How do you remain professional when tragedy happens in your life? Where do you draw the line of communicating with your team or Choosing to still show up to work?

Tragedy happens to all of us, regardless of our profession. It’s an unspoken rule that when tragedy strikes, it’s okay to step back and respond to it accordingly. However, when facing tragedy becomes reality to us, we don’t always know the appropriate way to respond even if it seems simple.

In this episode of The Authentic Dentist podcast, Shawn and Allison talk about their experiences with tragedy, how they handled their individual circumstances, what they learned, and what they could have done better. Join us today and get an inside glimpse of how real professionals handled real tragedy.

Full Transcript Below

Shawn: (00:59)
Hey guys, this is Shawn and Allison with The Authentic Dentist podcast. And we’re going to bring to you guys today an honest conversation about what we’re going through as real and authentic as we can. So let us dive right in.

Allison: (01:22)
I’ve had a difficult Thanksgiving and actually we’re kind of late on the podcast because of it. I had my nephew died in a tragic car accident over Thanksgiving, and we all deal with tragedy and challenges in our lives, but we still have to be doctors. And then I’m struggling with how to be authentic and, and still be professional. It’s it’s been a strange couple of weeks.

Shawn: (01:56)
So this, this podcast, I feel like it’s even a little different than some of our other ones where you know, Allison and I normally have a pretty good outline and we have some kind of points that are really clear that we, we knew we would want to help and share with you guys. And yet this one really is like inviting you into our journey. Alison with the very recent tragedy, she just mentioned you know, me 20, 20 months ago when my mom passed and what work looked like for me, right on the heels of that, you know? And I think, I mean, for me, it was definitely a challenge because I don’t know, no one told me this is what you do. And I don’t think there is a, this is what you do.

Allison: (02:43)
I’ve looked there. Doesn’t seem to be a guide book for how do you deal with grief

Shawn: (02:49)
And not just, how do you deal with grief, but how do you deal with grief in the professional setting of your practice keeps moving forward. You in my scenario, my dad is the owner of two or three of the companies. I’m the founder of a different one. And since it, my mom is his wife. Like I knew like acutely the pain that he was going to go through was going to be so intense. That for some, like, I just, I personally just decided to kind of like, almost like numb out and try to be there for the people in my life that I knew were going to be in pain from it. So again, we were talking like, was it wrong? Was it right? I don’t know.

Allison: (03:34)
So I shouldn’t have said there wasn’t a guide book for grief. There’s tons of guidebooks for grief, but there doesn’t seem to be a guide book on running your business in the middle of, of trauma. And yeah,

Shawn: (03:47)
Here it is. This, this news happens and you find out about it on Thanksgiving. Your practice is then open when next. Okay.

Allison: (03:56)
So we were open on Monday and I went back to work on Monday, even though people kept wondering, you know, maybe I should stay home for a week.

Shawn: (04:06)
People like, like your team kind of wondering, or even family

Allison: (04:09)
People asked me that knew the situation. Okay. And maybe I should back up a minute when I, I call him my nephew, but he wasn’t actually my nephew. He was my husband’s second cousin, but he came and lived with us for the last year. And he spent a lot of summers with us before that graduate. We spent quarantine together. We got him graduated from high school. I moved him up to Boise to start his life. I mean, I was very close to this kid. I spent every day going for a walk with him. I mean, we, I was very close to him. So to have him die has been, I won’t say like losing a kid, but it’s close. It’s the closest I hope I ever come.

Shawn: (04:52)
Yeah. Cause it’s, you, you practically adopted him into your life for 18 months where you, you loved him as your own.

Allison: (05:01)
We did. We did. I, he is a great kid and he just had not been given a great start in life. And so we wanted to give that to him. But yeah, he’d been at my house since he was nine years old during the summer. I mean, he was definitely part of our lives. It wasn’t like he lived in a different city or anything. He, he was part of our lives. I went back to work on Monday and saw patients all day. Just like you were talking about sort of numb and I didn’t really know how to answer the questions. You know, how was your Thanksgiving? Because this is the authentic dentist I’m supposed to be authentic. And yet it really didn’t seem appropriate to say, Oh, well, that’s terrible. You know? Cause it wasn’t really like they were asking me that it was a, a greeting kind of. So the whole week, you know, people would say, so how was your Thanksgiving? And I would say, it was fine. How was yours? And we just move on, which doesn’t feel totally authentic. But I think it was the best way to deal with it then.

Shawn: (06:04)
Well, but that’s the tension it’s like, okay. Depending on this patient, if they didn’t know already that you I dunno if they didn’t know enough about your personal life, let’s say to ask about something going on. Like, does it really make sense to take them to such a depth of intimacy of pain, of sorrow and of transparency? Like, is that professional in that context? Even if it looks like it’s authentic.

Allison: (06:36)
And, and my decision for me was that no, that at that moment I needed to be a doctor and that was how I was going to react. However I did call my team on Sunday before we went in and told them, because I didn’t want them to walk in on Monday morning to all of this. I didn’t want to drop a bomb on everybody Monday morning, right before we had patients coming in. So when did you post publicly? Maybe it’s Tuesday or Wednesday when I felt like, okay. I do not want to keep telling people this.

Shawn: (07:09)
Wait, so your Facebook post was that far removed from Thanksgiving? Yes. Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. So that’s why your team would not have found out because of a Facebook?

Allison: (07:20)
No, I don’t think so. And we’re not friends on Facebook anyway, because then, you know, you have to keep some level of professionalism. Yeah. But so I did, I called them on Sunday and told them what had happened. I told them that I was coming in Monday. We were going to work the week. And I also called some, in some reinforcement. I called them my mother-in-law to come and answer phones because I just felt like I would be able to treat patients and do nothing else. And my team was very helpful and understanding. And they’d been wonderful.

Shawn: (07:54)
Yeah. I think part of being authentic is not I’m telling everybody about it. It’s who do I need to tell? And you walked out very authentically with those that needed to know like your team. I think it would have been very strange. Had you tried to show up on Monday and not let people know what was going on and all of a sudden they’re like, well, Alison seems a little closed, maybe. Huh? It seems like, like we can’t read or we don’t understand what’s going on because for someone that is as honest and open as you, I think that would have been sending some like confusing signals. Don’t you think?

Allison: (08:31)
And I’ve learned this the hard way that you never want to walk into a business situation and drop a bomb. Like this has just happened to me and I can’t function. You need to give some people a little time to process. So what did you do? I mean, your mom passed. Did you just go to work the next day?

Shawn: (08:50)
Oh man. I don’t even remember the time. Oh yeah. It was on a Friday. It was a Friday morning, like at 1240 or something like that. So we had I mean, we did not go to work during her like final days when there was home hospice, because it was very clear. This is your time with your mom. This is the boss’s time with his wife. We don’t know what’s going on, but it’s a medical emergency. And yeah, so then we had Friday, we had Saturday, we had Sunday and I’m pretty sure I went back to work Monday. Yeah. And my team knew.

Allison: (09:33)
Did you tell your team, did someone else tell your team

Shawn: (09:36)
Great point? I don’t. I don’t remember. I just know I had no idea when my dad would be in the office again and I, I was fine with that and it’s like, there’s a chance he may not return to work. And I don’t know when that’s going to happen. So I just knew, I mean, my mom, when she was able to even just two months prior was also like doing HR. So that had fallen a little bit onto me, but not fully. Like maybe even just two weeks before she passed, she’d been like sending me like, you know, emails, like, Oh, make sure you do payroll this Friday or something like that. So she was still trying to be engaged with it. So yeah, I just knew things were going to be different. I didn’t know how they’d be different, but I just showed up to work and I think the routine helped me.

Shawn: (10:29)
So I don’t, I mean, part of it was probably, I don’t want to say selfish, but like, I think it was the best thing for the company. It was the best thing for me. Yeah, there was so much understanding around, but you’re right. We’re talking about like, I don’t know. How did I, like, I didn’t like when customers would call and if they’d asked, even if they’d ask like, Oh, so how’s your mom doing? I don’t think I was ready to be like, Oh yeah, she, she just passed like, meaning I don’t know if I was even able to address it early on.

Allison: (11:02)
So my patients and I have a, a deep relationship, you know, we’ve been doing this extreme listening for the last six months. If a patient asks me about Sebastian specifically, I felt like I needed to answer it. Doesn’t it seemed inauthentic to say everything was fine. Now how I did that sort of dependent on what was happening. You know, if they asked me at the beginning of the appointment, when I’m about to give them a shot, I didn’t feel like I could emotionally handle that. And so I say, Oh, everything’s fine. I give them the shot. We do the procedure. And at the end I would just stop and say, so I need to tell you that Sebastian died over the weekend. And you know, they were of course overwhelmed, but at least it felt like we could keep that professionalism. And I could do my job in hygiene when I did a hygiene check and somebody would ask me it was at the end of their appointment. And so I was able to, to tell them at that point, I didn’t want to not say it because it just felt like then that would be so weird six months from now when they asked me and they had seen me right after, at the same time, I didn’t want to have this emotional breakdown. And I couldn’t have an emotional breakdown between every single patient that wasn’t reasonable.

Shawn: (12:15)
So again, this is the conversation is like life happens, trials happen tragedies unfortunate surprises in events. And how is it that we maintain authenticity? And what is that balance look like to our team to our patients just in our professional life. And I, I don’t know, I’m guessing it would be maybe different depending on what it is. Like, what if you’re going through some like terrible divorce and your personal life is just unraveling. It’s like, what level of transparency do you feel like? I’m sure there’s murkier situations. It’s like when a loved one passes. I don’t know. I don’t feel like there’s shame attached to that. You know what I mean? Like it’s like, I don’t know.

Allison: (13:10)
You’re right there, there isn’t any shame attached with this is just grief and sadness, but that doesn’t mean lots of things haven’t happened in my life that I still have to go to work the next day, you know, put on my scrubs and do my job. And how much do you let your patients in? It is a personal thing, but I don’t think you can just totally shut down and pretend like nothing is happening to you. And especially because patients have poured their heart out to you, it’s not really authentic and makes them comfortable. If you pretend that everything in your life is

Shawn: (13:42)
Perfect. Well, I was just thinking like, since we are both talking about grief, there’s something I don’t know. There’s no, I don’t think there’s a stigma attached to like, I dunno, this is outside of my control. Nobody wants someone to die. It happened and now you’re doing your best. I was doing my best to try to walk through it. But I’m saying like, what if it was something like I’m going through bankruptcy or the practices in June? Like, I’m just saying, I’m sure there’s some trout challenges and trials that maybe would be a lot more difficult. Like it wouldn’t be as clear cut. Like how do I maintain authenticity when I’m trying to like still lead my team, but not mislead them to think that I might have to shut down in two months. Like, I mean, I know that’s a totally a curve ball, but I’m just curious, like, I bet there’s other challenges and trials that it might be even like murkier as to how to proceed.

Allison: (14:36)
I don’t often talk about it, but I was, I was assaulted about 11 years ago at a continuing education. And I came home, you know, we went through the whole rape kit and I went back work on Monday because that’s what I did. And those, that was something that, you know, you’re not allowed to talk about. And I, I certainly couldn’t talk about it. Even with my team. I really had trouble talking about it with my family. But the mistake I made is I didn’t talk about it with anybody. You know, I had done the police and the all of that piece, but then I just shut it down and didn’t talk about it. And that was a mistake because three months later I just completely fell apart. So I think you have to be real and find someplace that’s you can speak to people and get the therapy and the support that you need.

Allison: (15:30)
But in those sorts of situations, perhaps you, you can’t really share with patients it’s not appropriate. They don’t want to know that about you. And, and it’s an, it’s probably inappropriate to share it with your team. Although at three months out, I finally had to tell my team because they were like, what the hell is wrong with you? So I finally did talk to my team about it and, you know, then there was an opportunity for healing and they understood, like, she’s been very weird. They had an understanding of why I was weird and I got through it. So I think there’s, there’s a balance between keeping that professionalism and then finding someplace to have that outlet because you can’t just shut down. It doesn’t, it doesn’t work to just shut down and pretend that everything’s fine.

Shawn: (16:14)
You know, when it’s clear to me based off what you just shared, like authenticity does not mean just like open communication as if like, Oh, well, to be authentic, it means if you’ve gone through something, you just have to be an open book and share with anybody. And it’s like, no, and I’m glad, like you said, I think if you maybe had been more authentic at that time saying, I need to share with somebody, I need to, whether it’s professional help, whatever it is, but I honor you for not sharing it haphazardly with your team with patients. Like, I, I think that was a lot of wisdom and I just honor your courage to even share it right now, Allison,

Allison: (17:00)
It still feels awkward even though we’re in this me too time, but it is real. And I know a lot of women that have suffered through this and they didn’t recover. So I am blessed that I recovered, but it is something that, you know, it happens and you still have to go to work the next day. And if you’re a doctor, you still have this level of, I’ve got to keep my practice going. I don’t want to ever have everything I’ve worked for fall apart.

Shawn: (17:29)
Yeah. I wonder if there’s just some element of you know, like team there’s there’s stuff going on right now, just in my personal life. It doesn’t have to do with the business. It doesn’t have to do with you. Like, it doesn’t have to do with your job, you know, security. But I will, I don’t know if it’s like I can share in when the timing’s right. I don’t know if there’s like some sort of like checking in, like I’m sure someone knows whether it, like, I don’t. Yeah. I don’t know whether it’s a counselor or whether it’s someone like they could actually give us advice on like what you would actually try to do in that moment to keep your team close enough in the loop that they have some aspect of understanding. But no one I think, would say that they would need to know more.

Allison: (18:21)
And I think it, of course it depends on the situation. Like I said, when my, my nephew died, I called my team to tell them I probably should have let my team know in some way that I, I was suffering because they could have supported me. And you do need to have people around you support you when you’re going through anything, any trial or tribulation that’s in your life. And there’s no way you’re going to get through a 40 year career without having some challenges in your life. Hopefully not this dramatic, but I mean, probably something’s going to happen. It just the way life works and you still have to keep moving forward.

Shawn: (18:59)
We would love to hear just from our listeners, like what your story is in your career and your profession, what, what you faced and how you overcame that and how you feel like you did that and maintain some, some aspect of, of authenticity. I don’t know. I think this is such a challenging topic, but I think it’s something that’s really important to share, because you just said that we all go through this. Like none, none of us want to have tragedies come our way, you know? And I think that is so important. Like when I went through that, my team was so amazing. Really. We had, we had just hired someone three weeks before it happened. She even came to the Memorial, even though she had never met my mom. And the way that I was able to lean on my team made the difference. That was a season that could have just broke our business. And instead I was able to, to trust my team were able to get through it and even become stronger after that.

Allison: (20:00)
Well, it’s a team, you know, I always come back to, it’s like a basketball team and you always have to have everyone on board and at their best. But if you have a team member that’s down, the rest of the team needs to know what’s happening so they can compensate. It’s better to have a team that’s got your back and knows what’s happening then to hide behind a wall and have everyone just gossip. You know, it’s better to just be upfront because you would want your team member to tell you something had happened so that you could support them. And then if they had trouble, you could figure out what needed to be done.

Shawn: (20:34)
So if someone right now is in the midst of this, and let’s say it was something that maybe wasn’t as again, didn’t have a stigma attached to it, instead of it just being, if it was something that was

Allison: (20:48)
A little bit more personal and they don’t know what to do, what would you say to them? Talk to somebody. During the assault, it was very difficult to talk to my husband because he was so overwhelmed with all of it too. So I, I found a counselor and I actually worked half-time for about a month and saw her every day because I needed to get my life back. It worked, you know, that doesn’t work for everybody, but find somebody to talk to reach out because all of these things are things that we all walk through and there are answers. You just have to look and not hide.