Grief, Support, and Healing with Mike Burkhart (part 2/2)

Welcome to episode 110 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we present the second half of our conversation with Mike Burkhart’s journey, dealing with personal grief.

Original Recording Date: 01-28-2021

Topics – Grief, Support, and Healing

This is the second part of our conversation with Mike. The first part is episode 109.

3:30 – Revisiting the Needs of Those in Grief

  • Did Mike want people to stop walking on eggshells and treat him normally at some point?
    • In truth people do not know how to respond.
    • As a grieving person, be courageous to address your own emotions. Go there. It may take a counselor, a therapist, a close friend, or a support group.
      • You must work at it.
    • The process at times felt like work to Mike.
    • To help someone experiencing grief, you also need to be brave enough to say "it’s not about me or how awkward I feel." It is about serving someone else.
      • Mike likes John’s thought on giving people a menu of options.
      • Listen to Mike’s story about some ministers who came to visit him at the hospital right after his son was declared deceased. They offered to sit in silence with him.
      • Mike also shared the story of a nurse who tried to comfort him, but it was not what he needed at the time despite her genuine manner.
        • He could not accept this from her at the time and needed someone to come and sit in silence with him like the ministers did.
        • Offering to sit in silence while someone cries can really help, even if it is weird for you.

12:12 – Changing Family Dynamics and External Support

  • A stillborn child changes the dynamic of a marriage.
  • Mike’s wife had just given birth at home, and he was at the hospital filling out all the necessary paperwork while she recovered.
    • He had time to think about it and was afraid he might lose his wife. You tend to think the worst because the worst just happens.
    • Mike’s wife was wheeled into the hospital to get the official news.
    • Acceptance is crucial during grief. People will do and say many things during this time. Mike and his wife had nothing but acceptance and understanding with each other.
      • It was ok to be angry. Apologize and get past it.
  • Everyone is experiencing grief from their own viewpoint.
    • A pregnant woman’s experience is unique to her as an individual that will be different than the experience of the father.
    • Not having a baby to hold and nurse caused his wife great pain.
    • Mike feels lucky to be a parent to still have one living child. He had to focus his efforts on the things they have.
      • Happiness is gratitude. Gratitude is acknowledging the things in your life and the joy they bring.
  • Mike didn’t want to talk to anyone and was a bit of a hermit, but he did send a message out on Twitter.
    • He never could have imagined the outpouring of contact from people and would like to thank the community.
    • People offered to bring food, babysit, etc.
    • People sent DMs saying they had been through the same experience and that they were there to support Mike when he needed it.
    • Sharing human experiences in life helps others. This podcast is Mike’s way of reaching back.
  • In times of extreme grief you may not feel like showering (kind of like having depression), and other self-care items fall away.
    • After suffering loss like this you don’t know how to take care of yourself.
    • It was challenging to keep up a constant bedtime routine. Mike’s son would tell him it was time to put him to bed.

29:44 – Getting Back to Work

  • Mike is a Cloud Solutions Architect at Elevate Technology Partners out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • The owner of the company was a friend of a mutual friend of Mike’s (Jenifer Slabaugh).
    • Jen had previously approached Mike about this company starting at one point.
    • The company owner (Josh) reached out to Mike about working a project for Elevate near the end of 2020.
      • Josh would check in with Mike daily because he knew Mike was struggling.
      • This guy was basically a stranger who was kind enough to go the distance in supporting Mike, even praying for him.
        • Josh sent Mike a song about not losing hope when all else is lost that was extremely helpful.
      • It is imperative to be open to the fact that things can get better / less hard.
      • You learn to get up, take a shower, and that you even enjoy taking the dog outside.
      • For an employer (Josh) to reach out and "be real" in offering a helping hand to someone in Mike’s situation was amazing. Josh allowed Mike to make the call about how much he could handle and when he could handle it.
      • At first Mike was hesitant to start work because of his state of mind, but Josh kept asking.
      • Mike wishes the same experience or better for anyone else out there.
  • Listen to Mike’s explanation of both sides of "I don’t deserve this."
    • Have the humility to accept goodness in your life in whatever form that takes.
    • If overwhelmed by emotion and experience, it’s ok.
    • Being given the lifeline and being told to just keep going helped.
    • Mike started writing throughout this process, and it has been therapeutic. There is not a lot of material out there for fathers going through a similar experience.
  • Was the return to work a refreshing sense of normalcy?
    • Mike even enjoyed going on Sales calls after going back to work. He’s still having fun with it. The mantra is "do good work."
    • Mike has been enabled to be an advisor and advocate for what the customer actually needs.
    • Solving difficult problems can be an organizational change (a process, etc.) and does not always align to a product.
    • Distractions are welcome. Mike reconnected with his identity as a worker and provider with a very gentle onramp at his own pace.
      • Mike was able to dictate his own pace.
    • Adding the working routine in too early can be detrimental to your healing process. It certainly didn’t work for Mike.
      • Many folks say in a situation like Mike’s there has to be a break from who you were entirely in certain areas.
      • Find where your experience fits again. You find something to live for and pursue it.
      • Mike is grateful for what the loss opened his eyes up to, realizing the importance giving back.
  • We’re happy to hear Mike is in a better place.
  • Nick was initially hesitant to approach Mike about this episode but so glad he did.
    • Mike agreed the topic needed to be discussed.
    • It is always valuable to share experiences.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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