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.
Adrian: Father’s Day wasn’t supposed to go like this.
Kim: Ok, let me backtrack. Two Sundays ago was Father’s Day! The newborn babies in Miami didn’t seem to care, though, which meant that I was scheduled to work in the newborn nursery that day. Adrian and I believe that the day of each parent should be celebrated, at the very least, with decreased or no parental duties. I was feeling very guilty that I had to work. To make matters worse, I had been on service the entire week, so Adrian had been on daddy duty almost exclusively. I made the decision to get a babysitter for 4 hours to give Adrian a break. Adrian loves spending time at the beach, so I envisioned him taking a break to splash in the waves while I am rounding on the babies.
Adrian: I sincerely appreciate Kim’s thoughtfulness in hiring the babysitter. I do, in fact, love to spend time at the beach. Having grown up in Jamaica, being at the beach is like being home. For some reason, however, I view my birthday as a day to have some alone time to reflect on my life and goals, whereas I view Father’s Day as a day to be with my family. It brings me great joy to execute my fatherly duties on “my day”, so I decided to take my son to the beach with me while the baby stayed home with the sitter. “First, though, we went to our favorite breakfast spot in our city! I was enjoying our day but missing my girls. Israel and I arrived at the beach in the late morning hours. I was able to snag a parking space (score!), and paid a small fortune for beach chairs and an umbrella. However, once our time with the babysitter was about to expire, I realized that I needed more time at the beach—despite the seaweed invasion.
Kim: So, he called me. I was finally done with rounding and was about to work on a few other items on my to-do list so that when I got home I could be fully present. Adrian said we should all return to the beach as a family. Hey, it’s his day so I obliged him, even if I had NO BATHING SUIT on me, no towel, no shoes…basically I was totally unprepared. Adrian suggested that I go pick up a bathing suit. I decided to stop by Ross (shout out to Ross!). I picked up a suit and a towel. Meanwhile…
Adrian: Meanwhile, I went back home, picked up Selah (right before naptime…was that a good idea?), and drove back to the beach. As I drove, I realized that I didn’t bring a change of clothes for myself, Israel or Selah…I just grabbed their swim suits and left. I usually think that I don’t fit the “typical Dad” stereotype, but this was a typical sitcom dad moment. What can I say? Kim and I just have different packing skills. I did remember snacks, though. As long as they’re well fed, I’m good. After all, in sunny SoFlo, wet clothes will dry at some point.
Kim: At this point, Adrian was legit calling me q2 minutes (that’s every 2 minutes for my non-medical peepsJ). He was driving around and having difficulty finding parking. I was trying to negotiate whether or not I had time to grab a snack.
Adrian: Kim knows that not being able to find parking is my kryptonite. I need to work on this, but I get frustrated very easily and get very snippy when parking is limited and I have to drive around a lot. By this time, Selah was sleeping and Israel was eating pizza that I purchased earlier. The parking attendant told me that I could potentially park at the nearby hotel with valet. Nice! WRONG. The valet attendant said I needed to be a hotel guest.
Kim: I am still receiving q2 min phone calls at this point.
Adrian: Then, SELAH THROWS UP.
Kim: And he calls me again.
Adrian: I pull over and clean her up with baby wipes and the only towel I had. Still, I couldn’t find a parking space. I call Kim (again) and told her I might just take the kids home. I was very disappointed at this point.
Kim: I leave Ross with my purchases, because I didn’t get the 7th call (!) until I
had already checked out. So, now I had $30 worth of beach gear for no reason, and I am worried about my daughter. I am driving home when I get the 8th call. We are back on for the beach! Huh?
Adrian: I changed my mind. Why not just throw caution to the wind and go to the beach? I have no change of clothes anyway, and Kim just bought a bathing suit. I didn’t want to disappoint her, since she left work early because of me. Selah was now very happy—singing, clapping, throwing tantrums, bossing us around—and I think the vomiting was due to congestion, as her breathing sounded clearer now. Off to the beach we go!
Kim: By this time, I am mostly going with the flow ONLY because it’s Father’s Day. On a regular Sunday I would have screamed “Make up your mind!” So, now I am driving to the beach. I receive about 5 more calls, because we are now switching beaches due to the parking situation. This meant forfeiting our beach chairs and umbrella that Adrian had rented for several more hours; but again, I am just going with the flow at this point!
Adrian: The beach was great! We had a blast. We were totally unprepared, but we were all together. I had no towels, because I used the one I brought to clean up vomit. Well, Kim had a towel that she just purchased, so there is that. We splashed around, ate slightly sandy pizza (because we had nothing to spread on the ground), and generally had a great time.
Kim: We got home around 8:00 PM after picking up some food for dinner. Everyone showered before we ate so we wouldn’t track sand all over the house. We got the kids ready and then got ready for bed as well. Before we went to sleep, Adrian’s voice changed a bit and he seemed a bit short of breath. Let’s just say this resulted in a 911 call, an ambulance ride, me calling my best friend to stay with my kids, and a few days in the hospital.
Adrian: I am so thankful for Kim and her love and diligence. She is, indeed, a super mom. She made many sacrifices that week as she juggled work and home while being my personal physician and patient advocate—and she made it look so easy. Although she had to cancel a presentation the morning I was admitted, she still managed to get some work done while being at my bedside; and actually, that motivated me to put in a couple hours of work as well, yes, right there in the hospital. Of course, I didn’t have to, but I really missed work and needed to keep my mind engaged: I love my job that much. Thankfully, all turned out well. I’m feeling great, and I now have another testimony of divine healing and deliverance.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our Father’s Day debacle! Do you have a similar story of a day that was supposed to go well and ended up totally different? Share it below!
-Adrian and Kim
“How do you do it all?” Short answer—I don’t do it all. Not by a long shot.
“How do you stay balanced?” The truth is, my life is not balanced. Not at all. And, I think that is OK. When I picture work-life balance, I picture the words “work” and “life” on two sides of a scale, both with equal weight so that the scale is perfectly in balance. It’s a beautiful concept in theory, but do I really want my work life to equally balance with my family life? The truth is, I want to always prioritize my family and my personal life, while realizing that the demands of my career will require that I sometimes am away from home and have to prioritize work.
I like to think of this as “strategic juggling”. Picture me, in my white coat, throwing several balls into the air. However, I am a terrible juggler, and there are too many balls. Rather than allowing all the balls to fall, I decide to place 2-3 of them down at a time so that I can better manage the others. Once I get a handle on those, I pick them back up, and put others down.
Because I believe that my career of being a pediatrician that serves the underserved is my calling, I am willing to strategically (and temporarily) place the family ball lower than my career on a given day to reach a specific career-related goal; but I always pick it back up.
As an example, I give many talks, workshops, and trainings on cultural competence, specifically, implicit bias. I have also done research in this area and published in journals. As a result, I was asked to be the first author of a textbook chapter that centers on cultural competence with some physicians from Harvard Medical School. What a huge honor! However, as the deadlines approached this past year, that required many long and sleepless nights as I wrote, edited, re-edited, re-edited AGAIN—a very long process. However, I have great joy in knowing that I am contributing positively to my profession, and that my work may help the next generation of physicians take care of patients from diverse backgrounds in a culturally competent manner. So, on those weeks, I missed family dinners. I came home one night at 3:00 a.m., and was out again by 7:00 a.m. It was ROUGH. I placed the family ball down TEMPORARILY so that I could meet a deadline that would position my career for growth.
There was another week that my baby girl, Selah, was ill. I was called to pick her up from school early, but they told me that I should come around 2:00 since she was already down for her nap. Forgoing my work plans, I left work right away (and I am grateful that I have that flexibility when I am not on service!). I made it home by 11, cleaned the house, cooked a meal, picked up Selah, took her to the doctor, picked up her medications, brought her home, cuddled with her, gave her a bath, picked up my son, Israel, fed them dinner, and got them ready for bed. I did NO work that day. I made the decision to place the work ball down so that I could care for my family.
It might sound like I am super confident and sure of myself when I place the home and family balls down temporarily. Nope. The mommy guilt is real, y’all!!! I constantly doubt myself. There are often tears, both from me and my kids. I often wonder if I am doing right by them. However, when my son tells his friends that his mommy is a doctor and is helping to write a book I realize that he is proud of his parents and the work we do. Because I prioritize my family, I also try to make sure that the ball is only down for a very short period of time.
Will the guilt ever get better? I don’t know. But, I’d like to think that my children are loved, healthy, well-rounded, and amazingly bright and beautiful little people. So, I am not completely ruining, I suppose!
You may be wondering how my kids get fed and dressed, and picked up from school when my “home” ball is down? Dr. Daddy, aka Adrian, aka The Best Dad Ever. He is the biggest supporter of me and my career, and I truly couldn’t do it without him. We do not have a nanny or any other childcare help, except for the occasional babysitter, so we are a two-person show, here. Thanks for all that you do, Adrian! ❤
Do you believe in work-life balance, or do you juggle? How do you deal with the ever-present mommy guilt? Leave a comment below. Let’s chat about it and support each other!
Peace and Love,