I lost my beautiful mother one year and one week ago today (this blog post was delayed a bit, so that I could gather my thoughts). She passed away after a 1.5 year battle with serious illnesses. I do not use the word battle lightly-she literally fought until her dying day. Her example of strength through adversity will no doubt carry me through battles I have in this life. I am so blessed that I have her as my mother-she is truly one of the reasons I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God loves me.
As the months continued after her passing, I noticed a subtle yet ever-present tone in my conversations with friends and coworkers. I was still dealing with daily grief, still having the urge to call her and mention something that I saw or read (I even picked up the phone a few times to make the call, but remembered she was gone right before dialing), still running through her last days and wondering if I could have or should have done something differently. The loss and the grief was impacting my work tremendously, as well as my concentration levels. However as August turned to September, I realized that I was no longer being asked “How are you doing?” I was no longer being told “You’re in our thoughts and prayers” or “How are the kids holding up?”.
If I had a day that I looked down or sad, I would have people check on me, and that was great. However, if I managed to plaster a smile on my face, those around me would definitely lean into that smile and carry on normal conversation.
In those moments, I felt that I had to carry on as well. I told myself things like: “she was a part of your world, not theirs. Their world still carries on without Mom”. Or, “Life doesn’t stop because one person dies. People die every day.” So, I pressed forward.
But, not really.
I was having great difficulty with my work: with organizing tasks, with prioritization, with dealing with people. I was not clinically depressed, but I was definitely not adjusting well to my new normal. There was a sense of emptiness in me that I did not know how to handle. The part that made it the worst was that, other than my husband, I did not feel as though I could talk to anyone about this feeling. You know the usual trope: “I don’t want to be a burden.”
And I truly feel as though talking about it would have burdened those around me. I got the sense that people were relieved that I seemed okay. They needed me to move on. They needed me to be okay. I am the Strong Friend. I am the Confidant. I am the Giver of Advice. They needed me to continue to be those things for them, even though what I needed was to simply have someone say “are you okay?” Or to give me a hug. Holding that amount of turmoil and pain inside without any outward repercussions is impossible. I became physically exhausted and overwhelmed. I could not continue with social media, because it was so difficult having to see life go on for others while I was struggling so much.
Enough is Enough
At some point in December of 2017, about 6 months after she passed, I decided that enough was enough. I did two things that helped and led me to the path toward being in a better place: I made the decision to enroll in therapy, and I started speaking out more about my feelings. I shut down my facebook account and said no to opportunities that were draining my mental energy. I began prioritizing me for the first time in years. The grief and sadness comes in waves. If I felt it, I leaned into the feeling by journaling and reflecting. If I was in a moment of pain or sadness and someone asked how I was doing, I resisted the urge to respond “ok”. I was very honest. I would say things like: “today has been rough,” or “I am taking it one day at a time.” It felt incredibly freeing to be honest about how I was really doing. I can recall, shortly before deactivating facebook, that I was on a post with a group of women I was working with in a nonprofit group. We were doing group introductions. I basically introduced myself as “Kim, and I am not always doing okay, because I recently lost my mother”. I was mostly met with crickets, although there were a few supportive statements made. However, when I unexpectedly made the decision to pull back from my leadership role in that group, I did so unapologetically and knowing that the admin team had context for my departure due to the fact that I spoke up. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely change the “how”, but definitely not the “what” of my departure.
There are two lessons that I have learned from this time in my life:
1. You have to fight for your time.
When people say ”take your time to heal” I now interpret the “take” as an active process. I needed to fight for ME and my healing process. I turned down job opportunities, outings with friends, and let it be known (mostly to myself) that I was prioritizing ME. I TOOK my time back. I spent several months failing at this goal, and it wasn’t until recently that I have had actual success in making healing a priority in my life. Again, I could not do this without my therapist.
As Congresswoman (Auntie) Maxine Waters exclaimed last year, I was “Reclaiming my time!” I am taking my time. Actively. Fitfully. But, increasingly consistently. It felt and continues to feel AMAZING.
The second thing I learned was a very profound notion (and one that might require its own blog post):
2. I cannot expect people to show up for me if I was not showing up for myself.
I must credit Ms. Stacey Flowers with this particular line of thinking. If I do not deem myself worthy enough to take care of me, how can I expect others to? If I had not let people know that I was not ready to go back to life as normal just yet; if I had not turned down opportunities that were not right for me; if I hadn’t prioritized ME, others would have expected me to do all of the above on their terms. People in my life were not being malicious-that’s just the way things are. We have to let the ones that care about us know what we are willing to accept, and if they truly care about us they will abide by those edicts.
After writing this, I am certain that this second lesson requires its own blog post!
Has there been an area of your life that you have had to fight for your time? I would love if you would share below?
This post is dedicated to my beautiful mother, Hanna Hunter (August 8, 1946-July 12, 2017). In this life you dedicated your talents and treasures to your children, the children in your community, your church, and your God. I intend to carry on your legacy in everything that I do. Rest well, Mommy.