Posted on Leave a comment

What I need isn’t another day off – Celebrating Labor Day in the midst of COVID-19

Written by Kelly Klund, LPN
Resource Nurse, Empira

In normal times many American’s look forward to the first Monday in September as a paid day off of work. We celebrate by spending a long lazy weekend at the lake, having a picnic or BBQ with friends and family or enjoying a community parade.

Just a Little History

Labor Day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City and was created to celebrate the achievements of American workers. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

Another Day Off

In the age of Covid-19, with nearly 25 million Americans unemployed, 2020’s Labor Day looks and feels much different than past years. With astronomical numbers of Americans currently out of work, this crisis has likely touched all of us in one way or another. We may be unemployed ourselves, have a loved one who has suffered a job loss, or we may see the effects of unemployment in our communities. In light of the wide reach and reality of the number of people out of work, we must face the mental health impact that unemployment can cause. According to the Journal of Labor Economics, this reality includes people self-reporting feelings of worthlessness, uselessness, feelings of despair, inability to find enjoyment, and an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

I believe, that if we take a deeper look, we will find that unemployment is just one facet of the struggle that people are having and that by identifying a sense of purpose in our daily lives we can ease some of this despair. Having a sense of purpose means having an anchor that influences our behavior, helps shape our goals, offers us a sense of direction, and gives meaning to our lives. Studies show that identifying a sense of purpose in life may help people deal with early onset stressors and maintain overall quality of life. People who attach their sense of purpose and contribution to their employment, may be struggling with questions such as “Why should I wake up?” or “What difference am I making?”

Finding Your Purpose

If this resonates with you, your next question is likely, “How can I find my purpose?” I recently came across a Ted Talk that can help to answer this question with five simple self-reflections.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What do those people want or need?
  • How do those people change or transform as a result of what you give them?

Let’s break it down a little further with an example:

Who are you? Say your first name. It’s as easy as that.

I’m Kelly.

What do you do? What do you love to do? If there are too many options. Change it to, what is one thing that you feel supremely qualified to teach other people?

I teach people how to have fun parties.

Who do you do it for?

I do it for my friends and family.

What do those people want or need?

They want to laugh and have fun.

How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?

They make memories.

I’m Kelly and I’m a memory maker.

My purpose can be part of my work day, but it doesn’t have to be defined by it. This Labor Day I challenge both the employed, who are appreciating in a much needed day off, and the unemployed, who may be struggling with one day blurring into the next, to identify their sense of purpose by asking themselves these questions. Who are you? What do you do?

After you answer those questions go do more of that thing that can fill your soul and give you a reason to wake up! As for me, I’m headed off to plan a virtual birthday party for my mom!


Farré, L., Fasani, F., & Mueller, H. (2018). Feeling useless: The effect of unemployment on mental health in the Great Recession. IZA Journal of Labor Economics, 7(1). doi:10.1186/s40172-018-0068-5

Historic unemployment weekly claims | Unemployment data. (2020, April 17). Retrieved July 17, 2020, from

History of Labor Day. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Leipzig, A. (2016, August 7). How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes | Adam Leipzig | TEDxMalibu [Video]. Retrieved from

Yeung, P., & Breheny, M. (2019). Quality of life among older people with a disability: The role of purpose in life and capabilities. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-11. doi:10.1080/09638288.2019.1620875

Posted on Leave a comment

4th of July Traditions

Written by Birttni Peterson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

There is no doubt, that for many people, Independence Day is one of the most looked forward to days of the summer. What’s not to love? Time spent with family and friends, fireworks, tasty food, bonfires, and if we are lucky, as Minnesotans, nice weather. I’m pretty sure that most people understand the symbolism of the fireworks, like it says in the Star-Spangled Banner: And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. But for many people the 4th of July is like many other holidays; a perfect reason to get together and celebrate with family. Many of those families have traditions and unfortunately with this COVID virus right now most will not be able to celebrate as they would like.

Vintage American Flag With Sparklers And Smoke On Rustic Wooden Background - Independence Day Celebration ConceptWhat is the reason we celebrate with fireworks, parades, and red white and blue on the 4th day of July? Well, here’s a brief history on it.

The Revolutionary War began in 1775 and ended in 1783. The cause of this war was due to growing tension between Great Britain’s 13 colonies and the Colonial Government. On July 2nd of 1776, there was a vote to gain their Independence, it wasn’t until two days later that representatives from the 13 colonies and Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.

“Fun fact, John Adams thought that July 2nd would be the date that Americans would celebrate their independence.”

Now, I’m not much of a history buff… but do you know who is? Our good friend Andy Griffith.

A family tradition of mine is adventuring to my Grandparent’s house in Deerwood Minnesota. We would attend the Crosby-Ironton parade during the day. Our parade spot was right across from a Dairy Queen, so of course we always bought a treat before the parade started… even if it was only 10 o’clock in the morning. The parades have been getting shorter and shorter each year, but average to be a little over an hour. Which for a kid looking to fill her bag with candy, it wasn’t long enough. We would then make the drive home to grill hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch and if my parents were lucky, us kids would let them take a nap before our evening festivities. We would finish our 4th of July day off by being mesmerized by fireworks in the evening. What are your family traditions for Independence Day?

Like I said earlier, the 4th of July, 2020, for most Americans, is going to be celebrated differently this year. Those most affected are the residents of long term care facilities. A lack of togetherness with their families will only be amplified during this holiday. Although recently the MN Department of Health has put out guidance for long term care facilities to have outdoor visitations, it just won’t be the same.

But there are a few other ways that you can celebrate with your loved ones this 4th of July.

Bring the tradition to them. Since visitors are not allowed in nursing communities and we don’t know how the outdoor visitations will work, bringing the tradition to them may be a bit more difficult this year. A way you can still celebrate with your loved one is by decorating the outside of their window with an American Flag, window decals, and/or flowers.

Cute American Kids watching Fourth of July ParadeCall and Reminisce. If you aren’t able to carry out your normal family traditions, call and reminisce about what you have done in the years past. Take it one step further by writing down your 4th of July memories and make it into a keepsake for you and your loved one(s).

Just remember that the biggest thing for people facing tough times, especially around holidays, is that they know you are here for them and that they are cared for.

Firework and bokeh lights at night in the colors of the flag from the united states of america (blue, white and red)Resources

Click to access ltcoutdoor.pdf

Posted on Leave a comment

Memorial Day – Remember to Remember

Written By Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

Think about what Memorial Day means to you.

Does it bring up childhood memories of a long weekend with family and friends?

Memorial Day is known to many of us as the unofficial start to summer. You may also know it as:

  • Ear-marking the final days of the school year
  • The start of the camping season and warmer weather
  • The first bonfires of the year
  • Celebrations at the lake
  • Mattress sales
  • Picnics galore
  • Large BBQs
  • Well attended parades
  • A paid day off of work
  • Brilliant fireworks
  • Family traditions, reunions and celebrations

Do any of your memories and plans include decorating gravesites and paying respect?

Do you know the history of Memorial Day and the significance in our American history?

Memorial Day is so much more than an extended weekend.

Here is a little bit of history.

By the late 1860’s and with death tolls rising from the American Civil War, Americans began holding springtime tributes to the fallen military heroes by decorating the soldiers’ graves with flowers and memorabilia and reciting poems and prayers. The first such memorial is believed to have originated in Charleston, South Carolina, and was coordinated by freed slaves.

Decoration Day, now known to us as Memorial Day, was first proclaimed by General John Logan on May 5th, 1868. A solemn day of reflection and respect. He recognized the need to honor the more than 620,000 soldiers who died during the American Civil War. He chose May 30th as the declared day because it was not an anniversary date to any particular battle. Some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.

Arlington National Cemetery

The Proclamation reads:

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

General Order No. 11

For more than 50 years, the holiday was used to commemorate those killed just in the Civil War, not in any other American conflict. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars.

Memorial Day was not even officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of May. Making it a three-day weekend for federal employees and in this same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday which went into effect in 1971. Many argue that in making Memorial Day a three-day weekend, it commercialized the day and made it less significant and easier for Americans to treat the weekend as more of a celebration and in return losing its significance.

Now, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this type of celebration. To be honest almost everyone likes a good time. Remember our freedom does bring us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But for those who were forged into adults on the anvil of war or those who lost dear friends and faithful comrades or those who have a personal connection we can’t help but to having a slightly more respectful attitude about the sacrifices that produce our safety and liberty. Being able to live in freedom is an incredible stroke of good fortune, but the freedom itself exists only because hundreds of thousands of our service members perished for it.

So while none of us should ever dodge a chance to take a break, spend some time with family and overeat a bit, we should also remember why we have the freedom to do it, even if it’s just on this single day at the end of May.

So what can we all do for those we serve in our communities?

Start by reflecting on the history of Decoration Day/Memorial Day and how that history affects those who serve, and have served our country. Here are some other ideas:

  • Share the history with the younger generation.
  • Take time on this day to honor the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country.
  • Reflect on how the memories of the fallen impact those in our communities.
  • Find meaningful ways to bring that history, honor, and respect into your communities.
  • Reach out to your local Veteran’s groups.
  • Personally, take part in Memorial Day.
  • Pause and pay your respects.

Show the world that this day has not lost its reverent meaning.

A simple gesture is to wear a red poppy, a tradition that began with a World War I poem written in 1915 in which the author gave voice to the soldiers who had been killed in battle and lay buried beneath the poppy-covered fields.

Red Poppies in Flanders Fields

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In memory, with reflection, of my Great Uncle Pfc. Henry Mattson

Posted on Leave a comment

I’ll Do It Anyway

Written By Adrienne Duncan, RN, BSN
Resource Nurse, Empira

The year of the nurse is here!


Although this year has been rough so far, it has cast the light on the profession of my choice and on the millions of other nurses around the world. Caring for those with illnesses can be scary, but we do it anyway.

Although even more attention is on the profession during this pandemic, the truth is nurses have been highly regarded by the public for a long time. Actually, according to a yearly poll done by Gallup, nurses were rated by Americans as the #1 most trusted profession. This has been the case for an impressive 18 year streak! 85% of Americans rated nurses’ honesty and ethical standards as high or very high. This honor is crazy impressive considering the poll included other medical professionals like physicians, dentists, and pharmacists. 85% is also impressive given next most honest profession was engineering coming in at 66%.

Nurses are seen as compassionate, dedicated, educated, advocates who will do right by their patients and uphold high standards. People come in contact with nurses during some of the most vulnerable times of their lives. During this vulnerability, trust is surrendered to those caring people who are caring for you and that can be scary. But as nurses we meet these challenges almost daily and still rise to the calling and do it anyway.

If you take a look back at history to one of the first nursing pioneers in the field, you will find an amazing woman named Florence Nightingale. You may have heard of her before but you probably don’t know how much she actually influenced healthcare and social reform.

Portrait of Florence Nightingale

She was a world traveler who grew up in an affluent, proper family with two homes. She defied her family’s plan for her to become a socialite in the upper class to pursue a nursing career. She was deeply religious and was answering a call from God to be of service. In that era, nurses made little money and were not as respected as they are today. Florence did it anyway.

Her influence is world-renowned, from her work with soldiers during the Crimean war, to opening one of the first nursing schools in England. (I know what you are thinking: Crimean war??? I didn’t know what it was either, it was a military conflict fought from 1853 to 1856. Russia was there, so was the Ottoman Empire, France, United Kingdom and Sardinia. Feel free to look it up if you want to know more.) Ok, back on topic.

Florence realized the impact of the environment on the overall well-being and outcomes for her patients. She promoted nutritious food, clean linens and clothing, fresh air and ventilation, and sanitization. She and her team of nurses were able to significantly reduce the mortality rate of soldiers in military hospitals, from as high as 40% to nearly 2%. Thank goodness for people like Florence, who do it anyway.

And the world needs more. More individuals to answer the call of service to the nursing field. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the U.S. is projected to have a shortage of nurses that will only increase as Baby Boomers age and nursing schools are also having a hard time increasing their capacity to meet the demand.
According to Purdue Global, here are the top 10 Reasons to become a nurse:

  1. Nursing is an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives
  2. There are ample job opportunities
  3. Nursing is a trusted and respected profession
  4. There’s significant opportunity for inter-professional collaboration among a variety of health care disciplines
  5. Nursing offers a high degree of job satisfaction
  6. Employment choices are wide and varied
  7. Work full time, part time, varying shifts
  8. Nurses receive excellent benefits
  9. Nurses can travel the world
  10. Nurture a love of learning

Nursing is beautiful and it can be very hard, but it’s worth it. I would never take back the times I decided to do it anyway. When I was told I was too young to be taken seriously, I did it anyway. When my residents with Alzheimer’s didn’t know who I was, I smiled and loved them anyway. When I was really busy at work and I thought I didn’t have the time to sit at the piano at 10pm on Christmas Eve and sing with Edith, I did it anyway.

When I decided education was my best way to use my strengths and support other nurses, I was filled with both nerves and excitement and I did it anyway. Here’s to a profession that gives, and takes, but mostly gives.

“To do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through…that is what it is to be a nurse.”

Rawsi Williams

No matter what, we’ll always take care of you!


Posted on Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Hate COVID 19

Written By Kelly Klund, LPN
Resource Nurse, Empira

Now that I have your attention let me explain.

I do hate that people are dying. I do hate that people are sick. I do hate that people are separated from their families. I do hate that people are losing their jobs. I do hate that our economy is crashing. I do hate that we don’t have a perfect health care infrastructure. I do hate that small businesses are suffering and some may not survive, and I do hate that our children’s education has been disrupted.

Where there is tragedy there is also triumph, and somewhere on the other end of this unprecedented time we will see that there may be things that are better because of what we have been through.

I think about the poem “I miss September 12th” by Elizabeth Gray.

I miss September 12, 2001. I would never want another 9/11, but I miss the America of 9/12. Stores ran out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. People were Americans before they were upper or lower class, Jewish or Christian, Republican or Democrat. We hugged people without caring if they ate at Chick-fil-A or wore Nikes. On 9/12 what mattered more was what was uniting us than what divided us.

Elizabeth S. Gray

In a study completed in 2015 Pollak and Wilson found Advance Care Planning (ACP) conversations to be uncommon. The category of frail elderly patients was identified as a population with limited or no meaningful engagement in ACP. COVID 19 is forcing all of us to have hard, but necessary conversations about our health care wishes. This is a positive that has come from COVID19.

In 2017 Walmsley and McCormack published a study that showed the difficulty that family members encounter when trying to stay engaged. We all know of someone who visits their loved one in a nursing home every Sunday because it is the right thing to do, but they often don’t know what to talk about. With the strict visitor restrictions aging services has appropriately imposed many of those families have had to embrace technology as a way to stay connected. My hope is that when this is over those families continue with their meaningful good night or good morning video chats, as opposed to their weekly obligatory visits. That would be a positive that came from COVID 19.

I have a friend who hosts daily what’s for supper video chats with her girlfriends who struggle in the kitchen. Whether eating curbside pick-up or home cooked meals, people are congregating around the dinner table. This is a positive from COVID19.

I live in a small town in Wisconsin and our main street cafe posted on their Facebook page that they have had some of their busiest days ever. People are pulling together to support local businesses differently than before. This is a positive from COVID 19.
I don’t hate that COVID 19 cancelled my large family Easter celebration. Instead of the hustle and bustle of a house full of people, my husband, college aged daughter, adult son and I had a lovely family dinner at home. The belly laughs were abundant and the memories are priceless. This is a positive from COVID 19.

In the article “Forget Happiness, find Meaning” the author, Kaufmann, says that we should focus on empathy, compassion and gratitude when faced with challenges. There is meaning in COVID 19 for all of us, the challenge is for us to embrace that meaning and grow from it.
I am finding meaning in community, family and appreciation and that is why I don’t hate COVID 19, it is about perspective. I wouldn’t want this new way of life to last forever, but I can find the gifts.

In this time when everyone’s world has been upended where can you find opportunities for empathy, compassion and gratitude? I challenge you to find the September 12th moments in your life.

Kristian Pollock, Eleanor Wilson. Care and communication between health professionals and patients affected by severe or chronic illness in community care settings: a qualitative study of care at the end of life. Health Services and Delivery Research. 2015;(31). doi:10.3310/hsdr03310.
Kaufman SB. Forget Happiness, Find Meaning. Scientific American Mind. 2019;30(6):21. Accessed April 13, 2020.
Walmsley B, McCormack L. Severe dementia: relational social engagement (RSE) during family visits. Aging & Mental Health. 2017;21(12):1262-1271. doi:10.1080/13607863.2016.1220923.

Posted on Leave a comment

Social Distancing & Emotional Health

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

How are you doing? Stressed? Anxious? Worried? Fearful?

It’s natural to feel this way under the current circumstances. The pandemic of COVID-19 is being broadcast everywhere on everything. As humans we also need to recognize and accept that everyone reacts differently. These reactions are based on your current circumstances, your mental health and your own feelings. Just know you are not alone. Or are you?

In a previous post I wrote about the need for social connectedness. This undeniable need for social connection is scribed into our DNA, it’s an innate part of our human existence. We need one another, and yet we are living in a time where social distancing is our new norm. This all seems counterintuitive to our nature.

So how do we balance the need for social distancing while preserving and supporting emotional health and our need for human connectedness at the same time?

The reality of it is, for most of us this is uncharted territory and we are unsure.

Emotional connectedness is subjective and is created when two or more people come together and create a bond over similar emotions. It’s a tie with someone who you share a particular set of emotions even if those emotions and feelings are anger, sadness, sorrow, joy, love or a thousand or more emotions that humans experience. The sharing of our emotions with one another provides us with the opportunity to create relationships. It allows us to bond over and to process what is happening while creating an understanding that we are not alone.

As a society we are bombarded with information about precautionary hygiene practices and social distancing, and as a nurse, I can fully embrace the heightened awareness and education to support physical health. As a late life care nurse, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a niece, a community member, and a friend, I also think about the added need for individuals to understand just how important our emotional health is. It is crucial in maintaining our physical health. Our physical and emotional health are intertwined and you need to take care of both to be healthy.

How then do we move forward in the coming days and weeks following social distancing guidelines without compromising emotional connectedness?

Here are a few strategies to support emotional connectedness while keeping your distance.
• Make and maintain eye contact with those around you.
• Use a hand wave to say hello or goodbye.
• Nod your head as you walk by one another.
• Listen to what others are sharing, and pay attention to their emotion.
• Put yourself in their shoes, empathize with what they may be feeling.
• Have genuine conversations. Make a phone or video call to a friend or family member. (Your grandparents need you now more than ever!)
• Email or write a letter.
• Share a simple smile with someone. (Did you know that the more you smile, the more intelligent (and better looking) the other person will perceive you as? And, chances are they will smile back!)

Remember: Emotional connections are the one thing that connects us all!

Please be safe and stay healthy!

Posted on Leave a comment

Spiritual Pain

Written by Kelly Klund
Resource Nurse, Empira

I’ve had natural childbirth……. twice. I’ve had my appendix rupture and I suffer from migraine headaches.

For these types of pain there is a “plan”. You hold your child in your arms and forget the pain. You have surgery to remove an inflamed appendix. You take your medications and stay in a dark room to cope with a migraine.

We all recognize times when we have had physical pain, but what is spiritual pain? How do we recognize it and how do we respond to it?

The Marie Curie Organization defines spiritual pain as the distress or anxiety you feel related to a loss of meaning or purpose. This can include loss of identity, worth or esteem and includes dealing with regrets or unresolved issues. Spiritual pain challenges your core values and beliefs about how things are supposed to be.

There is no surgery for a challenge to your core beliefs. There is no take two and call me in the morning for a pain that comes from our soul and not our cells.

The Sacred Art of Living Center teaches that there are 7 elements to spirituality for all of us.

  1. Awareness of “the other”. What is valued or sacred to me?
  2. Sense of responsibility. How am I responsible to the world around me?
  3. Sense of vocation. What is my reason for being?
  4. Sense of community. Am I being cared for by and giving care to others?
  5. Sense of repentance. What is my capacity for forgiveness with myself and others?
  6. Ability to be present. Is my focus on the past, present or future?
  7. Faith. What is the relationship between my personal story and the greater story?

We have all had, or will have things that cause spiritual pain.

When I got divorced my world shattered as I acknowledged that my family was not going to be defined how I’d always dreamed it would be.

When my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia my faith was challenged and I was upset with God.

When my adult son struggled with the pressures of life I battled with my sense of responsibility on a daily basis.

The cure for pain is in the pain.

In preparation for this blog I came across an amazing quote by the 13th century poet Rumi. He said “The cure for pain is in the pain”. Thinking about this statement has been profound for me.

The cure for pain is in the pain – ancient Persian poet and philosopher Rumi quote printed on grunge vintage cardboard

When we have spiritual pain we can’t ignore it, there isn’t a rug big enough to hide it under and there are no Band-Aids that can help make it better. We have to go into the pain to truly address it.

In my divorce I had to acknowledge a sense of failure to set a course for a new life.
I had to accept that my daughter could die from her illness in order to appreciate every moment of her future.
I have to, at times; feel the pain of allowing my son to struggle in order to see him succeed.

If we ignore it…… it doesn’t go away. In contrast, it pours out of us and on to everything in our path. In the journal Spiritual Distress: Integrative Review of Literature it is stated that “…. concepts of spiritual distress presented common and related elements to the human being subjective and individual response to life experiences, which harms the human spiritual dimension.”

I challenge you to examine how The Sacred Art of Living’s 7 elements of spiritual pain play a part in your life and to lean into your spiritual pain to find your cure.


Posted on Leave a comment

Grandpa Paul’s Letter and Legacy; A Gift from Heaven

Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira

Last year, my oldest son, Nicholas Pete Johnson, graduated with a degree in Law Enforcement; a proud moment for me, my husband and our extended family and friends. Nick, from a very young age had shared his desire, to anyone that would listen, that he wanted to be a police officer. He accomplished this goal at the young age of 19. Unbeknownst to me, my mother not only came to observe and take in this moment with all of us, but she came carrying a gift in the form of a letter to hand deliver to Nicholas. It was a letter that her father (my Grandpa Paul/Nick’s great-grandfather) had penned in the days following Nick’s birth; a letter that was to be given to Nick later in life. Just a few short months after he’d written the letter, Grandpa Paul died suddenly of cardiac arrest.

In a quiet moment following the graduation ceremony and subsequent traditional hubbub, with tears in her eyes, a big hug (something my grandpa was famous for) and with extreme pride for having kept this letter preserved for close to 19 years, my mother presented the letter to my son. In his letter, addressed directly to Nicholas Pete, my grandfather shared information about his lineage, how extremely proud he is to have been able to meet and hold his great-grandson, and his specific hopes to see him graduate from college one day. Grandpa wrote about my strengths, and those of my mother, and how proud he was to be part of our lives. He wrote about his hopes for Nicholas as he grows and becomes a man and how he will one day take his place in this world and will do amazing things. True to Grandpa’s prediction of Nick’s responsible and respectful character, Nick, without reservation, silently and solemnly took in every word from Grandpa Paul. Needless to say, my heart was full and my eyes were more than misty as I witnessed this moment.

You see, in my eyes as a child, and then into adulthood, my grandfather was larger than life; not only in his tall and somewhat massive stature, but in his presence and how he lived life. His nickname to those that knew him well was the “Grizz.” He identified me as his “Little Blond Girl”, a nickname that I proudly wore. We had this connection, he and I. When he spoke at my wedding, he revealed that it was my words, as a child that convinced him to quit smoking after many years: “Grandpa, I want you to see me graduate, to be at my wedding, and to know my babies. Smoking is bad for you and I want you to stop.” It was with his encouragement and support, and being welcomed to temporarily live with him and Grandma, that I was able to have attended and graduated from college for nursing. He taught me to be brave, to work harder than those around me, to display integrity, and to always lead by example.

Grandpa Paul, Valedictorian of his class and the only son in his farm family, denied himself a full-ride scholarship for college to stay on the farm during the war. My grandfather was a husband, father to six, farmer, lumber yard manager, pilot, gardener, caregiver to his parents, avid reader, and also a very prolific and poignant writer. As a child, and as his houseguest during my college years, I can recall watching and hearing him plug away at a typewriter (never a computer) with his eye glasses on the tip of his nose and cup of coffee close by. Grandpa wrote personal and professional letters, letters to the editor, and a newsletter column that he called “The Old Filosopher” that served also as his personal journal. He was known for his ability to formulate and pen speeches that were informative and motivating. He often could be found speaking in front of large and small groups; a duty that he seriously enjoyed as the mayor of Clarks Grove, MN, the Minnesota State Elks President, and the unquestionable family spokesman. No matter the number of people in front of him, I, with others, learned to listen to the power of his messages.

While searching for advice from my grandfather, and, as I was trying to figure out my life’s plan as a young adult, I recall him telling me “Look, the best advice I can give you is this kiddo… when you are needing to make a very important decision in life and are questioning your path, go to the cemetery. Go there and look around you, it is there that you can truly see the opportunity that you have in front of you, seize that opportunity.” It was here that he admitted that he wished he would have said, “I loved you” more often.

Nick was too young to remember meeting Grandpa Paul. He has seen photos and heard stories. On his college graduation day, Nick personally experienced the power of Grandpa’s legacy, his wisdom, and the power of his words.

Grandpa closed his letter to Nicholas Pete with:

“I couldn’t be prouder that “Petey Johnson” will carry on and make his community proud of him in the future years- I just know it will happen and always know that no matter what, you will always carry your great grandfather’s love with you!”


Your Great Grandfather Paul E. Hanson (The Grizz)

Through his own words that surfaced at a pivotal point in Nick’s life, my Grandpa Paul was able to share his deep love of family and offer words of advice directly to my son, his great-grandson, through this letter. Since receiving the letter, we have shared this writing with family members and friends as a priceless gift to all that knew my grandfather and for those that may have wished they had. There are healing words contained in his writing, words of hope, and words of optimism, of a strong work ethic, and sharing of family traits and experiences. But most of all, words of pure love from a grandfather to his great- grandson. What better legacy can there be? Words are healing and stories are best told by those that have the wisdom and experience to draw from.


Grandpa’s Little Blond Girl

Posted on Leave a comment

The Risk is Worth the Reward

Written by Sarah Brown, BS, RN, LNHA
Executive Director, Empira

Have you ever wondered why some conversations are harder than others? Like when people get nervous for a marriage proposal…even when they know the person is going to say yes. Or, on the other hand, people get nervous to break up with someone. These conversations are difficult because they are important to us and we think:

  • What will the other person think or say?
  • What if they get emotional?
  • What if I offend them?
  • What if I get emotional?
  • What if they think less of me?
  • What if I get don’t get the answer I hoped for?

The similarity in these scenarios is vulnerability and uncertainty. Our brain is wired to protect us from these feelings so we might start to rehearse over and over in our head or we might talk to a trusted and close confidant to gain the courage for the conversation. If we are unable to face the vulnerability and uncertainty, we might decide to skip the conversation all together or put it off for another day…

The longer we hold back these important conversations with our loved ones we miss opportunities for connection. We also carry the weight of things unsaid. Overtime it can cost us our peace and if we wait too long, we regret never having the conversation. However, when we do find the courage to speak up the risk is often worth the reward.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, found that “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Even though conversations may be difficult if we avoid them, we avoid connection. Connection is required for relationships and relationships are among the most important things in life. It is probably no surprise research overwhelming demonstrates relationships have a positive impact on the aging experience. In fact, relationships have been found to be one of the strongest determinants of health and wellness for older adults.

As an aging service professional, I have seen how facing late life can be a very vulnerable time for older adults and their loved ones. I have seen how avoidance of vulnerable conversations has led to disconnection, damaged relationships, stress, depression, anxiety, shame, regret, difficult deaths, and tarnished memories of lives well lived. I have also seen how courage to have vulnerable conversations can strengthen and enrich relationships. I have seen it heal broken relationships. I have seen it unleash an urgency for meaningful and purposeful living. I have seen how it has provided a sense of hope, peace, and acceptance.

I believe we can transform the aging experience by increasing the resources and opportunities to drive meaningful connection throughout the lifespan, all the way to end. In order to do this, we need to challenge the status quo that avoids vulnerable conversations about inevitable aging and mortality, perhaps it is where we might find our deepest connections and wisdom about what really matters.

Empira is currently working to increase opportunities for connection through vulnerable late life conversations in a grant project titled ResoLute. ResoLute proactively provides a sacred space, time, and guided resources for conversations and reflections to confront and talk about vulnerable topics related to aging and inevitable mortality such as health condition, life story, purpose, relationships, spirituality, end of life wishes, and legacy. We have titled these conversations the Work of Aging. It is called work for a reason; getting older is difficult and it takes courage to work through these conversations.

One way to help promote the courage needed to have Work of Aging conversations is to normalize them. As the older adults in your life start to bring up these kinds of topics, give them space and even encourage them to keep talking.

If you are interested in having Work of Aging conversations but still not sure how to bring up the questions check out our Connection and Reflection journal.

Check out the Empira Connection Journal and Reflection Journal