Ryan Buck (00:26):
Hello everyone. And welcome to the pursuit of podcast where it’s truly not us. It’s you. I’m here with our host, Mark Wilson owner, New Leonard Media. How are you, sir? Very, very well. How you been? I’ve been good. Excellent. And that’s enough that, uh, my name is Ryan Buck, artist development for new Leonard media, and we’re delighted to be sharing the studio with Mindy Buell, executive director and CEO of Michael’s place. Welcome, Happy to if you don’t have a studio audience, so we just kind of do the golf clap. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here and, uh, Michael’s place for any of you who don’t know Michael’s place provides support and advocacy for children, teens, and adults grieving the death of a loved one and educates the community on the impact of grief that is straight from the mission statement. Is that a good way? That’s the good elevator. That’s a great
Mindy Buell (01:15):
Ryan Buck (01:17):
So you have an interesting past and an interesting path to where you’ve been, but one of your first directorial positions came in 1992. So you went to the university of Toledo and you have a BBA and you have a master’s, right?
Mindy Buell (01:35):
Yes. I got my master’s in education administration and I really loved working in higher education. And I found this great passion of working a program called leadership UT and it brought in the 50 of what they would call like the 50 most inspiring leaders onto campus as freshmen. And then we really groomed them with kind of the motto of leaders are not born, they’re made. And we worked with them every week for a year and had some really great opportunities. It was a scholarship program for them as well. And we watched these 50 freshmen actually go into their sophomore years as president of the student body, as leaders throughout campus. It truly was an amazing experience and I loved it. And I was with that program for, I think it was three years. Wow.
Ryan Buck (02:39):
So one of your first director positions was director of Greek life cracked and I’m gathering. You were doing that while you got your master’s
Mindy Buell (02:49):
Right. It was kind of simultaneously done. I’m working on my master’s degree, working in Greek life, which was really a great experience for me. Great eye-opener of how good things can be as well as how difficult things can be on a college campus. We experienced the death. Actually, my husband, I met my husband at the university of Toledo and we experienced the death of one of his student employees who was killed on campus in a drunk driving car accident. So we experienced that. And at the same time we experienced great joy of watching these young individuals become really amazing people.
Ryan Buck (03:37):
So director of Greek life, you had to, did you have to like shut down any fraternities? Did you have to get tough with people in that regard? Maybe were your peers in a way?
Mindy Buell (03:48):
I was really young when I was in that position. And so a lot of them thought I was their own age. I like to think it was because I looked young, not active young. Yes. But, um, yes, it w in fact, uh, what I was referring to of the student who was killed by a drunk driver on campus actually put my husband and I into different places against one another. And that was very challenging for us as individuals, as well as a married couple. He was the associate Dean of discipline for the university at that time. And I was the director of Greek life and the person who was in the car, driving intoxicated, who killed the student, happened to be one of the fraternity members on campus and coming from a fraternity party on campus. And it was really a difficult time in our lives. Wow.
Ryan Buck (04:50):
You were definitely at odds, but also on the same page. I just, yeah, that had to be really difficult.
Mindy Buell (04:57):
I remember saying to the fraternity, um, when it first happened, I said, things are going to be okay. You know, you’re going to survive this. And then as it unfolded and the recognition that there was a problem, you know, that they were serving students who shouldn’t have been drinking at that time. And they came back to me and said, but Mindy, you told me we would be okay. I didn’t have the information, but they are okay. Unfortunately, we lost a really amazing young, I say girl, but really young, a wonderful female who was nearing her graduation date of being a nurse. And that was a traumatic loss of life. Right?
Ryan Buck (05:46):
So the mission statement and in many other locations, talks about providing support and advocacy for children, teens, and adults, and children and teens are always placed first. And I think that’s very interesting because I don’t remember that growing up necessarily. And I think that’s great. And should we be focusing more in this area? And it was that part of the mission statement in 2001 when you started,
Mindy Buell (06:10):
It was in fact that is the mission statement for the most part, since we started back in 2001, I will say though, that I’ve started to recognize a significant change or shift. And I’ll say this for me personally, is that we do focus on the unique grief of children and teenagers. And that’s very important because we hear so often children are resilient. They’re going to be okay, well, that’s true. Children are resilient and they will be okay. As long as they have healthy healing opportunities, as well as adults who serve as mentors and role models and a listening ears for them, they will be okay. But I’ve also recognized is that a lot of times the adults will forego their own healing in order to help the children. And that’s not helping the children. No.
Ryan Buck (07:09):
Right. And that’s gotta be very tough because, you know, various parties are in various stages of grief. And again, as a parent, you put the armor on and you’re David [inaudible] face. Right? Yup. All right. I gotta be tough and strong for my kids.
Mindy Buell (07:26):
Right. And I think that in some ways that’s just a natural tendency as parents to do that. And in other ways it’s a really great defense mechanism of if I just focus on my children, then I don’t have to think about how, how bad the pain feels inside of me. Right? Yeah. Yeah. So it’s really a catch 22. And that’s the great thing about Michael’s place. We look at it like, you know, being on an airplane and they say, you know, to the adults, if you have a child riding with you and something should go wrong on the plane, put your own oxygen mask on first, before you put it on a child. And I would say at Michael’s place, it’s just a little different it’s while you’re putting your axes and mask on, we’re already helping the children. Right. Right. So we can do it simultaneously. We can work with the adults and we can work with the children at the same time. Yeah.
Mark L. Wilson (08:28):
Because you can’t help anyone until you help yourself. But, um, if it’s going to take you time personally, as a parent to grieve, that’s time that the child’s not being tended to,
Mindy Buell (08:40):
Can I share a story here? Is that okay? Oh my gosh. Really? And our early years that Michael’s place. And you know, I, I look at all of the children and teens and adults who come to Michael’s places, the most courageous individuals, it is not easy to go into a group of strangers and share your most intimate fears and hardship and pain. And yet they do that. And they do that every week. We had a cash, it was a young family. It was a mom and I, and her daughter who were coming to Michael’s place. And the story was that the daughter was grieving the death of her own father who died very young of a heart issue. And when she came into Michael’s place, she had her own guilt that came with it, which is something very common that we see with people who have so much regret and guilt.
Mindy Buell (09:37):
And she came to Michael’s place. And she said, gosh, I’m struggling so much. Every time my daughter says anything to me about her grandpa. She said, I just burst into tears. I can’t do it. I have to run into another room or I have to hide my face or my eyes. I just am not strong enough. And so time went on and I’m going to say, it was probably about three months of them coming to Michael’s place every week. And one day she said to her daughter, honey, I want to let you know how, sorry I am. That every time you asked about grandpa, I wasn’t able to be there for you. And I was so upset that I would cry and wouldn’t be able to talk to you about him, but I want to let you know that I feel better now. And anything you want to talk to me about grandpa? I am here and I’m so sorry. I was not there for you. And the daughter said to her mom it’s okay. I had Michael’s place. Oh my gosh. Right. She was five, five.
Ryan Buck (10:46):
Okay. That’s a, that’s a well-told story, but wow. How profound? And there’s honesty I’ve seen and heard of moments where parents have just had that honest moment. Like I screwed up or I was scared, or, you know, when we were young, if you saw your dad cry, it would melt your soul and ruin you forever. You know, I think my kids have seen, you know, the end of a couple of movies get me and I’m like, okay, but you did a Ted talk in 2019, and it’s, it’s phenomenal early on. You tell a story about going to a visitation with your husband, Mike, right? Mike is you go to this visitation and you’re unsure what to say. And I think how you tell it, it’s so relatable because I think we’re all there. You’re in an office and you get the sympathy card and you don’t know what to say. At least I struggled with that. So you said, you thought you did a good job with what you
Mindy Buell (11:45):
Said. I’m proud of myself for what
Ryan Buck (11:47):
I spent had other thoughts, listen to this Ted talk. It’s really good because they have a little moment, but you go on to say the perfect words don’t exist. A magic wand doesn’t exist. So given that, how difficult is it to manage when people, you know, experienced grief in so many different ways, sometimes, maybe even there against their will. It could be, uh, can’t just stop solving. How do you manage,
Mindy Buell (12:13):
How do I manage it personally, with, um, helping families?
Ryan Buck (12:18):
It’s an organization, for example, you know, how long does it take to get somebody involved into the process and, you know, cause it must take so many different types of,
Mindy Buell (12:27):
Yeah. I mean, I think that every story is different and unique. And I would say that every circumstance, it depends on so many things. And I will say that there are some stories and some families that struggle with their healing. And I’ve seen that take place when there’s a court case, when something continues to stop them from being able to really grasp their healing. And so we have that, but you know, I’ll just give you an example of a story that happened here. And it was my dear friend actually, who her daughter died at the age of 19 from suicide. And it was, it crossed both worlds of my personal world and my professional world. And I remember going into her home with her children and her husband in the very beginning days of being able to comfort them and to help them, her words continue to be, to me, am I going to survive this? Are we going to survive? This? The grief is so intense that you can’t imagine ever being able to be whole again,
Ryan Buck (13:44):
Mindy Buell (13:45):
Oh my gosh, that I’m never going to smile again. I will never laugh. There will never be joy again in my life or in our family. Again, I look at where they’re at today and I am just so grateful that they trusted us enough at Michael’s place that they put trust and faith in us to say, we’re going to allow you to share in our heartache and in our story. And we’re going to allow you to walk this journey with us. Right. Right. And so we did, I can’t probably put to words how deeply connected we are to one another, as a result of our time together through Michael’s.
Ryan Buck (14:30):
I can’t imagine that not being the case. We’ve got a little question about that a little later, but you know, talking about in reading on the website, there’s a lot of things that are really profound to me on the site and which things I’ve seen you do. And you’re talking about somebody who doesn’t know if they’re going to survive it. Right. And they feel this literal obsidian weight above, and you made a comment or I read it where some of these people are not living day to day or month to month. They’re living minute to minute. Absolutely. And some of them aren’t to the place where they’re engaging with you yet. And that’s where friends and family can help with little things with a grocery store run. So in that, how important are the little things with somebody who isn’t engaged yet and is in that dark place,
Mindy Buell (15:13):
Little things are crucial. They’re so important. The things such as, you know, showing up to someone’s house with a casserole or a pie or whatever, it might be just as an excuse to walk in someone’s house and hug them and be present for them. I’d said in my Ted talk and I will repeat it here because I think it is the most important is we don’t have the magic words, the perfect words, to be able to help somebody take that pain away from them. But what we do have is we have the ability to pre present for them to listen to what they have to say to not give our own 2 cents in it or not try to relate to them in a way to say, oh, I know just how you feel, because the reality is is that no matter what your own story may be, you really don’t know how they feel. You might know how it feels yourself to experience grief, but you don’t know how they feel. And so taking yourself out of that equation and just really be present. And there’s such great words to say, such as, I don’t know what to say, but I am your friend and I’m here for you and I will remain here for you even in the darkest hours.
Ryan Buck (16:33):
I think that’s great. I, you know, and I think for some people, the notion of grief specifically, if they haven’t experienced it can be difficult. So they may have a friend that they don’t know what to do in Michael’s place could be a resource for somebody like that as well.
Mindy Buell (16:47):
Oh, for sure. Um, when we get calls, you know, from people and emails that say, I’m going to the visitation of my friend’s child or husband or wife, and I don’t know what to say, can you help me? And we are always here and happy to be able to give people the words or the tools that will help them feel more comfortable because in the end, if they’re more comfortable, they will be more present for their friends.
Mark L. Wilson (17:17):
Right. That’s good to know because there’s too many times to count for me where I thought I was trying to say the right thing and pretty much put my foot in my mouth and I leave feeling really guilty. And like you said, where I somehow you just lost your father. I lost my father. And here’s how it made me feel. But maybe it’s not my time right now to talk about me. Right.
Ryan Buck (17:42):
Right. When you say, I understand, even though you may have both lost fathers, it’s still different for both of you. Right. So I liked what you said, actually that’s a personal takeaway from me is I’m your friend and I’m here for you and I will be.
Mindy Buell (17:56):
Yeah. Yeah. Another thing, you know, mark, you’re saying, you know, you lost your father and talking to someone who lost his father at that moment, you might not want to bring your father up, except in the sense of saying, I know what it feels like to lose a father and how important dads are. And I look forward to hearing about your father and who he was to you, what he brought to this world. One of the biggest things that people who are grieving, the loss of a loved one worry about is that their loved one will be forgotten. And so what a beautiful gesture of friendship to say, you know, can we go and sit down for coffee? Cause I would love to hear anything that you’d like to share about your dad.
Ryan Buck (18:39):
And you know, there are, we’re seeing this now just regular people who are doing that, but in a setting like this, and they’re recording that for posterity, it could be just a session like this. And you just say, let’s talk about the good times, whatever we want to talk about. And you have something for a long time, which is about remembering and positive. Absolutely.
Mindy Buell (18:58):
That’s part of, one of the programs that we have at Michael’s place. We were really grateful a couple of years ago to be recipients. We were one of six organizations in the country to be chosen by story Corps, which is an oral history organization and StoryCorps, they capture conversations. It’s really about bringing people together and bringing conversations of questions and answers. And so they did a program called road to resilience and they offered it, you know, for any organization in the country, we were recipients of it. They came from New York city to traverse city, of course, in the coldest days that we’ve ever had. And in 2000 years, yes. And they did a training for 12 of us at Michael’s place and train us on the equipment as well as the conversation. And we have recorded now 24 conversations and yes, I mean, we did it with triplet brothers who are in high school. They had a conversation amongst themselves about the death of their sister. We had conversations with mother and child about the death of a parent. I mean, there are a lot of things. And so conversations are so important.
Ryan Buck (20:19):
It seems like that’s always going to be part of the healing process listening, but just purging, you know, I’m sure that there’s a catharsis there, but that brings us to the restoring hope campaign and meeting Karen and Sarah, the, uh, Sarah mom that got me, uh, uh, the, the bookmark came out of the, that that’s. So obviously we’re talking about very emotional stuff and it’s, again, it’s, it’s very effective because, you know, as a nonprofit, you, it needs support from grants and fundraising events, sponsors volunteers, right. But this is something that you, you know, deal with every day. And so that’s where you got me a little ahead of time. How do you maybe leave work at work and how do you not get too consumed by all of this? Because like you said, um, there’s so much positivity, but there’s a lot of tough stuff. And I think it takes a lot of fortitude.
Mindy Buell (21:21):
There is. And I will say that it took me a while to be able to leave things at work. And I, I still don’t leave things at work all the time. Grief is personal and it’s very intimate and we get to know our families on such a beautiful level. And I can’t always shake that off, so to speak. And I, I don’t say that in a way that gives them any kind of disrespect. I mean, to say that, how do you leave it at work? I remember in the very beginning a time where I would come home and I would just be in tears and I had two young boys and my husband and I would say, oh my goodness, Mike, I had such a hard story. And it was, you know, and I give him some kind of synopsis of it got
Ryan Buck (22:11):
To be tough for your husband sometimes. Right. Well, how was your
Mindy Buell (22:13):
Day? Right. Well, I will say that Mike, one day sat me down and said, I can’t have you do this anymore. And I said, do this anymore. What are you talking about? He said, you can’t share those stories with me. And I said, okay, why not? Well, Mike, um, when he was 16 years old, his brother died from cancer. And he said to me, every time I hear a story, all I think about is my mom and what she experienced when my brother died. And so I love you. I respect everything that you’re doing at Michael’s place, but I need you to find somebody else to be able to just process with. And so I thought to myself, well, I’m an office of one. How do I do that? No, he didn’t or stuffed animal. But I will say though that the founder of Michael’s place, her name is Chris Dennis.
Mindy Buell (23:12):
And we have been together since the very beginning. And we found a wonderful friendship within the two of us. And so she really became a confidant of mine from the very early years. And I continue to turn to Chris when it’s times of celebration, as well as difficult times. And so we depend on one another, we are a staff of six people and we have days that are harder than others. And it is at that time that we go in an, we shut the door and say, I really need to process something with you. Right.
Ryan Buck (23:50):
Wow. That’s incredible because it started out as a business relationship. And then obviously over time, it’s morphed into something quite special.
Mindy Buell (23:58):
It has definitely. I look at, um, my relationship with Chris Christos as one of the most important ones in my life and what she has taught me, uh, mentored me. I am a better person because of her
Ryan Buck (24:11):
Amazing. So the restore hope campaign. Yes. Talk to us about that.
Mindy Buell (24:16):
Well, 10 or 11 years ago, we started, uh, what has become the largest fundraising event for Michael’s place. And that is our restoring hope breakfast. It’s a one hour event where we share the mission of Michael’s place. Wonderful people come and they financially support the organization both the day of as well as many who write pledges of one to five years of what they’re willing to help the organization with this was a live event. It is a live event and this is our first year because of, COVID not being able to have the event. So that’s been really difficult county wind singer. She’s our development director at Michael’s place. And she changed the restoring hope breakfast to the restoring hope campaign. And it has just kicked off for Michael’s place. Excellent.
Ryan Buck (25:09):
So at my Michael’s place.net, there are a couple of ways that you can give, is there a specific way to get to the restoring hope campaign or is it better to just go to the main page on the right and donate when you click on the top? Right.
Mindy Buell (25:24):
I would say if you go to the mind Michael’s place.net page, the restoring hope campaign should be listed right there. Anyone who would like to donate can donate through the website, or if someone would prefer to write a check, they can put it in the mail and we’ll still count it as part of the restoring hope campaign.
Mark L. Wilson (25:45):
And what’s great about this is a have besides board members and staff, community members that support the organization such as yours truly have created a page. That explains what Michael’s place means to me. And please consider making a contribution because of the great things they do. And at no cost,
Mindy Buell (26:08):
Absolutely it takes a village and at Michael’s place, we need a village to be able to help us raise the funds needed to remain a no-cost grief support center in our community. So
Ryan Buck (26:20):
There is that there’s a misconception of a nonprofit, but you’re a nonprofit, but you’re still an operating business, got to pay the light bill. So for listeners who may not know, what’s a surprising thing that you have to spend money on that a listener would be like, huh, oh,
Mindy Buell (26:37):
Well, I, you know, there are a lot of things from obviously buying light bulbs and having electricity in the building, but we pre COVID part of our grief support groups. On Monday evenings, we gather our families and our volunteers together and have dinner. And it is a great opportunity of people getting to know each other on a personal level outside of their grief, but really lots of generations in one room. And so we have, um, plates and cups and napkins and things that we need every single week, as well as meals.
Ryan Buck (27:15):
But people need to understand the term non-profit appropriately and donate as much as you can. And often you make it really easy on the main website. I think you can go to that and make sure you are looking at those individual pages because a lot of great stories and a lot of heart and a lot of emotion. Thank you so much for being here, being a movie guy. Is there a movie that you think is a really great movie as it relates to grief? It could be a comedy, a drama. I’m just a movie guy and I think it’s relatable, but is there anything that you’ve ever seen that really speaks to the subject very well?
Mindy Buell (27:49):
Oh gosh. You’re putting me on the spot and this is one I needed to think about going into it. Yeah. I look at the movie a phenomenon if you remember with John Travolta and right. And here he is thinking, wow, look at this world that I’m in now. And, uh, things really turned around for him.
Ryan Buck (28:13):
Mindy Buell (28:14):
Yeah. And Kira said, wig is the wife, isn’t she? The wife in that movie. Yeah. Or the person who loves him dearly and watching her, you know, when he’s gone, I look at that as being very appropriate.
Ryan Buck (28:31):
Mindy Buell (28:32):
Answer. Thank you. You know, the part of phenomenon is that we were right around the time of my husband’s brother’s death. He died on mother’s day and we were living in Ohio at the time. And Mike and I came to Trevor city, uh, to spend mother’s day with his mom. And it was just a really tough weekend. And so phenomenon had just come out at the movies and I said, Hey, it looks like there’s this great movie, because we’re feeling so bad about Greg, Greg. Yeah. Greg died. Let’s, you know, we’re feeling so bad about his death. And so how about the two of us go to this movie? Not having any understanding, you know, spoiler alert that John dies in the movie V
Ryan Buck (29:20):
That was before, you know, 90 different trailers. Right.
Mindy Buell (29:24):
Uh, we just, we had, I had no understanding. And so the two of us sat in the movie theater just sobbing and in the end, that’s probably what we needed to do anyway, just to be able to let it out and lean into the grief and be in that moment and be able to talk about it when it was over.
Ryan Buck (29:43):
You’re able to watch it currently without tying to that particular day or a,
Mindy Buell (29:48):
Yeah, I think that if I, um, you know, and I always will think about his mom and her heartache when I watched that movie about appropriately. So of just, you know, there are people in our world who they will always be hurting because of the loss of a loved one, but it’s not a bad thing to think about those who, you know, are struggling. Absolutely.
Ryan Buck (30:13):
Well, Mindy, thank you so much for doing this and for talking about Michael’s place. Is there anything else you’d want to share with the listener?
Mindy Buell (30:20):
You know, it’s been great. I have really enjoyed my time here with the two of you. And I would say that at Michael’s place, um, when we have a motto that if we’re not laughing or crying and so laugh often left much and try to keep that laughter going as long as you can. And we do what we can to bring that joy to our grieving families as well. Hope right? Hope while it’s all about restoring hope.
Ryan Buck (30:47):
Excellent. Mr. Wilson. Thank you as always. Thank you all for listening. You have been with Mindy Buell, executive director, CEO of the amazing Michael’s place. Thank you so much.
Mark L. Wilson (31:07):
Hey, thanks again for listening to the pursuit of podcast for more information, and to show your support, please go to mymichaelsplace.net and also a big shout out to our show supper, herb n meds in traverse city, Michigan that’s at HNMwellnessstore.com and the tin lid hat company, tinlidco.com for both websites. Use promo code the pursuit of please join us again to learn more pursuits from leaders in our community and feedback.