A story of a mid-life transformation as told by Dr. Cynthia Long
I lost my best friend on December 30, 2008. He had been battling illness for over 28 years and finally ended the struggle on a gloomy, gray morning.
I often tell others: “It’s the journey that is important, not the destination.” But how do you regain your momentum after such a tragic event?
My journey to regain the “wind in my sail” began by participating in a grief support group called GriefShare. After 13 weeks, I realized I was masking my grief behind a clinical, professional attitude that said I was fine and had dealt with my loss. I had been an OR nurse and worked on trauma patients for over 25 years and sometimes lost a patient. It was just an accepted part of the profession. After the last support meeting, I broke down and realized that I was not as strong as I thought I was. This time the loss was not a patient. This time it was personal. This time he was the love of my life, my husband, and the father of my children.
I soon took the GriefShare class again and began to realize the gift I had for helping others with their grief. My personal narrative of end-of-life and grief began to evolve beyond clinical into compassionate. Soon I was asked to step into a new role. I have now been a GriefShare counselor for over 10 years.
I had little confidence in my story-telling abilities. I knew I had a story to tell, but I wasn’t sure I had the tools to express myself in a way that inspire others to find confidence and consolation in my story. I knew I had to become a better public speaker.
I sought out a Toastmasters club and found the perfect environment for me at Downtown St. Pete Toastmasters Club in 2014. I dove in and completed my first 10 speeches within six months. I was excited to hone my new skills!
My mother always said I had the hands of a nurse when I would take care of my baby sister. Little did I know that the career or nursing would serve me well as a profession, but moreover, as a career that would promote my inner heart and soul. I love the field of nursing, yet there was a tugging on my heart to learn more about communication.
In 2015, 22 years after attaining my Nursing degree, I went back to school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Communication online. This was a huge step for me. As a Baby Boomer, there certainly was a learning curve. Thankfully, my daughter was getting her bachelor’s degree and served as a valuable resource for me. After graduating with my Masters, my professor encouraged me to continue and pursue a doctorate in communications. His encouragement helped me carry on this journey. My dissertation, “End of Life Dialogue and Its Influence on the Grief Process,” is complete and has been published.
One might say that stepping-stones like GriefShare, Toastmasters, a communication master’s, and a doctorate paved the way. My journey has just begun. My destination is always just beyond the horizon!
Dr. Cynthia Long is a member of St. Pete Beach Toastmasters in St. Pete Beach, Florida. To find a Toastmasters Club near you, visit www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club.