Episode 12 – When doctors lose someone they love, with Dr Jo Scrivens

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Dr Jo Scrivens, Portfolio GP, Cambridgeshire LMC member and Red Whale Lead. Manage. Thrive! Course co-presenter.

We chat about what happened when her Mother died following a diagnosis of cancer. Jo speaks about how this affected her, how she coped with going through the diagnosis and treatment process with her family and how she managed her family and work whilst this was all going on.

We talk about the relief she felt when a Macmillan nurse told Jo she would treat her as a relative and not a doctor, and discuss how important it is to be able to be in the role of a friend or relative and not a member of the medical profession when you are coping with losing a loved one.

Jo shares some of the books and other resources that have helped her and shares some insights she gained about herself and the dying process.

Rachel: (00:00)
Welcome to episode 12 of You are not a frog: When doctors lose someone they love.

Rachel: (00:08)
Welcome to You are not a frog, the podcast for GPs, hospitals, doctors, and other busy people in high stress jobs. Working in today’s high stress environment, you may feel like a frog in boiling water. Things have heated up so slowly that you might not have noticed the extra long days becoming the norm. You’ve got used to feeling constantly busy and are often one crisis away from not coping. Let’s face it, frogs only have two choices: to stay in the pan and get boiled alive, or to hop out and leave. But you are not a frog and that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more choices than you think you do. There are simple changes that you can make which will make a huge difference to your stress levels and help you enjoy life again. I’m your host Dr Rachel Morris, GP and executive coach and specialist in resilience at work. I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts, all who have an interesting take on this so that together we can take back control to survive and really thrive in our work and lives.

Rachel: (01:11)
I’d like to tell you about our new CPD forms. If you want to learn while you listen and claim CPD points, then go to the link in the show notes and sign up to receive our fully downloadable podcast CPD forms. Each one is populated with show notes and links so that you can listen, reflect, and then note down what you’re going to do. A quick, easy and enjoyable way to do your CPD. In this episode I chat with Dr Jo Scrivens. She’s a portfolio GP and she also sits on the Cambridgeshire local medical committee. She’s a red whale lead managed thrive presenter and she’s a good friend of mine. Now Jo lost her mum around about a year ago and I wanted to chat to her about how she coped as a doctor going through a bereavement. I thought it might be useful for other people to hear her stories and also to think a little bit about what we do when we’re in the position of being a relative yet maybe friends and family are relying on us to be partly doctors as well. So I interviewed Jo in her kitchen over a cup of tea and just to let you know that there was a dog under the table so if you hear any sort of whinnying noises, or some growls or grunts, it’s not me and Jo, it’s Gus the dog. So I hope this episode is helpful.

Rachel: (02:26)
So Jo, I know that you had a really difficult year last year – you went through a bereavement yourself.

Jo: (02:33)
Yeah.

Rachel: (02:33)
Can you just tell us a bit about what happened?

Jo: (02:35)
Yes, so my bereavement was my mum who was 68 and the year before she had been diagnosed in the autumn the year before with esophageal cancer and so last year in November was the year she died.

Rachel: (02:51)
Okay. And so, I mean I know really good friends and I know I’ve said we’re talking to you all the way through. Right from when she was diagnosed to, you know, obviously we’re still talking to each other. But I was really, really struck by the way that you sort of well, A) recognise what was going on and what was going to happen and then the way that you handled it and you knew it was going to be tough. So you put some boundaries in place and I think that you did as much as you could to make it as easy, I mean I hate to use the word easy because it’s never ever going to be easy is it, but I think you’re quite wise in what you did. So just talk through, I mean when you got the diagnosis, when you heard the diagnosis from your, your parents, how did you then sort of process it and think about right, how am I going to cope with this throughout the next year or two years? Cause I guess she didn’t know at the time how long she was going to be ill for.

Jo: (03:42)
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting you using the word wise, is that I’m not sure that I would use the word wise. I think it was definitely an evolving process. When I say that, I think the initial diagnosis, although I’d sort of prepared for it because my Mum had a symptom of dysphagia, which obviously a GP, I know that that is a sinister symptom. So although I knew that and I was dreading the results of her endoscopy, I was still completely floored when my dad rang up and said, you know, they’ve identified this huge tumour in her esophagus and you know, I think it still hit me like a huge; well it’s a huge shock still that you know that this was actually happening. And when I’ve reflected on that, I think a big part of that seems a bit strange; that as a GP, you might be shocked by something like that. I think, you know what I recognise probably in working as a GP or any doctor really is how we put up barriers or boundaries. Not that, boundaries, that’s the wrong word, but sort of protective barriers around ourselves. So we witness really horrible things happening to other people in our jobs happening to our patients. And I think part of my protective mechanism at work has been very much, you know, you almost pretend to yourself that that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to you or to members of your family.

Jo: (05:15)
And so what was quite strange was that sort of, gosh this really does happen to me and that incredible sense of vulnerability that that brought with it that, you know, this can happen to you as a doctor, it can happen to your family as a doctor, it can happen to your friends as a doctor. You know, that was quite a big thing for me to take on board. It sounds a bit strange, but it was just quite hard to accept that and take that on board. I suppose moving on from that was then really how I tried to manage the situation in terms of my mum and dad coping with it. And you know, my mum went onto a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to try and, you know, treat the tumour. I knew from the prognosis and the stage of the cancer that she had that it was highly unlikely that the treatment would actually cure her as it were.

Jo: (06:13)
I spent quite a lot of time trying to manage the whole thing of my dad holding out every hope possible that this next form of treatment would be okay and it was trying to keep him grounded but at the same time offer some hope a little bit to both of them that things may be okay. I mean I think actually looking back I was really pleased I was adopted to be able to have that sense of perspective of knowing the reality as opposed to basing lots on false hopes. So that certainly helped me I think. But it was quite hard the conversations to have with my dad, particularly getting him grounded and trying not to let his hopes run away with him as it were. I think from the other perspective in tips would I have in terms of, you know, coping with something like this as it were.

Jo: (07:05)
I don’t think it’s a case of having tips for other people because I think everyone manages stuff like this very much in their own way. It depends on your relationship with the person. It depends on what other stuff you’ve got going on in your life at that time, what your circumstances are. So I don’t think there was this sort of necessarily tips. I’d say every person can do this. But I think something that was really helpful to me was connecting with other people who’d also been through loss because I realised when I sat and talked to them, their level of understanding was far greater than people who’d not gone through that episode of loss. Because like anything in life, we can’t really put ourselves in other people’s shoes till we go through it ourselves. So being connected to other people who’d been through the same things, who were happy to tell their stories and you know, tell me their, you know, what they’d found helpful.

Jo: (08:01)
And I think I felt very lucky to be doing several part time jobs when my Mum was going through this. So some of those jobs that were easy for me to let go off and say, well, I’m not doing that at this time. Because I think for me a huge thing was having time, you know, having time to spend with my mum and dad. I mean I’ve got still children at home and obviously living here with my husband and my kid, but I was very thankful that my husband has a job where he could take some time more to be with the children. I could head up and see my mum and dad a bit more. And that time was really precious and really important for me. I think the other thing that really helped me as I was going through the whole process of my mum actually dying, and then the grief process is putting things in perspective.

Jo: (08:50)
Sometimes it’s so easy in anything we do in life, isn’t it? To become very self-absorbed or very introspective as it were and feel that, you know, this can be the worst thing possible that can be happening. And it was knowing or remembering other people and knowing what they’d been through and understanding that, you know, some people had had far worse things happen in their lives than I had around grief and death particularly. That really helped me keep things in perspective and you know, feel that I could cope with things better because it was a normal part of being human rather is being connected to that suffering that people go through as well. And that was really helpful to me.

Rachel: (09:34)
And how did you find those people? They’re just friends that you knew of, or are there particular support groups or?

Jo: (09:39)
Yes, so they were, they were friends that I had. So I had a good friend whose mum had died a couple of years previously of dementia and you know, it was really nice. She sometimes we would just say, you know, should we just go for a walk around the park and talk about death? And we’d talk about, you know, her experience of her mum dying and I’d talk about what was happening with my mum and that was really helpful. I listened to quite a few stories on the radio as well. Listened to what other people were going through. And I listened to the amazing podcast of You, Me, and the Big C, which I thought was incredibly powerful. I think some people found that quite difficult to listen to. But actually I think what was wonderful about that was people talking openly about how difficult this process is. You know, I think as doctors we really scratch the surface when we go on home visits to the palliative care, you know, patients, I don’t mean scratch the surface in terms of we don’t spend time with them, we don’t talk to them, but we then you know, disappear after half an hour visit and go off to do the other stuff. And it’s the stuff that’s left behind that families are dealing with on a day to day, hourly basis. And I think that was really, you know, spoken about in You, Me, and the Big C, those three women sitting around talking about their cancer diagnosis, what the treatment involved, the highs and the absolute lows of, you know, having this diagnosis. And when I say highs, I don’t mean people skipping around happy cause they had a diagnosis, but just some of the lessons that perhaps had come home to them from having that diagnosis. But I thought, you know, listening to things like that was really helpful for me. Some people might find that too difficult to listen to at the time they were going through, you know, someone dying. But I think it was just connecting with other people in the world who are going through similarly awful things, you know. Another person was, was a friend of a friend I met at a music festival and we were just there with our families for the weekend and you know, she started talking about her difficulties, you know, grieving for her mum and you know, just being to speak openly because we were at this lovely outdoor festival. We were in the woods listening to lovely music and sharing stories really was very helpful.

Rachel: (12:02)
And how did you find it at work? Cause I mean I guess the problem with bereavement it’s not just like a, okay one day it happens, you’ve got two weeks to grief and then, then you get better and then it, then it’s all done it, it’s such a long process isn’t it? And not all of us or most of us can’t just take sort of a year off work to process stuff. So how did you handle it?

Jo: (12:22)
I think what was quite difficult at the time that my mum died, I’d just changed jobs. So I was working in a new surgery and although they were aware that my mum had died and they were doing the right things in terms of saying, do you want some time off? What I didn’t have there was the years that I’d had with my previous colleagues in my previous surgery who definitely would have embraced that fully in terms of knowing me much more as a person and understanding the impact that that might have had.

Jo: (12:55)
So I think from a colleague point of view that was maybe not so easy because I was in a new surgery and that’s not as, you know, asserting blame on anybody at all. It was just the circumstance I was in and perhaps people not really knowing fully what I was going through. I think from seeing patients, what was very helpful with suddenly feeling, I had a level much more of a level of understanding with people who are going through grief and you know, difficulty with people dying. So that was good. Again it’s only when you’ve walked in, in someone else’s shoes, you know, there was seeing the path that happens through death and dying that you have much more of an understanding of it yourself. I think it was sometimes quite difficult seeing patients who’d perhaps had similar symptoms to my mum and thinking about, you know, trying to do a professional consultation with those sorts of thoughts in the background was quite challenging sometimes. I didn’t find that too difficult.

Jo: (13:54)
I think again it was that, you know, I remember speaking to someone who lives at the back of where I live, who’s a counsellor at the with young people and works with counselling at the university and talking about, you know, being mentored through her work, through the difficulties that she sees at work and the difficult situations and having sort of weekly or, or you know, fortnightly mentoring. And it really struck me, you know, how much as doctors, we, we see a lot of stuff with patients, really difficult and, and very emotional stuff that we then sort of chip onto the next page. You know, we sort of think, Oh well that, that’s then that consultation over now onto the next thing. And I think that’s just ingrained in our training from when we’re, we start out at medical school, you know, you sort of, you go through your house jobs working ridiculous hours and being tough and sort of seeing difficult things, but it’s just accepted as part of the job as opposed to, you know, some of these difficulties we do deal with as doctors.

Jo: (14:54)
But if you’re lucky you work in a place where then you talk about that in the staff room or you may talk with your colleagues about, some people may not have that and you know, there’s not always that opportunity to share that difficulty, which I think is a failing of the profession I think.

Rachel: (15:09)
I think it’s so important and interesting. We just released a podcast with Agnes Otzelberger and she is about compassion fatigue. And actually the fact that compassion fatigue doesn’t exist. What it is is empathetic burnouts and when we hear stories of people suffering and our empathy sensors are activated, we feel it in the same region that we feel physical pain, which I found fascinating now, but it’s monks are able to go through that area of their brain and then feel it in their compassion zones so they’d get much less damaged. But I think it is this slow drip, drip, drip, and have all these difficult things. And if on top of that you’ve also got something big going on for you. You’re already going to be activated, you’re going to be feeling a little bit of physical and emotional pain yourself.

Jo: (15:54)
Yeah.

Rachel: (15:54)
So presumably it’s a lot harder then to absorb the extra suffering you’re getting off the patients. How did you handle that at the time?

Jo: (16:01)
I don’t know. I think I probably sensed for a couple of patients I was seeing that maybe I just didn’t get absorbed in that at all. I again put up a bit of a barrier, but this barrier was more about me – do you know what? I have so much on my plate at the moment dealing with my mum and what’s happened with my Mum, actually I can’t take on anymore. So I really sense that feeling of me just offering only as much as I was able to offer and then pulling back from that.

Jo: (16:33)
So I think that was something I was definitely aware of and I’m sure something that changes over time as you get used to the idea and you become a bit stronger in, you know, managing your grief or whatever is something that will get better.

Rachel: (16:45)
But then this thing about, you know, being able to debrief with people. You know, as a professional coach, I need to have regular supervision.

Jo: (16:52)
Yeah.

Rachel: (16:52)
But we don’t need to have any regular supervision in, as a GP, and I always think that’s a massive problem apart from the appraisal that you get once a year, and if you’re lucky, you get a really good appraiser who will act more like a coach and talk to you about things. So did you seek that out for yourself then? A bit more supervision or was it really just through colleagues in the peer networks that you had already?

Jo: (17:16)
No, I mean you mentioned my appraisal. I had a wonderful appraiser who was fantastic to talk to about stuff that had gone on, you know, and, and I debriefed with him, obviously not before my appraisal but at my appraisal, but he was wonderful in terms of saying, you know, if you want to get in touch between appraisals, you know, you’re very welcome to give me a call. And I felt that was a very heartfelt, genuine, you know, thing, which was great. I didn’t really seek out any of that from my colleagues because I was very new to the practice and not knowing people so well that was more difficult. Although there was a, another salary GP at the practice where I worked, who’d been through grief with her dad dying and I was able to speak to her outside of work, having tea and catching up.

Jo: (18:08)
And I suppose I was aware I had lots of support from my family and from friends. And so I used those support networks really to sort of deal with things as it were.

Rachel: (18:20)
Do you know, I just wanted to talk about this fact that when we are doctors and our relatives become ill often with terminal diagnosis, it’s often that we have to go into a dual role of both relative and and care but also medical professional as well. And I know that happened for you cause I think you’re the only doctor in your family. How did you find that?

Jo: (18:43)
That was very, very challenging. I think there was the difficulty of the, the physical symptom control so well first of all I suppose right at the start was my Mum’s diagnosis because she mentioned to me she had dysphagia and she went to her GP and was put on a proton pump inhibitor and sent home. And when I heard that had been the outcome of the consultation, I was sort of a little bit shocked by that. But then I realised over time that my mum was a really appalling historian. I mean appalling. She could speak to anybody you know about anything. But when it came to actually pinning down symptoms, you sort went around the houses and I sort of thought, well maybe this isn’t her GP not listening, it’s the fact she’s gone around the houses a bit and actually she’s not telling the full story. Anyway. A couple of weeks later she went back and the dysphagia was taken on board and she ended up being referred for an endoscopy. I suppose during the actual process of my Mum being ill, it was then, you know, being asked advice sometimes on medication and what perhaps we should be doing. I don’t think my parents put that on me really, you know, in terms of, they weren’t ringing me up all the time saying what should we do because they didn’t want me to have that burden.

Jo: (20:03)
But I think I myself may be because of the way I am felt that I should be able to give advice about that. So, you know, if my mum was having terrible vomiting or you know, problems with her bowels or whatever pain, being able to sort of say, oh um, you know, maybe you could try this or or whatever. But I found that quite difficult to remain, you know, as someone’s loved one who just wants to actually have the normal emotions of having someone you love who’s dying. I think. Yeah, it was quite difficult. I wanted to switch off that bit. I didn’t want to be a doctor at all. And there was also the challenge of me feeling that, you know, I’ve really felt the palliative care team should be getting involved with my mum at an earlier stage. And that didn’t seem to be very forthcoming from her GP initially.

Jo: (20:53)
And again, I didn’t know whether it was this talking around the houses and making out everything was fine when my mum went to the GP. So whether she was really telling the full story, but there was a real delay in getting the palliative care team involved. And then my mum got admitted to hospital as an urgent case because her esophagus obstructed and she needed to be admitted for a stent. And that was really a saving grace for me because I then got in touch with the palliative care team at the hospital and said, hello, my mum is in this ward, would you mind going to see her? And you know, seeing how she’s getting on. And they were absolutely fantastic. And I went up to visit my mum at the hospital and they took me into a room and had a chat with me about what was going on.

Jo: (21:39)
And they were just absolutely wonderful. And they said, and of course when she goes home we’ll be following up in the community. And I was like, hallelujah. I remember being up at the house actually visited, staying with my parents and the first time feeling this, well I felt this huge sense of relief when my mum went into hospital and the palliative care team got involved. But I also, when I was at their house and I met one of the Macmillan nurses for the first time and she knocked on the door and I opened the door and honestly it was like welcoming this angel into the home. She was just wonderful. And you know, the first thing she said to me, which was so, so kind and so nice, and she’d obviously experienced it from her own perspective as well, being in the medical world if you like, you know, she sat down on the sofa before we went up to see my Mum and she said, I just want to let you know, you know, I’m not speaking to you as a doctor.

Jo: (22:34)
You don’t have to be a doctor, you know, you be your mum’s daughter. And that was just utterly fantastic. And to be able to just speak to her as, no, I don’t need to have any medical knowledge. I just need to talk to you as I’m want to talk to you as being someone who’s a daughter of someone who’s dying. And that was so lovely and so powerful that hadn’t been allowed to happen up until that stage maybe cause I hadn’t let it happen. Do you know what I mean? So that was, that was great.

Rachel: (23:09)
I was just thinking, do you think, you know, just a sort of good practice point for us as GPs looking after other doctors who are looking after relatives. Would it be helpful for us to say, right, we’re going to talk to you now as a relative, not as a, not as a doctor, and sort of give that permission because I think you always sort of want that, but you still want to also know the medical facts just to make sure things are going on. But that must, it sounds like that was a massive relief for you when the, when the nurse said that.

Jo: (23:36)
It was a huge relief to me when the Macmillan nurse said that. And I think that’s a really good point. I think we could really do that a lot more with people that we, you know, we’re seeing in surgery and being able to say that, you know, I mean I think, I think there’s a balance, isn’t there? Because some people want to still have a medical role and say their bit about what they understand. But I think even as doctors when we go and see other doctors, you know, because we’re worried about ourselves, our health issues, we want to just be patients. We don’t want to be doctors making decisions for ourselves. And I think that’s hugely important.

Rachel: (24:12)
Yeah, and Liz O’Riordan talked a lot about what that was like as a doctor being treated as a doctor, not as a patient when she was undergoing all her chemo and stuff like that. Do you think we should go actually say you know, in those situations say please, can you treat me like a relative here rather than like a doctor please. I just want to be in relative position. Then if I have any doctory questions afterwards I’ll ask you.

Jo: (24:35)
Yeah, I think that you know, because not necessarily all, all doctors will be forthcoming will they in saying, you know, treat yourself just as a relative, we, I won’t teach you as a patient. Um, sorry I won’t treat you as a doctor. I think that’s a great tip to be able to say to people, well, you know, say to the doctor, say to the person looking after your relative please can you just treat me as a relative, not as a doctor. Because I think also there’s that strange thing as well, isn’t there? We know it as doctors when we are perhaps treating a doctor or we’re treating a relative who’s patient whose relative is a doctor. We might slightly change our approach as well. I think sometimes it makes us feel a bit anxious, doesn’t it? Because we think, ooh are we saying the right thing and are we doing what, you know? We almost feel we’re maybe being assessed by that other doctor. So feel a bit nervous about it. So I think trying to get that, that role right of, you know, the doctor being the doctor and the patient being the patient rather than a doctor is, is really important.

Rachel: (25:36)
I notice when your Mum was first diagnosed that you were doing a lot of research and you were looking at different hospitals and stuff, you know, and actually there’s a good centre here and it’s okay here and this is what I think should happen. Do you think that was a bit of a protective mechanism that that kicked off when that happened?

Jo: (25:50)
I think it was, I think it quite a bit of it actually was fuelled by my dad and I think he was amazing in his approach because although I would say perhaps he was kidding himself a bit that, you know, all these treatments would work and everything would be fine in the end. I think what he wanted to ensure, and I can fully understand that, was that my Mum was getting the best chance and she was getting the, you know, the absolute best care that that she could. So I think he was concerned that, okay, she’s been treated by the local hospital, but actually is there a centre that really specialises in esophageal cancer and do they have better outcomes? So I was quite keen to assist him with that and look into it from a medical point of view to see what I could see about the figures from other centres and things like that.

Jo: (26:45)
So that’s why I was doing a lot of that research. In the end they stayed at the hospital where they had been treated and what was wonderful about that was the palliative care consultant who looked after my mum, he was really transparent and he said things as they were and he didn’t give them false hope. And I think that was absolutely so vital and important where my mum and dad were concerned. I know my Mum really appreciated that. My dad found that a bit difficult at times, but actually that was what was needed really. And I think that was, you know, really helpful to have that. I mean I also did lots of reading around, you know, death and dying and grief and all sorts of things, which for me was almost, to delve into the dark side and, and look at it face on so that I was less frightened of it somehow. And so I did lots of reading and I was also just sitting, sort of thinking about, you know, how we would all cope after my mum died and my dad coping with his grief and things like that. And so I did lots of reading and that was really helpful to me as well. Just seeing things from other people’s perspective and understanding that.

Rachel: (27:58)
I know you’ve talked, you were telling me about the death cafe that you went to.

Jo: (28:01)
Ooh yes.

Rachel: (28:01)
What’s that? Did you have to dress up as the grim reaper?

Jo: (28:07)
The death cafe is a wonderful initiative, I think with this idea that, I mean death cafes function around the world and they’re not actual cafes that in terms of the buildings that are there, you know, it’s not a cafe building. They’re pop-up cafes that pop up in various places. And the idea behind them is to increase awareness of deaths really in order to help people make the most of their finite lives. So I think for me it was very much an awareness than, in Western society we really have our head in the sands a bit about death. We all know we’re going to die. We know that’s ultimately what’s going to happen to us all, every single one of us. But there’s still this sort of, almost a bit of denial that’s going on and still shock from people when people do die. You know?

Jo: (28:59)
And I think the death cafe, what it encourages is chatting about death. So when you go along to a death cafe, it’s a very uplifting experience rather than a very sort of dark, dire experience if you like. What happens, you go along and there’s maybe 20 people there. Let’s say for example. And would divide up into smaller groups. Everyone buys cake and has a cup of tea and you sit around tables and have discussions and within the discussions you’re allowed to talk about anything you like as long as it’s associated with death. And so people just go around the table talking about their own experience of people dying, what they feel about their own death. And yeah, it’s, it’s what’s extraordinary about it – you can sit around a table with a bunch of people you don’t know and really within five minutes feel very, very connected to the people sitting around you because you’re talking about some, you know, big issues and it’s very powerful and there’s a lot of laughter.

Jo: (29:59)
And I think for me is that, you know, sharing other people’s experiences, there’s certainly a feel when when we talk in those groups that a lot of people aren’t necessarily that afraid about dying. They’re more afraid of the process of getting to death, you know, from maybe a diagnosis to actually dying and also the impact it will have on their relatives, you know, and friends when they die. The impact of that. So yeah, I mean it’s very powerful to have those discussions. Yeah. So it’s very powerful to have those discussions and, and I think, you know, a reminder, it’s that having that reminder that yes, we are all going to die. How do we make the most of this precious short life that we have and make sure that we die hopefully not having regrets, because we’ve lived, you know, in the best way that we can.

Rachel: (30:56)
Yeah.

Jo: (30:57)
Someone told me the other day that the average person has 4,000 weeks or something like that. It’s not a lot. Is it?

Rachel: (31:03)
4,000 weeks? Gosh.

Jo: (31:05)
80 Christmases.

Rachel: (31:06)
Yeah.

Jo: (31:06)
We probably had more than half our Christmases already.

Rachel: (31:12)
Yeah. So it’s interesting for me, Jo, it’s, I think it’s nearly a year since your mum died now.

Jo: (31:19)
Yeah.

Rachel: (31:19)
And I think, you know, it’s like the thing with mental health that people think that, you know, they’ve been off, people often assume if someone’s been off with depression or something, they’re back and then they’re fine. And obviously grief takes a long time to process. How do you feel now? How are you doing now?

Jo: (31:34)
Oh, I think I’m doing okay. I mean, I think everybody’s grief is very, very different and people grieve in very, very different ways. I think it still hits me in waves, the grief, just out of nowhere, sometimes walking through the supermarket or you know, I was in the park yesterday with a dog and I suddenly had this wave of grief that just hit me. So it does come out of the blue and sort of still knock you sideways at times.

Jo: (32:03)
I mean at other times I feel I’ve been incredibly fortunate, you know, thinking about how well my dad on the whole has managed his grief and that’s been helpful to me in terms of, you know, us as a family, coping with it. I think again, it’s, I still, you know, have done reading around grief and found some, some books to be very supportive and helpful so that I, I had a read of Sheryl, Sheryl Sandberg’s book called option B, which um, has really, you know, so great book with, she does it with a clinical psychologist as well, just talking about the grief process and how to cope with things. There’s also a book by Rio Ferdinand, thinking out loud, which is about his wife dying of breast cancer. And it’s a call really out there to, to men who are going through grief and how they cope with that.

Jo: (32:54)
There’s also resilient grieving that I read, which is a book by a lady called Lucy Hone, whose young daughter died in a car accident. And she, she worked in the field of positive psychology before all this happened and seeing how, whether her job and her knowledge of positive psychology could help her through her grieving process. And it’s a lovely book because it’s not all about, you know, just springing out of bed and being positive. Oh, you know, this person’s died. Um, I can still be positive and full of life. It’s more about, you know, the, the fact that the wave still hits you in big, the, the grief still hits you in big waves of awfulness, but some strategies that she’s found helpful to help cope with that. Um, so there’s, there’s some good information about there, out there, that can, you know, be really helpful to people if they find that sort of thing is up their street.

Rachel: (33:45)
So looking back on what happened, is there anything you wish you’d done a bit differently or any advice you would give yourself?

Jo: (33:52)
I’m not sure I would have done things any differently actually. And maybe that has been, what’s helped me with my grief a bit is that I felt I had an opportunity to do everything I wanted to do and to say everything I wanted to say and I had the time to do those things. And that was absolutely vital really. Yeah. So I, I wouldn’t say I look back and I think I would have done things any differently because with the support of my friends that I spoke to, you know, and able to reflect on things that they’d found helpful. I’ve saved to put some of those things in place. And just, I think one of my friends, I remember her saying to me, you know, it’s just, it’s just being there and walking the path with your mum and dad as they go through this.

Jo: (34:45)
It’s not trying to fight it or have amazing solutions or you know, having this magic wand of lovely stuff you can produce. You know, it’s, it’s just walking the path, being there beside them as they go through it. And I think that really is what it’s all about. And as I say, I was very fortunate because I did have an opportunity to have the time to do that. That was really, you know, important to me.

Rachel: (35:13)
So I think one thing that I’m taking away from this is the importance of having that time in your diary to be able to go and do that. And I guess so many of us have such busy, hectic lives, that actually, if something like this were to happen to us now, I think actually where would I fit that in? So actually the advice would be really getting that time, as much as you can; drop stuff so that, you know, you will be available to walk that path.

Jo: (35:38)
Well I think. I think, I mean, the fact is you never ever get that time back again ever. And you know, so many things can seem so important in life, can’t they, getting stuff done. I mean, the fact is, as I say, you know, when you said about, you know, might I have some tips for people? The difficulty is I was very lucky having that. I’m not say a single parent in a full time job whose family, you know, their only income is that full time job so they can’t drop other stuff. You know, it’s very difficult. So I don’t think, you know, my tips are necessarily what will fit for everybody else, but I think it was just where you can do it. You know it’s making that time because time is really what’s needed and that’s the important thing. Otherwise you don’t get time to walk the path, maybe say the things you want to say and obviously not, not everyone’s, you know, death and dying experiences is the same.

Jo: (36:35)
Because I had a year of getting used to this idea and having that time of that year to put these things in place that I felt made me feel content with, you know, when it came to the end for my mum that I’d said everything I wanted to say and done everything I wanted to do. I think for other people they don’t get that opportunity because things happen really quickly. They don’t have this year to do all of that stuff, but you know, whatever time you have, you know, using that to the best of your ability really, you know, and, and making sure you really grab that time that’s there because you, you won’t ever get it back.

Rachel: (37:15)
Yes. It’s probably really important to actually look over the, you know, you know, this is going to be coming up, look at your diary thing. What is there that I could drop to make space?

Jo: (37:24)
Yeah.

Rachel: (37:24)
And then maybe just for a period even going down on the sessions that you work.

Jo: (37:28)
Absolutely.

Rachel: (37:30)
Dropping a social commitment or something. And I, I do remember you, we present the lead, manage, thrive talk course together and you saying to me, Rachel, I’m not sure if in this season now I will be available. And it was great to get that heads up because we could make alternative plans and it was, you know, really useful. So even just talking to your work colleagues and saying, look, I’m looking forward and I think in this period I’m not going to be available for X, Y, or Z. So other people are planned, uh prepared as well and they can make plans in it and it doesn’t become all really last minute.

Jo: (37:59)
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And it was great to have, you know, it’s great to have colleagues who are understanding of that and willing to step up if things go wrong, you know.

Jo: (38:08)
But I think verbalizing that is really important as you say rather than, you know, just panicking. I think, well I just have to try and get through this and get through everything, you know, despite all this stuff going on. And then it ending up being a bit of a last minute disaster.

Rachel: (38:23)
So we need to wrap up in a sec, but is there anything you would, you wish you’d known at the start that you know now?

Jo: (38:28)
I remember feeling quite anxious at times when the whole process was going on with my mum and a lot of that anxiety was about, oh gosh, what’s her actual death going to be like? And oh gosh, how’s it going to be after she dies? What’s it going to be like having to plan a funeral and be at a funeral? For my mum and also, you know, coping with the grief afterwards.

Jo: (38:52)
And I think um maybe, it’s knowing that actually humans have incredible resilience really in coping with horrible stuff and that, you know, people have done that for centuries of time, you know, and that actually you do get through stuff and you do cope with it. And I think maybe just being able to reassure myself about that as the process was going on, that actually it would be okay rather than feeling, you know, quite anxious at times about the future and what would happen because I think it’s extraordinary what people do cope with, you know, in all sorts of very difficult, horrendous situations. So maybe that’s one thing I would have reassured myself about, you know, it would be okay.

Rachel: (39:42)
It will be, it will pass.

Jo: (39:44)
It will pass.

Rachel: (39:45)
All things will pass.

Jo: (39:45)
Yeah, absolutely.

Rachel: (39:46)
All will be well.

Jo: (39:46)
Yeah.

Rachel: (39:46)
Thank you so much for being on the podcast that’s been, really moving talking to you about that and I hope there’s some things that people; really useful resources there and hopefully some things that people can maybe think about. And I think if anyone is going through this right now, our sort of thoughts go out to you and don’t, don’t do it alone. Get some help if you need it. Tell your colleagues and you know, give yourself time and space, I think is the message.

Jo: (40:13)
Yeah. Well, it’s been great speaking Rachel, as always.

Rachel: (40:16)
As always of course. Thank you. Bye.

Jo: (40:19)
Bye.

Rachel: (40:23)
Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode then please do subscribe to the podcast and also please rate it on iTunes so that other people can find it too. Do follow me on Twitter at Dr. Rachel Morris, and you can find out more about the face to face and online courses, which I run on the youarenotafrog.co.uk website. Bye for now.

Liz: (40:38)
Thanks a lot, Rachel. Bye.

Rachel: (40:42)
Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please do subscribe to the podcast and also please rate it on iTunes so that other people can find it too. Do follow me on Twitter @DrRachelMorrison. You can find out more about the face to face and online courses which I run on the youarenotafrog.co.uk website. Bye for now.

Podcast links

Thinking Out Loud: Love, Grief and Being Mum and Dad, Rio Ferdinand

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

Resilient Grieving, Lucy Hone

Sign up for downloadable CPD reflection forms plus more tools and resources

For more episodes of You are not a frog, check out our website www.youarenotafrog.co.uk and sign up to our mailing list here for loads of useful resources about thriving at work.

Follow Rachel on twitter @DrRachelMorris or LinkedIn and find out more about her online and face to face courses for doctors on surviving and thriving at work at www.shapesfordoctors.com or for other organisations at www.wildmonday.co.uk

Episode 20 – A creative solution to stress with Ruth Cocksedge

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Ruth Cocksedge a Practitioner Psychologist who started her career as a mental health nurse. She practices in Cambridge and has a particular interest in EMDR for PTSD and creative writing as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Episode 11 – The magical art of reading sweary books

In this episode, Rachel is joined once again by Dr Liz O’Riordan, the ‘Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer’, TEDx speaker, author, blogger, triathlete and all round superstar who has been nominated for ‘Woman of the Year’.

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2019-12-05T09:19:55+00:00