomfortable with much attention. But I love the ability to impart thoughts – and hopefully some wisdom and inspiration – to a crowd of people. Something about it is exhilarating and life-giving to me.

I do have to memorize the Talk, which actually hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. This really does help me feel like I will be speaking to the live audience, and the camera, from my core, which is an entirely different feeling than presenting a lecture from notes. It’s an indescribable connection to seek both with my own self, and with others.

What other things have stood out to you about the experience?

I have been fascinated with how the TED/TEDx experience truly seeks to draw out the authentic person behind the speaker. Of course, they want the “big idea,” but they also want it to come from the speaker’s own voice, the speaker’s own style of dress (What?? I can wear jeans to this instead of a business-style dress??), and all things that reflect who the speaker truly is.

I have also been challenged to work through how I handle a whole new level of “fame,” for lack of better words (because honestly, I don’t feel famous!) beyond what work I’ve already done for the American Journal of Nursing. How much attention do I take away from my sweet family to pursue this kind of dream experience? How much do I let it get to my head? How do I fare under the stress and pressure? I’ve written a separate reflection about my spiritual life in this whole TEDx Talk experience here; but for now, suffice to say, I have deeply appreciated the immeasurable support and grace that my husband, kids and parents have shown me as I have at times really struggled to navigate this new level of experience.

The Talk is 11 days away! How are you feeling?

I actually feel good! Nervous and excited of course, but I feel that the Talk is really engrained in me, and my test run with a smaller audience a couple days ago went very well. As I received positive feedback and very helpful fine-tuning tips from my friends and some of the TEDx team, I really just sat in awe of the fact that this was all coming together. I really just felt a sense of God’s generous purpose over this, and felt amazed that He helped bring this together at what has felt at times to be the worst time to be trying to do such a big project (I’m a working mother with two very young children! There is nothing about my life that feels focused enough to generate this Talk but somehow it happened. It has been the sheer grace of God.) It feels so cliché to say, but I truly just feel that I have been called to this, and because of that, God has made the way.

If I can’t attend, how can I see the Talk?

It will be live-streamed that day, and will be up on YouTube later. I will be sure to come back here and post links!

Thank you for your interest and support! 11 days and counting!