Actress Nikki DeLoach on Being a Wounded Healer After Dealing with Her Dad's Dementia and Son's Heart Defects

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In the movies in which she stars for the Hallmark channels, Nikki DeLoach’s characters always find their way to a happy ending. Real life, however, has provided no such guarantees for the actress in recent years. In 2017, her son Bennett was born with multiple heart defects that threatened his survival. And around the same time, her father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia called Pick’s Disease that continues to steal his memory and personality day by day.

Though the road has been rocky, Nikki has been navigating these challenges with the help of her faith from a re-examined perspective, a supportive community of family and friends, and a willingness to serve as a wounded healer to others who are enduring painful challenges. She was also heartened by the fact that the family-friendly network for which she works came through for her when she needed them most.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), Nikki recalled that before Bennett was even two years old, he endured three open heart surgeries – and each time, Nikki and her husband Ryan didn’t know if he was going to make it. Thankfully, the doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles were able to save Bennett, and he’s doing well today. But at one point, the family was in danger of losing their health insurance through the actor’s union because Nikki hadn’t worked for a long stretch of time. Without insurance, the cost of Bennett’s medical care would have been astronomical.

Nikki called Hallmark executives and asked if they had a movie she could start quickly, but no projects were set to begin for another two months. She explained her dilemma, noting that she needed to work within a few weeks to keep her insurance. Hallmark reconfigured their shooting schedule, and Nikki was on-set filming within three weeks. The network had rescued her family from financial catastrophe.

While all this was going on, Nikki also knew that something was wrong with her father, who lived back in her Georgia hometown. She told me, “This started for him in his late ’50s…That’s when his personality started to shift. There were little memory things here and there, but really it was his personality and his behaviors. My dad was…such a loving, kind man. He had the patience of a saint. [Suddenly], there was no more patience. The kindness and compassion were gone. He was angry a lot, very bitter. Those things happened, almost overnight.”

Initially, Nikki thought it might be a brain tumor, but it turned out to be Pick’s disease, a rare and aggressive form of dementia. “Instead of losing him in one day,” observed Nikki, “I’m losing him every day over time.”

As a Christian raised in the Baptist faith, Nikki admits these experiences prompted her to ask God why these things were happening to the people she loved. Was God making them happen as a punishment of some kind, which is what some Christians believe?

Nikki explained, “I had to re-examine my relationship with God and what it meant to walk with God and Jesus in your life every single day. [I believe that] God doesn’t do these things to us…God is all good all the time and all love all the time…The truth of the matter is that life is hard and bad stuff happens to all of us. Disease and illness do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter your race, your gender, or your socioeconomic level. Bad stuff happens to everyone. It is our faith that helps us to give any situation meaning. Whether that situation is painful or whether it is full of joy, it is our faith that helps us look at it and say, ‘How can I give this purpose? How can I lean into God to get me through, knowing that at the end of the day, whatever happens, I am still being held?’ I am still being held by the angels and I’m still being held by God. That is what I had to come to understand about what it means to really walk in faith.”

Nikki could easily have become overwhelmed by her own pain and isolated herself from the world. Instead, she has chosen the opposite approach, expanding her own sense of compassion and willingness to be a source of God’s love to others in need. She is active in helping the Alzheimer’s Association with her good friend and fellow Hallmark actress Ashley Williams, who lost her mother to dementia.

Nikki’s philosophy was perfectly expressed in a quote she read recently. It said, “The healer’s gift is her own wound. It is the source of empathy and true understanding of compassion and forgiving. To heal thyself, embrace your wound as your sacred teacher.”

Nikki notes that the traumas we experience in life – be it at age eight, 18, or 48 – can create disease in our bodies and minds if they’re not addressed. “But if you can turn within and bring compassion and love to your wound – and ask it, ‘What can I learn from you? How can I grow from you’ – that’s how you begin to heal yourself. That’s also how you begin to help others through deep compassion and empathy. Vulnerability is our super power because it allows us to feel…When we see somebody else that’s in pain, we can look at them, knowing what that feels like, and say, ‘I see that you’re in pain. How can I help you? How can I be of service?’ Sometimes that means sitting with someone while they cry or while they talk and not offering a piece of advice, but just listening with your heart. Sometimes it may involve a food chain of people delivering food if the family’s going through something. But whatever it is, when you listen from that space – and it’s often from a space where you’ve also been wounded – you can really be a source of love and compassion for someone else.”

In light of the trauma she has been enduring, it’s appropriate that Nikki’s latest Christmas film for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, entitled “Two Turtle Doves,” addresses dealing with grief during the holiday season. In fact, she lobbied for the role after reading the script written by Sarah Montana.

Nikki said, “This character came up – a doctor, a neuroscientist – whose job it was to research the effects of trauma in the body and the brain. And one of the things that causes trauma in the body and brain is grief. I was like, ‘This is everything I’ve been studying for the last two years of my life!’…I thought, what a great way to bring a character and a topic like this to the masses and also wrap it up in a beautiful story about having the courage and openness to move through your grief with someone else…We usually move through things that are painful in isolation, [but] if we can allow ourselves to open up and have the courage to move through these things with other people, that’s where the magic and miracles happen. That’s where the healing happens. That’s where laughter begins to happen. Also along the way for my character, you might also find love. I thought it was a really beautiful story and a beautiful way to tell an important message.”

Nikki is deeply grateful for the people in her life who have stepped up when she needed them most. And they reminded her that there is far more goodness in the world than we sometimes realize.

She concluded, “In the news, we are inundated with negativity and stories of things that people did wrong and how people are messed up…[But] we also have people who are making such a difference in the world and in people’s lives. I had girlfriends drop food off for us three weeks straight when we were at the hospital [with Bennett] and beyond…People took my oldest son on play dates, sleepovers, to get ice cream, to try and bring some normalcy to a very abnormal situation. With my dad, at the church, everyone is aware of his situation, so they all help him. I received cards from churches all over the South that I didn’t even know. They would send me cards with all of their signatures saying, ‘We’ve been praying for your son and for your family.’

“I always kind of knew this, but…we have to go to those in need. We have to help because when one of us rises, we take the rest with us. Together, we are the ones who can make this world a better place. A lot of the times, I think we sit around and wait for some big person [to fix things]. I call it the Jesus syndrome, where people are waiting around for someone to come in and save everyone from the woes of the world. That’s not the way it is. Jesus died to give us free will. We have the choice. We are the ones that are sent here to make a difference. I will never forget what my friends and my community have done for me and my family through the last couple of years of our lives. I will never forget it.”

(To listen to my full interview with Nikki DeLoach, click on the podcast link):

Nikki DeLoach interview – Christopher Closeup