Slip of the


I said something really stupid a few weeks ago. And, really, I did it right. In front of a lot of people and with plenty of volume.

Yikes is right.

You would think that since I talk for a living (and write speeches for myself and *other people*), I’m pretty adept at choosing my words carefully. Well, I messed up this time! And I have messed up a thousand times before, and I will mess up several thousand times again.

With all of the messaging training I do, it’s pretty hard to knock me off of my key messages. That said, sometimes I really get on a roll and my mouth gets ahead of my brain. And YIKES INDEED.

We talk about complex ideas as advocates for donation and transplantation. We speak about liminal spaces, gifts given and gifts received, tragedy brushing up against hope.

This territory that we cover makes it easy enough for us to stumble. Do you stumble? Do you tell your story–one you have told, perhaps, many times before–and sometimes choose a weird/uncomfortable/odd/just plain dumb word or phrase? (You can’t see me right now, but I am raising my hand and saying YES I DO as I type.)

What do you do when you say something stupid?

I know what I do. I say I am sorry. I say it really, really well. And I mean it.

Not one of those crummy apologies “I am sorry YOU were offended.” (<ugh, this is the worst. Don’t ever say this. There’s no accountability there!)



I am sorry I said that. It was stupid. I feel badly that I hurt your feelings.

I am sorry I offended you. I made a mistake and I apologize.

I said something stupid and I have learned from it. I hope you will accept my apology.

I am not sure if we just live in a world where sincere apologies are so rare that we are shocked when we hear one, or if looking someone squarely in the eye and owning up to a mistake is something that died out with the Neanderthals (did Neanderthals apologize? I feel like someone should study this), but I am telling you: giving someone a sincere apology works. They accept it, every time.

People are generally quick to forgive. Even better, they will often say:

Yeah, I say stupid things too sometimes. I understand. Let’s forget about it.

So, I said something stupid. I said I was sorry (and I meant it). The world has kept on turning. Everything is okay. Today’s speech tip: Develop a sincere apology. Repeat as necessary.


No or Not Yet


Sometimes the things I write about are equally applicable to my personal and professional lives.

This is one of those times.

I have learned something as a consultant lately that I want to tell you about. It’s a tiny mistake in language that we all make at times, myself included. Sometimes I say NO when I mean NOT YET.

I also forget that NOT YET is a perfectly acceptable answer. I am quicker to a NO than a NOT YET.

I meet many donor families and recipients in my work. I meet people who have gone through, or watched their loved one go through, harrowing medical experiences. I meet people who have lost someone they love in a tragic way.

Since my way of connecting with these people is through donation and transplantation, I often meet them very shortly after their loss or their transplant. It might be only a few weeks or months past their loss or their brush with death. They tell me: Brianna, I am so moved by my experience. I want to start volunteering right away.

From years of experience, I can tell you that if this is within 6 months to 1 year of their traumatic event, volunteering for donation is not a good idea for them. Not yet.

Not yet.

It’s not a NO, it’s a NOT YET.

The OPOs that I work for who have a compassionate guideline for training and deploying volunteers  as ambassadors (again, between 6 months and 1 year post loss or transplant) tend to have better outcomes for their volunteers, their staff (who work with these volunteers), and their audiences.

Volunteers who come to my trainings too early in their grief journey or trauma processing are too easily re-traumatized *by just the training itself* to be deployed to talk about their experiences. When volunteers speak to audiences too quickly after their connection, they tend to bring the audience to their place of trauma (instead of meeting them with a message of hope). Asking them to be ambassadors of a message that is powerful and clear while simultaneously processing their own grief is simply too much to ask of them, and too risky for communicating a message to the public.

When a donor family or transplant recipient/family member asks about volunteering and they are still very close to their trauma, I believe that the best response is a compassionate NOT YET. It’s not a NO, it’s a NOT YET. We can protect their early grief, and keep them from re-traumatizing themselves, with a kind and caring NOT YET.

In that spirit, I will remember to use my thoughtful NOT YET this week. Maybe you will, too.





Stop asking me if I pulled the plug.


You know it’s bad news when a neurosurgeon breaks down into tears.

“She’s gone. I’m so sorry.”

But my mother wasn’t gone: she was in that bed, right there.

“She’s not going to have any more good days.”

But she’s right there. She’s not gone. What are you talking about?

“We did all we could. We lost her.”

But…she’s RIGHT HERE. How can you lose her if she’s RIGHT HERE?


But my amazing mother was gone. That’s what a subdural hematoma can do. It can take someone away from you, even when they are right there.

I was one of the lucky ones. My mother had given me her advance directive and medical power of attorney. She had also given me a very stern talking to.  “If I am only alive by technicality–by a machine pumping my lungs–let me go. If I won’t walk, talk, think, or have a good quality of life, let me go. Let me go. Please, promise me you will let me go.”

I am a faithful daughter. I knew what to do, with the neurosurgeon misty-eyed next to me, my infant son in my arms, my mother gone and yet here in a bed.

I let her go.

Removing ventilated support was what my mother wanted me to do, and I protected her end of life decisions, including helping her become an organ, eye, and tissue donor after her passing.

Holding my mother’s hand for the 36 hours between the time we removed the ventilated support and the time it took for her heart to stop changed me forever. I was sure nothing could be worse, or more painful, than bearing witness to that end.

I was wrong. There was something worse.

The only thing worse than standing vigil as my mother’s heart gradually stopped beating was people asking me one horrifying question:

“How did you decide to pull the plug?”

Even typing it makes me feel sick.

I cried every time. Every. Single. Time. Someone. Said. PLUG.


Listening to people talk about Melissa Rivers and her care for her mother is stirring this in me again. Melissa Rivers, I am sure, protected her mother’s end-of-life decisions.

I protected my mother’s end of life decisions. It’s not an outlet and a plug. My mother was a person in this world who made decisions and plans.  My mother told me what care she did *and did not* want in the case of certain medical outcomes. I worked with her medical team, and the local donation organization, to honor and protect her decisions.

If you meet someone who has recently lost a loved one, and you are wondering about how their loved one died, please don’t say the word plug. Here’s what you say instead:

“I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you solace in this difficult time.”

And if that person was a caregiver to someone, and you know they faced some very tragic and upsetting situations?

“The way you protected and cared for [her/him] was very special.”

Life doesn’t have a plug. Please, take care in how you speak to people who have suffered a tragedy.

As in: Melissa Rivers, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you solace in this difficult time. The way you cared for your mother was very special. I am so sorry you lost someone so wonderful.

I remember the hard plastic pressing into my chest as I leaned over a hard hospital bed to be closer to my mother. She was gone, here, gone, gone, gone. I touched her hand. I told her: Mama, I love you. You are the best mother in the world. I am your daughter forever. I will let you go, Mama. I will let you go.

And I did.