The Whole Veterinarian

Sitting With Grief featuring Dr. Rachel Liepman

October 15, 2020 Rachel Liepman, DVM, DACVIM Season 1 Episode 14
The Whole Veterinarian
Sitting With Grief featuring Dr. Rachel Liepman
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The Whole Veterinarian
Sitting With Grief featuring Dr. Rachel Liepman
Oct 15, 2020 Season 1 Episode 14
Rachel Liepman, DVM, DACVIM

Grief is not the easiest topic to discuss. I'm generalizing here, but I think most of us would like to avoid it completely. Unfortunately, we will all face loss and grief at some point in our personal lives and many of us have already met it head on. Veterinarians deal with grieving owners all of the time; we may not be professionally trained but we get pretty good at helping clients through this. But, have we made any effort to help ourselves deal with these emotions? Today I speak with Rachel Liepman, DVM, MS, DACVIM about her personal experiences with loss and what she is learning along the way. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your story and for helping to normalize the discomfort!
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About Dr. Liepman!
Dr. Rachel Liepman is an equine internist in Cave Creek, Arizona at Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center. She grew up in Michigan and went to undergraduate and veterinary school in Michigan as well. Thereafter, she completed an equine internship at BW Furlong and Associates in Oldwick, New Jersey. She completed a large animal internal medicine residency at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio where she also completed a masters in comparative veterinary medicine. During this time, she performed research on the equine microbiome and equine neonatal medicine. She moved to Cave Creek in 2015 to start her job as a solo equine internist at Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center and has practiced there for the last 5 years. She and her husband Daniel are exploring the great outdoors whenever they can with their two kids, Quillen and Stori, and their long-time canine companion, Penelope (Nelly Belly). Recently, Helle, an equine companion has joined the crew.
...
Resources that we have personally found useful :
-Brene Brown on Empathy Animated Video
-We Don't Move On from Grief. We Move Forward with It. TED Talk by Nora McInerny
-The 5 Stages of Grief and Loss from PsychCentral.com
-Podcasts: Terrible, Thanks for Asking; The Death Diaries Podcast; Ten Percent Happier
-Instagram Accounts: @nedratawwab, @alapocascollaborativecare, @journeytowellness, @nytherapist, @veterinarywoman
-Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief by Joanne Cacciatore
-The Sad Dragon: A Dragon Book About Grief and Loss by Steve Herman
Online Therapy: BetterHelp or TalkSpace
Support: Not One More Vet, Suicide Stop International Health Center
...
www.thewholeveterinarian.com
IG:
@thewholeveterinarian
email:
[email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

Grief is not the easiest topic to discuss. I'm generalizing here, but I think most of us would like to avoid it completely. Unfortunately, we will all face loss and grief at some point in our personal lives and many of us have already met it head on. Veterinarians deal with grieving owners all of the time; we may not be professionally trained but we get pretty good at helping clients through this. But, have we made any effort to help ourselves deal with these emotions? Today I speak with Rachel Liepman, DVM, MS, DACVIM about her personal experiences with loss and what she is learning along the way. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your story and for helping to normalize the discomfort!
...
About Dr. Liepman!
Dr. Rachel Liepman is an equine internist in Cave Creek, Arizona at Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center. She grew up in Michigan and went to undergraduate and veterinary school in Michigan as well. Thereafter, she completed an equine internship at BW Furlong and Associates in Oldwick, New Jersey. She completed a large animal internal medicine residency at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio where she also completed a masters in comparative veterinary medicine. During this time, she performed research on the equine microbiome and equine neonatal medicine. She moved to Cave Creek in 2015 to start her job as a solo equine internist at Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center and has practiced there for the last 5 years. She and her husband Daniel are exploring the great outdoors whenever they can with their two kids, Quillen and Stori, and their long-time canine companion, Penelope (Nelly Belly). Recently, Helle, an equine companion has joined the crew.
...
Resources that we have personally found useful :
-Brene Brown on Empathy Animated Video
-We Don't Move On from Grief. We Move Forward with It. TED Talk by Nora McInerny
-The 5 Stages of Grief and Loss from PsychCentral.com
-Podcasts: Terrible, Thanks for Asking; The Death Diaries Podcast; Ten Percent Happier
-Instagram Accounts: @nedratawwab, @alapocascollaborativecare, @journeytowellness, @nytherapist, @veterinarywoman
-Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief by Joanne Cacciatore
-The Sad Dragon: A Dragon Book About Grief and Loss by Steve Herman
Online Therapy: BetterHelp or TalkSpace
Support: Not One More Vet, Suicide Stop International Health Center
...
www.thewholeveterinarian.com
IG:
@thewholeveterinarian
email:
[email protected]

Stacey Cordivano:

Hey guys, welcome to the whole veterinarian. My name is Dr. Stacey Cordivano. And you know we've got some stuff going on in this profession of ours. On this podcast I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier, and more grateful for the life that we've created. Now, let's get started. I'm so happy to be joined today by Dr. Rachel Liepman. Dr. Liepman is an equine internist in Cave Creek, Arizona at Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center. She grew up in Michigan and went to undergrad and veterinary school in Michigan as well. Afterward she completed an equine internship at BW Furlong and Associates in New Jersey. She completed a large animal medicine residency at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where she also completed a master's in comparative veterinary medicine. She moved to Cave Creek in 2015 to start her job as a solo equine internist at Chaparral and has practiced there for the last five years. She and her husband Daniel are exploring the great outdoors whenever they can, with their two children, Quillin and Stori and their longtime canine companion Penelope. Dr. Liepman also continues her equestrian adventures with a new horse named Helle. I had a great time chatting with Dr. Liepman and I hope you enjoy the episode. Rachel, I'm so thankful that you are willing to sit down and talk to me about grief today. It's it's a topic that we probably don't talk about enough. It's uncomfortable. And people don't like to do uncomfortable things. So I appreciate you being willing to spend some time with me today. I was hoping that you could just give a little bit of background about yourself.

Rachel Liepman:

Yeah, well, thanks for having me. I'm a big fan of your podcast. So it's a pleasure to be here. I agree that we don't talk about this subject enough. I happen to be kind of a young person, I'm in my mid 30s. And I have a story of my own life experiencing grief in my personal life that I feel like could be useful to listeners to hear if maybe they can relate to because we know 100% of us are going to experience death of our loved ones. And we have to figure out a way to deal with it and to live with it. So my parents were both doctors growing up, and I was the youngest of three kids, the only one that actually pursued medicine as a career. I did really all the things that I was supposed to do. I graduated the top of my class in high school, I landed a spot at University of Michigan, got a great college education. I took a year off, showed my horse a little bit had a good time, I did some other things that I wanted to do before going to vet school and I went to vet school, got into a good vet school did well and ended up pursuing an equine internship out east. And during that time, I got engaged. I got an internal medicine residency and got married just after I started my residency. So a lot of things happening. And you're following the path, the trajectory that I had laid out for myself. And we were really just starting to make plans about what we wanted to do with our lives together when I was the second year resident, and the earth basically was pulled out beneath my feet. And I remember sitting in my living room, I was on call. And I received a phone call from my mom the middle of the day, which is very strange. And it was that phone call that you never want to get. She said that my dad had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. And really, you know that that news hit me so hard because my dad was my best friend. And this just wasn't allowed in my life. This really was the beginning of this Cyclone of grief that I didn't know, was about to basically take me out at my knees. And so I had made all these plans. And they were basically derailed by this huge, unknown scary reality that was in front of me. And so at the time, I was newly married, I was a second year resident at a pretty busy University, and I had to make some decisions and I had to make them quickly. I'll just rewind a second and mentioned that I mentioned my parents were physicians, my mom is actually an oncologist. So finding out that my dad had stage four pancreatic cancer and my mom was sleeping in the same bed as him for all this time really was a difficult thing for me to swallow because it was kind of a cruel reality. But also I had some really angsty feelings of anger as well with your mom. Yeah. Because my mom, like, why didn't she know? You know, she's a cancer doctor. He's her husband, how could this happen to me? How could this happen in our lives? So my husband and I, you know, we talked and we decided we needed to start pressing play on these things we were putting on pause, like having kids or new making plans for life ahead. We really just had no idea how much time we had. And I decided to take a month off from my residency, I realized what I needed to do and be with my dad, because I thought I had really no time with them. Fast forward. I got three years with him. And in that time, I got pregnant. I lost my first pregnancy, which honestly, is always hard. The ticking time clock of my dad's mortality made it really, really difficult and another way. And I was lucky enough to get pregnant a second time and had my first baby. And he was able to meet him and spend a little time with him.

Stacey Cordivano:

That was the pressure you felt, you wanted your dad to have met your child?

Rachel Liepman:

I did. Yeah. Because I was the baby and the only girl and I just, I was Daddy's little girl. I just really wanted him to meet my baby. So I was so lucky that we were able to get pregnant again and have a healthy pregnancy and that he was able to meet my son. And actually, right in the first trimester hit with my son, my dog acutely became ill. So we lost our first dog at this time that we sort of found out that hopefully our pregnancy was viable. We lost him. And it seemed like he kind of waited for us to have our stuff together. Which was bittersweet, but

Stacey Cordivano:

kind of amazing, actually.

Rachel Liepman:

Yeah. So I finished my residency. And like I said, my dad ended up living three years until I had to make decisions about jobs and where to live. And my next step, and I landed a job out here in Arizona, which is pretty far from Michigan, where I'm from, and it was a tough decision and move out here. Knowing that I probably had a very small amount of time left with my dad. And a pretty short time after I started my job, it was about a year and a half, he passed away, I was able to be with him. So then stellar did the new thing, which was my mom. And my mom really changed being a widow of a man she was married to for 50 years, she really did have widower syndrome, which is a thing in human medicine, where she kept telling me how she was worried she was going to be a statistic, because people when they've been married for a long time, there is a high likelihood that they will die within three months to a few years. And she actually did get kind of a mysterious illness that we battled with her over about a year trying to figure out. And it turned out about a year and a half after my dad passed away, she had a stroke that rendered her paralyzed on one side wheelchair bound, unable to speak and function independently. So, you know, this whole thing that happened, happened about three weeks after the birth of my second child, and she didn't actually get to meet her before she had the stroke. Because I was in Arizona. So all of these things happened and in a pretty short sequence of time. And I guess the reason that I want to share this is that I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm really just sharing this to impress upon the listeners, the gravity of grief that can be happening in your own life, outside of our professional career, which is hard enough. We deal with grief all the time, on a weekly daily basis, what have you. And then so grappling with grief in your personal life that's that heavy can really be paralyzing at times.

Stacey Cordivano:

How did your employers both during your residency and then in your first job as an internist? How did? How did they handle your need to be away? or How did they deal with your grief?

Rachel Liepman:

So in my residency, I was halfway through maybe a little bit more, and they knew me pretty well at that point. So I told them, I needed to be away and I wasn't sure for how long and if that meant that they needed to replace me or fire me then that's what they had to do. And they were extremely supportive. And they just said, take as much time as you need. And we'll play it by ear. And I ended up only taking a month in the end because it looked like my dad wanted to keep working and keep living in life as before. So there wasn't any stopping him. So I went back to my post and him back to his. In my first job, I did let them know that one of my major hesitations to moving to Arizona was that I would be away from my dad, and that if at any time I needed to be with him, that I would need to leave without hesitation. And so they were prepared when I told them that I needed to go here. And they were very supportive and in my leaving, and didn't pressure me to come back in any given time period.

Stacey Cordivano:

That's great. I feel like that's maybe not the norm. I don't know. I mean, I don't know the answer to that. But

Rachel Liepman:

yeah, I wasn't expecting much I have to say, but I also knew what I needed for me at that time, there was a particular time. And so I communicated that to the best of my ability.

Stacey Cordivano:

What other types of things do you think helped you through I mean, that's a that is a short period, and a lot of stuff. What else helped you through that? Or is helping you still,

Rachel Liepman:

At first, I really don't think anything helped. At first, I felt like, this is terrible. And I cannot send this in any way that makes me feel okay about my life and the world. And what's happening, I just, I just couldn't find any path to feeling like I could function really, I remember talking to my brother who has a PhD and a very successful person is low in his career. And he said the same like he felt paralyzed by it. And felt that way. You know, we both felt that way for over a year. And a couple things like funny things, certainly therapy is always helpful. And I advocate for therapy, for anybody that even considers it.

Stacey Cordivano:

Agreed!

Rachel Liepman:

Some little things that I found some comfort in one of them was a podcast called Terrible, Thanks For Asking, or ttfn, which is by Nora McInerney, who has experienced an incredible amount of grief and trauma in her life, and made it her mission to sort of expose grief as like a topic we should spend time with, and that we should linger on and that we should explore and keep going and with her own story, which reminded me a bit of my own, although hers resolved her leaving her husband. And it was just so nice to have somebody to relate to even if it was just listening, that I felt had been through this, because this is one of these things that we're all going to face in your life. And unless you've been through it, you don't know how to understand it. And I think for my friends that wanted to be there for me, they tried really hard, the ones that had lost a close loved one, especially the ones that had lost the parents were much more able to actually be there with me and my grief than those that hadn't. And I didn't wish the grief upon my friends that hadn't. I just didn't know how to relate to them at that given time. And it was nobody's fault. But it's just one of those experiences.

Stacey Cordivano:

What did that look like for you? The friends that had lost a parent. You said they sat in grief with you? What did that look like?

Rachel Liepman:

Yeah, it's funny. I have multiple friends that are around the same age as me that lost the mom or dad in a recent time period as me and was talking on the phone. I don't think I really was able to spend face to face time with people because we were separated by distance. But just talking on the phone and being able to cry and being able to yell and being able to just be angry and sad and confused and conflicted about everything was what I needed with somebody that had felt those same emotions.

Stacey Cordivano:

Do you think there's anything you can tell people that have friends experiencing grief or loss that they don't exactly have personal experience with? Do you have any advice for them?

Rachel Liepman:

Yeah, I think one of the things that I've learned from these experiences and also being there for my friends as they go through these things in their lives ahead of me is that we need to be okay in that discomfort. And we need to be able to be there as just whatever it is that that person might need without necessarily a response. You know, sometimes you don't need to respond because it is horrible and There is nothing that you will say or do or be able to offer that will be very comforting or maybe even helpful. But just being there, and sitting with them during the time that they just need to actively grieve can be so therapeutic and helpful.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, that was my experience as well and comforting one of my best friends with a loss. There was nothing I was going to say. But I just kept trying to show up and sit there. And that actually reminds me, you sent me a very neat little 30 second video, which I'll definitely link, it's Brene Brown talking and she's talking about, you know, the difference between empathy and sympathy and sympathy is just saying words to people that don't mean anything, and that there's probably nothing that you're going to say anyway. But she says, what makes something better is connection that's developing empathy to be with someone. So like you said, veterinarians, I mean, we deal with grief, a lot. We also, I've said this before on the podcast, learn to shove it down and move on to the next thing. Yeah. How do you think that personal loss or grief affects a veterinarian differently than someone who doesn't learn to do that?

Rachel Liepman:

I think one of the struggles that we're having as a profession right now is that we are faced with this grief. So we're dealing with grief of loss of a patient, we're dealing with grief of the client that is grieving over a loss of their animal. And sometimes that grief is even mis directed as anger at us or blame, or shame, or whatever it might be. And we are forced to push it down and move on to the next thing without processing. And I think in our lives here during the pandemic right now, as well, we're forced to just file it in the box file to another thing and move along and do our day to day and forget that it's happening, because how else are we supposed to function. And I think that we need to make time for ourselves and for each other to sit with the grief, even if it may seem small, because everybody's grief, and Nora McInerney and Brene Brown, say this, which I love them both, every loss is your loss. And it is the most important loss to you. And so it doesn't matter the size of the loss. And so I think being able to recognize that in make some space to sit with it, and realize that it's okay to feel those feelings, and you need to feel those feelings because they're there, whether you like it or not. And pushing them down, I feel is part of the reason that we're dealing with such a high suicide epidemic, because people cannot handle these complex emotions a lot of the time, and many of them are intertwined with grief.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, I think processing feelings and emotions is a skill. It's not a skill we're taught, it's been amplified in this podcast journey. Half of my guests, we don't know how to do it, and that we need to make space for it. And I think that's coming out as a big theme. Like if you don't deal with these emotions, they're just going to keep coming and coming and coming in different ways until you do deal with them. And I think that needs to be a big goal of ours as people as veterinarians to help each other, like you said, allow space for each other.

Rachel Liepman:

Yeah, and I think one of the things that's been really hard, and I've heard other people say as well is that these events that happen will color your day to day right? To you, your life happens, and you feel like the world has ended. That world has ended, the world is now different for you. But the world keeps going. And that is a very tough pill to swallow. Because you can't help but start to think about your own mortality, right? You think about this person was my entire world and they're gone and the world keeps going, and nobody else other than me in my small little circle knows they're gone. And this happens to people with their animals, right? They lose that animal. And for some people, that is such a loss of the world for them stuff. And so to state that that is what happens to you, but then that we don't process that, that. That's just crazy talk. I mean, the day that my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my world as I knew it ended, and when he died, it ended again. And truthfully, my world is a different world than it was then and it will never be the same. And so understanding that alone, I think can help us prioritize sitting with those feelings and trying to do something with them, whether it's just feeling them or process them, or go to therapy with them or listen to ttfn with them, or whatever it is, just to be there with them and to give them some room is really important.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, totally agree. Is there anything you would say to your dad, if you could say something to him today?

Rachel Liepman:

Um, I wish you could have been with my kids more.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, that would be nice. I don't know how to transition from that. Sorry. Um, you know, along with the lows of grief, I think it's really important to focus on the things that we're grateful for, and the aspects of joy that we have in our life. And I asked all of my guests, what is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week?

Rachel Liepman:

Oh, well, um, this morning, when my kids are getting ready for school, my daughter pulled out her mermaid headband, which is literally from the costume kit. It's like this pink iridescent headband with little seashells on it. And she sported it to school and wore it in with our green aviator sunglasses. She's too. So that's awesome. is pretty entertaining.

Stacey Cordivano:

Excellent image to send her off!

Rachel Liepman:

Joyful moment for sure.

Stacey Cordivano:

Good. All right. Well, I really appreciate your time, your honesty, your baring of your story. And I'm ure that it will resonate with ome listeners. Thank you.

Rachel Liepman:

Thanks.

Stacey Cordivano:

I just want to thank Dr. Liepman again, for her honesty and bravery and sharing her story. It's not easy to talk about grief. And she did it in a really inspiring way, I think. We as veterinarians are faced with a ton of difficult things on a daily basis. And I really think that it's important to start talking more about how we can learn to process them. If you want to check out any resources that we mentioned, I will definitely list them in the show notes. It's certainly not an exhaustive list, but it's somewhere to start. As always, I appreciate you listening to this podcast, and if you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to send me a message. I'll talk to you again in two weeks. That will be our last episode of the season before a little bit of a break around the holidays. It's a really great one so I am excited for you to hear it. Thank you!