An interview with Jenna Rose Lowthert on finding inspiration through tragedy with the support of her colleagues and patients
Dental professionals deal with emotion every day, like the all-too-familiar patient that is anxious or fearful about their visit. But, as with any tight-knit team, dental professionals must also empathize with the emotions of their colleagues in times of personal triumph or tragedy. When focusing on the daily minutiae of the practice, it's easy to forget that colleagues, like all humans, are a product of their life experiences and backstories.
With Mother’s Day approaching, we at Hu-Friedy wanted to feature a very human story of loss and recovery in the industry, one that speaks to the powerful role that empathy from patients and colleagues plays in the grieving process as well as how loss, sadness, and grief can empower meaningful growth in your career.
On May 27, 2013, Jenna Rose Lowthert lost her mother to Stage Four Lung Cancer. Only 24 years old, Jenna was inspired to write about her loss to work through her grief and help others do the same. She has since become a published author and blogger while advancing her career in the dental industry, where she is currently a territory manager at Patterson Dental. We asked Jenna to share her unique perspective on the power of empathy in the dental industry in this wide-ranging interview.
What motivated you to be so candid about your grief and the grieving process? How has writing about your experience affected the grieving process?
My mom was a very social person. She was well known around town and people absolutely adored her. When she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer at the age of 47, I decided to share her journey with our friends and family on social media. One day, on one of my posts about grief, someone commented: “You are such an inspiration and your story has touched so many, you should write a book.” My mom wanted to live forever, so I thought the only possible way to make that happen even after she is gone, was to share her story with as many people that will listen. I started my blog, wrote and published my book, and ultimately that has been a huge part of my healing process.
How do you keep going with your day job when something so catastrophic has happened? How does it affect your work-life balance?
At the time of my mom’s diagnosis, I was working in a very busy, successful dental office. I started working there when I was 16 years old, so my co-workers were like family to me. They knew my mom very well, too. I was so fortunate to be surrounded by supportive people that understood exactly what was going on.
Towards the end of my mom’s life, when she started to get really sick and had to spend a lot of time in the hospital, I was lucky enough to be able to take those days off, but to be completely honest, if I was not able to do that I probably would have quit. Money can always be made back, but memories certainly cannot.
What were some of the major challenges of returning to work full-time? What was your experience like owning your grief at work?
Days, and even weeks after my mother’s death it was very hard for me to return to work. I couldn’t think about anything but the fact that I was 24 years old and no longer had a mother. I hated the fact that I would have to put on a happy face and continue on, but I did. Returning to work I had so many sympathy cards from patients whom I’ve built relationships with through the years of working there. It was very heartwarming and definitely made a huge impact on how I moved forward.
What expectations did you have of your colleagues throughout this experience? How did they support you upon your return to work?
I was beyond lucky to have been so close with the people I worked with day in and day out, and I know most people do not get that lucky so my best advice would be to build strong relationships with your co-workers. We spend so much time with those people. You never know when they may need to lean on you or vice-versa.
How has your experience with loss and decision to write about it impacted your career progression within the dental industry?
I loved my job as a team leader of that very successful dental office, but I always knew that I wanted more for myself. I was just too nervous to leave a place where I felt comfort and security. I have always had a passion for working in the dental industry and I know the true impact a dental team can have on a patient. I have always wanted to be a dental sales rep but never had enough confidence to go for it. I remember being so nervous when I interviewed at Patterson Dental. The old me would have let those nerves take over and I probably would have made up some lame excuse on why I couldn’t make it to the interview. I would have just settled with the job I currently had and let that opportunity pass me by. Instead, I turned those nerves into excitement for what may be ahead. I got the job and I couldn’t be happier. I was made for this.
Has your experience changed how you approach relationships with customers, product users, or other stakeholders you work with?
Every single person we cross paths with can teach us something. I have more empathy, compassion, and patience than I have ever had before, and I truly love meeting people and getting to know their journey as well. One of my favorite quotes is “We rise by lifting others.” I try to live by that.
Mother’s Day is right around the corner. What significance does the holiday hold for you? How do you approach it?
Mother’s Day to me is a reminder of what a great mother I was lucky enough to have. I received more love from her in the short 24 years that I had with her than some people will ever receive in a lifetime. Although it is a sad reminder that she is no longer here with me, I take that day to spend time with myself, reflecting on how far I have come because of her.
How have you inspired others through your writing? What impact do you hope to have on your readers?
I hope that I can make others realize that they are not alone through their journey with grief, life, and moving forward. We cannot stop time, although we sometimes would like to, and I believe that learning to live creatively with a bruised and broken heart is what will set us free from grief and sadness.
What’s next for you on this path?
I like to take life day-by-day. We never know where life will take us, but I can’t wait to find out!