I am a Motherless Daughter

My momma died from a long-fought battle against cancer. I am a motherless daughter and have been now for over half of my life. I’m 23.

There. I finally (finally!) said it.

My name is Alexis Morgan, and I’m a 3rd year DPT student. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several of you through various PT channels, yet few of you know I’m a motherless daughter. Many of my patients, however, do.

By the end of reading this, I hope you will be encouraged to look deeper into your own life, thoughts, feelings, pains, and maybe begin exploring those in order to better help your patients and yourself.

My mom’s death used to define me. In an attempt to no longer have it as my definition, it then became my denial: any new person I met no longer found out within our first conversation. As you may be able to imagine, it became more and more difficult to share the more I knew a person, so the less & less I shared.

Until one day, my perspective changed. I realized I no longer had to share (or not share) out of obligation, but I had the opportunity to share for the sake of connection. I’ll explain:

I was sitting with an elderly woman in her bland room in the skilled nursing facility, where I was completing my first big internship, 10 weeks. We were sitting on the edge of her uncomfortable, stiff bed, and I was the one to help her get dressed today. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you had to get undressed, fully naked & vulnerable, only with the help of an individual you barely know… Every. Single. Day. Twice a day.)

She paused before we began and said, “I’ve got to warn you, I had a mastectomy, so don’t be alarmed at the sight. I don’t have a left breast.”

“Ma’am,” I replied in my most sincere and compassionate way, “Your body cannot and will not alarm me. I saw my mom’s body in the same condition for years as a young girl. I view it as a sign of strength and life.”

She asked me further questions about my mom, if she was alive, how long she had cancer, etc. I held back nothing from her.. Except tears.

And for the first time ever, I felt connected to a patient in ways I had never before, with her or with any of my patients. We were connected. She now knew the very most influential event of my life. This not only changed how she viewed me: compassionate, vulnerable, weak at times but also so strong, and an actual human being; but it also changed how I viewed and treated her. No more was she the woman with dementia and impaired mobility in room 311. She became the woman who I reciprocated basic human needs with: connection. I gave her something she needed, but really, she gave me something I needed.

You better believe her care was different now than ever before.

Fast forward six months in my outpatient rotation during Internship 2, 12 weeks. I’ve got this middle-aged quiet, reserved woman sitting in front of me, while I try to make out the unmatched correlations between her objective measures and subjective pain reports. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you had extreme amounts of pain – constantly – preventing you from doing just basic human functions, and no doctor believes you… at all.)

I do the only thing I know to do at this point, which is steer clear of touching her or making her move due to pain, and discuss with her the stress in her life. After I ask her what’s going on in her life, she responds with a quick: “There’s nothing for me to worry about, and everything is fine.” I knew better, though, as you would too, so I questioned further, and the truth surfaces: she’s still grieving and mourning the loss of her mother, who died over a decade ago. Instant connection. I was then able to provide her comfort and advice from both a professional and (perhaps more importantly) personal standpoint, regarding journaling, counseling, crying, and more.

I believe that it was not just the experience of living through this traumatic life-changing event of my mom’s death at a mere 11 years old, but it was my personal (and recent) decision to accept it, come to terms with it, share it, and connect with others through it. That has been the ultimate game-changer for me, which has directly impacted the care for my patients.

When the rubber meets the road, we (the providers) are human beings struggling in our own personal lives, just as our patients and our colleagues are; just as we treat our patients in the biopsychosocial model, we need to treat ourselves in the same way. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you took down your facade of “having it all together,” shared of piece of yourself, your story, and showed the people surrounding you that you struggle, too.)

Concluding Thanks

I want to thank you, reader, for taking the time to consider my thoughts and perspective. I recognize that you likely have much more experience than me in patient-care and I appreciate your willingness to listen to my ideas, my stories.

Secondly, I want to thank EIM and specifically Mark Shepherd for this opportunity & platform. Behind this blogpost is a navy blue moleskin journal full of choppy brainstorming sessions, thoughts jotted down, and poems somehow pieced together, all because of the writing prompt. The writing process of this blogpost has been tremendously healing for me, and I am forever grateful.

I must thank my therapist/counselor who encouraged I get that journal a year and a half ago. While most of its pages lay dormant during that time, the seed was planted. The recent rain & sunshine of writing this post have allowed the bud to finally appear.

Lastly, thank you to my husband, Zac, who is extremely supportive & encouraging, and the rest of our families and friends. Without you all, I wouldn’t be nearly the woman I am today.

Thank you!

“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” -Maya Angelou

19 responses to “I am a Motherless Daughter

  1. Jarrod says:

    Alexis,
    I really enjoyed your blog this morning. Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate your openness and insight. Your reminder that we are all, each one of us, human and the up and down days of our own lives can make some days in the clinic a challenge to help others. Your reminder we need to sometimes treat ourselves rings true.

    Your ability and insight into the power of connecting with others will bring you many years of success in your early PT career. Keep up the great work

    Jarrod

    1. Alexis says:

      Thank you, Jarrod! I’m glad you found value in reading my story; as I stated, it was tremendously healing for me. Best, Alexis.

  2. John Childs says:

    Alexis, super job with this post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and passed along to a few folks as well. Very thoughtful and moving. Thanks for taking the time to share!

    John

  3. Tim Flynn PT PhD says:

    Alexis,
    Thanks for sharing. I lost my father when I was 17. I often tell my students that I do not wish a personal loss on anyone, yet with time if often reveals a deeper understanding of our own humanity, compassion, and love of life. In this time of too much technology and superficiality, our society, and more importantly our patients are yearning for deep connection, for within lies true healing.

    Tim

  4. Amy Childs says:

    Beautifullly written and extremely moving. Healing yourself and healing others! Noble indeed!

  5. Pam says:

    Alexis, how very moving. This is Pam Shoulders from FCS and that brought me to tears. What an awesome way to use the hard parts of your life to reach out to others. I know you will be a blessing to all your patients.

  6. Robert Wainner says:

    Alexis,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, I really appreciate you being willing to share your story and have no doubt others who read it will find strength, healing and encouragement. I know I have.

    Rob

  7. Kerry Wood says:

    Alexis, thank you for your willingness to be open and vulnerable, to share your humanity with the patients you serve and with your professional colleagues. You have a valuable perspective and have learned to share; a gift sadly, some never learn. Thank you!

  8. Jessie Podolak says:

    Alexis,

    Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability in this post. It is beautifully written and a powerful reminder of the importance of connection. I especially appreciate your point that your patient provided YOU with something very needed: the basic need of human connection. When we view what we do as a two way street, where an exchange of thoughts and encouragement occur between us and our patients, we realize we receive as much, if not more, than we give in patient/practitioner interactions. You illustrated this wonderfully.

    Jessie

  9. Karen Kovacs says:

    Thoughtful. Inspiring. So personal. Helpful. Thank you for sharing. Important lesson. Fortunate patient to get you.

  10. Jennifer Stone says:

    I am so glad you are joining our profession! You are clearly a wonderful, intelligent, caring individual. And you are right, in our moments of vulnerability we are really able to establish that deep therapeutic relationship that, honestly, probably does as much or maybe even more good than our skill and our hands. Best wishes moving forward, and thank you for sharing!

  11. JoAnn says:

    Beautifully written post. In this era of codes and productivity it is crucial to be reminded of the humanness in our work and it’s ability to connect best when both patient and clinician can be honest in vulnerability. I lived through my mom’s journey with cancer and my dad’s with dementia. The challenging life experiences undoubtedly changed me as a clinician.

  12. Glenda Labine says:

    Alexis, I enjoyed reading your blog. We never get to know the answer to the big WHY? in our lives at the time of our losses but I can tell you it took me at least 15 years working as a physio and some adversity of my own to realize that our lives have a way of getting us where we need to be, even though we would never have intensionally choosen either the path taken or the destination. I am convinced now that we all have a calling with gifts to share and your learning about the importance of this connection to people so early in your career is a gift. If you haven’t listened to Pope Francis on Ted Talks this month I urge that you do so. You shouldn’t have any trouble building a rewarding career.

  13. Rupal M Patel says:

    Beautiful post. Made me cry. Sharing your vulnerability to not only connect with but to help your patients as they are dealing with their own loss…that takes effort and skill. Keep connecting.

  14. Regina Lewis says:

    Your insightful words are healing for you and others. It’s wonderful you shared this. I have always known you had an inner strength that would protect and guide you.
    My patients have helped me cope with my own sorrows and pain over the years and in turn I have been able to help comfort others. It is difficult to realize that when we put our guard down our suffering can be a gift
    My father passed when I was 24, and now my brother just this week.
    I have faith I will see the sense of his long extended illness in it in time.

    I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” ~ Mother Teresa

  15. Larry Benz says:

    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing. There is nothing stronger than shared humanity.

  16. Lucie Drouin says:

    This is a very courageous and touching post. It is so true that we can help so much more our patients if we just take the time to connect with them, have empathy and share some of our experiences as well.
    Merci beaucoup mademoiselle!
    Lucie

  17. Mariana says:

    How lovely and inspiring to read this. You found a way of turning a very sad event in life into something positive and to share it too. Well done!

  18. P. Gainan says:

    Wow, very nicely written. The loss of a parent at such a young age can be devastating. I liked how your therapist recommended for you to write a journal, this can be therapeutic.

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