It’s been a minute…

…and I’ve finally allowed myself to circle back around and sit with the Smiling Science Alliance once again; it’s been too long!  Lots to talk about, and lots of invitations for growth and curiosity will be shared; my wish is that you find a link or training in this installation of SSA and go for it, take a chance, sign up.  Move forward to learning something new…

I’ve been on a journey seeking courage these last few weeks.  When Oregon started to burn with uncontrollable wildfires, the little town I live in (my 81-year-old mom lives here as well) was in the “green:get ready” zone, level 1 evacuation level.  In addition to that, September 8th arrived and revealed a level of wildfire devastation in Southern Oregon’s populated communities that we had never seen.  It wasn’t just uninhabited forests burning, it was complete communities; based on the images coming out of that region, it appeared as if there would be hundreds of actual fatalities. A level of anxiety started to set in with us all…how bad would this actually be?

As a death investigator/medical examiner employee/human identification specialist, it was my duty to assist and participate in this critical incident as part of the Oregon Regional Response Team; we deployed our mobile morgue, set it up with the help of loads of selfless personnel and partners on the local, county, state and federal levels, and for 14 days staffed the facility to receive victims of these vicious fires.  Because of a miraculous sense of timing, the fires broke out and became uncontrollable during daylight hours.  This allowed people to not only hear the call to evacuate, but to follow through and actually get out of the danger area before the fires swept through their communities.   We have reveled in the fact that if this had happened at night, our worst-case-scenario model would have come true.  Nine poor souls lost their lives in these fires; families will be grieving for a long while now.  And we can close our eyes and count our blessings that the death toll wasn’t in the hundreds.

During this whole endeavor, I needed to perform at a level that matched my expectations of myself.  If you know my story, you know I have been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder my entire adult life, and that I struggle with excessive worry, over-planning, misplaced perfectionism, and fear of public speaking.  I really had to dig deep almost every morning to find the courage to show up and be flexible and buoyant in what we were doing every single day; traveling to the mobile morgue through thick curtains of smoke on the freeway, arriving to a temperature-check station with other morgue personnel before entering the facility (as we are still in the middle of a pandemic), then facing the day…would it bring another decedent, or 10?  Reports on what was being found on the ground fluctuated, and the number of unaccounted-for people started going down with each day.  Realizing we were facing the unknown was harrowing.

To top it all off, our little hometown was moved to a “Level 2: get set” evacuation designation.  Lots of people I work with every day live and work in the same county, my county, one of the counties that was on fire; most were leaving work to go home and pack up.  I called my mom, tried to calmly tell her to pack a bag and get her important papers, then tried not to speed to her house and load her stuff into my car.  I brought her to my house after 6 months of trying to stay away from her physically because of COVID-19.  I figured having her house burn down around her was much worse than the possibility of her catching this deadly virus from me.  Cost benefit analysis meant she holed up in our guest room for a bit.  She’s the toughest cookie I know, and she took it all with stride.  I left the next morning to drive to the mobile morgue, and she was happily helping by washing our supply of cloth face masks in the guest bathroom sink.  Talk about flexibility and buoyancy.  This woman knows how to roll with the punches, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about courage from her.

We staffed and ran the mobile morgue for 14 days straight, no breaks.  In the end, 9 souls lost their lives, and the mobile morgue was a huge learning experience for me.  How to show up, how to pivot emotionally, how to encourage others to contribute, how to muster courage while simultaneously maintaining compassion for not only the fire victims, but my fellow responders.

It got me thinking; how can we cultivate the determination to show up, and still show our ability to serve as compassionate people?  Can we do and be both?  I think the answer, unequivocally, is YES.

Compassion takes courage, and compassionate action connects us to each other.

My novice exploration into the link between courage, compassion and connectedness has taken lots of reflection on my own courage, my own willingness to serve, and how connected I felt to the community impacted by the wildfires, as well as the micro-community created at our mobile morgue.  Courageous, compassionate action does not take place in a vacuum.  When you show up, step up, and serve, you will inevitably connect to someone else in this universe.  You can’t help it, and your compassionate action will show it.

There’s no way around it: courageous people perform acts of compassion all the time, and they continue to link us all in their actions, with humanity.

These thoughts culminated in a meditation practice I developed; Rich Goerling, the founder of  The Mindful Badge Initiative, was kind enough to share space with me in his on-going Mindset and Mindfulness YouTube series.  It took a lot for me to show up and speak about these ideas that have been floating around in my head; I am only slightly less terrified to lead a meditation practice as I am to teach skeletal anatomy.  I figured those who were participating that day appreciated me showing and exposing my vulnerability to them in order to share these concepts.  If you’d like to listen to me lead the practice, you can find it here, under “Courage-Compassion-Connection”.


Want to explore a little deeper into your mindfulness practice?  Are you law enforcement/first responder/forensic scientist/death investigator that would like to learn more about a contemplative practice within yourself…one that will resonate as resilience, peace, and increased performance?

The Mindful Badge Initiative and MindGen LLC have virtual courses now that delve deep into human performance and contemplative practice for the high-reliability careers of law enforcement, forensic science, and death investigation.

Head to the bottom the Smiling Science Alliance home page, found here, to learn more about upcoming training this fall.


Do you have a wildfire experience you’d be willing to share with me?  Do you need to reach out and just chat about how it made you feel?  Drop me an e-mail at to start a conversation.  I’m here for you.

As always, keep smiling (it’s good for you)!  Hugs from afar, Nici