How to heal from this.

How to heal from this.

How to heal from this

I didn’t realize how badly I needed this.

I had been desperate. 

When my phone rang a few weeks ago and Barmi Akbar, CEO of Guardian Healthcare in Pennsylvania (Drive’s friends and longtime clients), asked me to come visit them, I nearly jumped out of my seat and screamed! Play it cool, Denise, play it cool! 


It had been over a year since I had been at a client’s, and I was bursting at the seams to do the work that I love and see the people I care so much about. 

Now, my belly hurts from laughing and my heart is pounding. All my senses are on high alert. Colors are brighter, sounds are crisper, and for the first time in a long time, joy is reverberating around me. 

What I witnessed on that trip to Guardian was nothing short of beautiful. And so vitally important. And I am telling you, you HAVE to do something like this in your organization. Your people need it.  

The Rebirth of Fun

I was invited to join Barmi at a leadership retreat during my visit. His goal for this retreat was two-fold: he wanted it to be an opportunity for his team to honor all that they had been through this year and to set their sights on what’s next–a bright new future filled with hope. 

Guardian has some new leaders, hired during the pandemic and known only to most as faces in squares on Zoom. And they also have their seasoned leaders, who were feeling a sense of disconnect as well. 

Barmi and his team decided FUN was the answer to pulling their leaders together following the hardest year of their personal and professional lives. Roaring, raucous, ridiculous laughter and fun! 

“The Guardian Olympics” was born and as the kids today say, it was EPIC! 

Each division was tasked to create an Olympic-worthy sport. A sport that’s more slapstick than athleticism, if you will! How they pulled this together so quickly and creatively, I just can’t believe!

The pharmacy team had the “Olympians” popping candy out of pill packs into a medicine cup, without touching the cup or the pill, and whoever filled their cup the fastest, won. It was a race against the clock and the calamity of candy bouncing everywhere but the cups had everyone in stitches! 

The clinical team dreamt up “Pin the PPE” on Barmi, and a PPE Relay Race that pitted leaders against each other, running back and forth, scrambling to dress and falling over in the process. (There really is nothing like the sight of grown adults slipping, sprinting, shouting, and cheating–a little bit–to win a competition.) 

The finance team created an impressive game of calculations based on absurd scenarios that would make your eyes bulge and your head spin.

All of this resulted in an out-of-breath group of leaders with a new-found energy and enthusiasm. They were comrades in frivolity now, putting aside the heaviness and somberness they had lived for over a year, even if just for an afternoon. 

“After such a long time of carrying heavy burdens (which were different experiences for different people), I appreciated seeing my colleagues able to experience camaraderie and relieve stress in a way that was renewing… renewing of hope, optimism, spirit… there was meaning to the fun, and I think both the “officials” and the “competitors” were inspired. We all needed it and benefitted in ways that are not particularly tangible and probably different for everyone.” ~Jennifer Urso, Vice President Pharmacy Services, Guardian Healthcare

But the fun didn’t stop here. Each leader has been inspired to bring this concept back to their sites, to replicate something just as healing and fun for the entire staff in the very near future. 

The Importance of Healing

Before the Olympic fun took place, something just as important had to happen. This gathering presented a unique opportunity for the group to recognize the heartache they had lived through together. The leaders began their day sharing stories and tears, finally able to say out loud the thoughts, fears, worries, and grief they had held in their hearts and minds for so long. It was a moving reflection of the tragedy they had endured together that ended in a touching moment of silence. 

As I looked around the group, I saw how important for their individual and collective healing it was for them to talk and cry like this, together. I heard many remark that they didn’t realize they needed something Iike this so badly. I kept thinking of the word catharsis, a cleansing. But this group will never forget what they went through, and after this special retreat, stronger because of their experience, they will tenderly take those memories with them as they work toward a brighter future.

“We all felt a sense of renewal and rejuvenation.This meeting confirmed that we are all one team focused on our pillars. We are Guardian Strong!” ~Lisa Pence RN, Director of Quality Management, Guardian Healthcare  

Give them what they need

My time at Guardian helped me to see very clearly, that we all NEED to heal, and I am fully convinced that we will heal from this. Healing comes in many forms and through many activities. None of us have been through anything like this before, so there is no playbook on how to heal and move forward from it. Though, in my opinion, this special day at Guardian just about nailed it.

In order to move on, your team needs to cry. They need to reflect. They need to remember. To think about a more hopeful future, they need to be silly. They need to connect. They need to laugh, together and loudly. Consider it your Olympic training for the months, years, and all that lies ahead.


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