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I moved states to care for my family after my sister died. It taught me the importance of putting life before work.

Juliana Kaplan   

I moved states to care for my family after my sister died. It taught me the importance of putting life before work.
  • Ebony Simpson works in public relations and was in Houston when the pandemic hit.
  • When her younger sister passed away, she moved to Indianapolis to care for her niece.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ebony Simpson, a public-relations professional in her early 30s currently living in Indianapolis. Simpson asked to keep her current employer anonymous to protect professional relationships, but her employment has been verified by Insider. It has been edited for length and clarity.

This story is part of "How the Pandemic Changed My Career," an Insider series documenting the moves and moments that shaped people's careers over the last two years.

My entire team was working in our office in Houston when the pandemic hit.

I obtained my graduate degree from Kent State University in Ohio through its distance-learning program while I lived in Los Angeles, so being disciplined while working remotely isn't something I'm new to.

But while I didn't have to spend time sitting in traffic, sometimes I would have trouble turning work off — even though I have a dedicated office space.

It was harder during the pandemic, since people often work different schedules — parents might respond to your Slack in the wee hours of the morning because that's the best time for them to work.

As an African American woman working remotely during a time when racial tensions were very high, I also appreciated that I worked at a company that allowed us the time to go out and share our voices by peacefully protesting and joining marches for George Floyd.

Last August, my younger sister died of non-COVID-19-related causes

I went home for her funeral — she was only a few months younger than me — and learned that my 17-year-old niece needed a consistent, reliable parental figure in her life, given that her mother had just passed away.

I wouldn't feel right if I couldn't contribute to her life in a way that could make her better.

My sister's kids had already experienced one of the most traumatic experiences that any child can experience. I didn't want anything else in their lives to radically change. So I made the executive decision: Since I could work remotely, I would get a house in Indiana.

On August 22, I immediately started looking for homes while we were staying with my dad in Indianapolis

I got approved for a house at the beginning of September, and then we moved in October 1, when the lease started.

I moved to Indianapolis with two suitcases and that was it. I've kept my apartment in Houston, so I've had to pay two rents every month.

I furnished most of the Indiana house using Amazon and donations from family members. My niece now lives with me full time in Indianapolis, while my nephew lives with his dad's sister.

I'm thankful that I was gainfully employed and making enough to cover two sets of living expenses. I went back to Houston for the first time since August in January. It was great to walk into a place and everything is there — from dishwashing liquid to your favorite candle.

I unexpectedly started the process of becoming a foster parent, and it was a challenge — but also my biggest win

It's been fulfilling to be there for my family.

As I was grieving and had to see my niece and nephew every day — especially because kids feed off your energy — I threw myself more into my work.

As a matter of fact, I came up with one of my best campaign ideas ever during this time. The campaign showcases healthcare human-interest stories.

Shortly after that, I took a two-week vacation to recharge and went to Miami with two of my friends.

Normally I wake up around 5 a.m., two hours before my niece needs to go to school

By the time I get back home from dropping her off, it's 7:30 a.m. I still have over an hour to meditate, pray, and work out to help release any energies that come with grieving.

At the end of the day, I like to relax. I love music and like to crank up my sound system. Music is therapeutic for me.

We have to practice self-care — if you're not taking care of yourself, you're only going to show up halfway

I've worked in public relations for 17 years and never took a break. I think my longest vacation was probably a week.

I'm thankful to have worked with a team that valued my work ethic and understood that I was going through a lot. Losing somebody is life-changing.

They just consistently showed me grace and reminded me that they were there to support me in my absence by handling some of the goals and deadlines I'm responsible for.

The pandemic has changed my perspective about work

For someone in my type of field, you don't really need to go into the office to get the job done. That was the biggest eye-opener for me. I'm a millennial, and our generation tends to pride itself on hard work.

Work is gonna always be there. But if you don't take care of yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, you won't be able to show up for work. Meditating and staying close to people who exude positive energy — I have the best virtual house parties with friends — can help.

This is the first time in my life that I've actively searched for comedy movies. Somebody recently told me to check out "Beverly Hills Cop." And I ended up watching parts one, two, and three, and I was in tears laughing. I also watched Richard Pryor doing this roast on YouTube that literally had me rolling on the floor.

Right after my sister died, my niece and I went to King's Island, an amusement park in Ohio, to get away while we were looking for places to live

Sometimes it's important to tap into your inner child and just have much as fun as possible.

For the first time in my life, I've realized the importance of putting myself before work. What I mean by that is being open and honest with my team and saying things like, "Hey guys, I need a couple of hours, I gotta take a break."

Once it warms up in Indiana, I'm definitely going to take advantage of exploring. I'm just going to incorporate more outdoor activity into my and my niece's daily routine.


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