My Story

Kimberly Harms, DDS


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My Story

Kimberly Harms, DDS


I learned about loss, challenge and grief at an early age.


I was born with 7 fingers and a couple of spinal issues. This was likely the result of the Thalidomide my mother took for nausea during her pregnancy. My loving and beautiful mom suffered from bipolar disease. At one point she was so low that she sat with my brother, sister and I in a car on the railroad track waiting for the train to come. Fortunately, she reconsidered just in time. My parents were divorced when I was three. My father remarried but forgot to tell his new wife that he had three children until just after they were married. She was unpleasantly surprised when we showed up on her doorstep after my mother was institutionalized for her illness. Things went downhill from there and my brother, sister and I all reached points where we believed that death was a better alternative than the life we were living. My brother, sister and I survived, but my mother succumbed to bipolar disease and took her life when I was 17.

By the early 1990’s, I was married to an amazing man, had three wonderful children and a successful dental practice with my husband. I had the feeling that my difficult times were over and there would be smooth sailing ahead.


I was wrong!


My husband was involved in a fatal car accident leaving two boys dead and my husband and son injured. A few months later, I took my daughters, my niece and my office manager’s daughter (I will call her Kara) to California to look at colleges. Near the end of our trip, on a beautifully calm day, Kara dove into a sandbar on the beach in Santa Barbara and broke her neck. I had to call my office manager and tell her that on this trip where she had entrusted me with the safety of her daughter, I had failed and her precious child was now paralyzed for life. It was the hardest and saddest thing I had ever done. Our office manager blamed me for her daughter’s paralysis and so did I. I was overcome with grief and guilt and shame. My shame and guilt affected our entire dental team

The next few years were difficult, but my family and my office team were recovering and I thought, once again, that the difficult days were over.


I was wrong!


In the mid-2000’s, our hygienist, (I’ll call her Deb), lost her beautiful hockey playing, high school senior son (I’ll call him Bill) to suicide shortly after a breakup with his girlfriend, and she lost another child at birth. Our patient care coordinator developed cancer. One of our assistants worked on Monday but died of a heart infection on Wednesday. My brother Mike had a heart attack and died. My nephew Zachary died from suicide. My husband, Jim, was diagnosed with liver cancer. We sold half of our practice. Then Jim was saved by a liver transplant and we rejoiced thinking that finally life would settle down.


I was wrong!


On January 31, 2009 our world was completely shattered when our son, Eric, took his life 45 minutes after his girlfriend broke up with him. He was a kind, caring, compassionate and brilliant engineering student. He was elected to student government, played piano in the jazz band, participated in theater and made the Dean’s List his first semester. Eric was on top of the world when he came home for Christmas. Two weeks later he was gone. Eric (19) and Bill (17) were the victims of suicidal depression, the loss of an important relationship and a brain not fully developed in the areas of impulse control and crisis management. They were part of our nation’s silent epidemic of suicidal depression.

When Bill died, I remember wondering after a year or so, when Deb would be back to normal. I learned after Eric’s death that the answer is never. We are never the same or normal after a catastrophic loss. We are changed. We don’t get over it, we get through it. We can never move on, we move forward.



I learned about loss, challenge and grief at an early age.


I was born with 7 fingers and a couple of spinal issues. This was likely the result of the Thalidomide my mother took for nausea during her pregnancy. My loving and beautiful mom suffered from bipolar disease. At one point she was so low that she sat with my brother, sister and I in a car on the railroad track waiting for the train to come. Fortunately, she reconsidered just in time. My parents were divorced when I was three. My father remarried but forgot to tell his new wife that he had three children until just after they were married. She was unpleasantly surprised when we showed up on her doorstep after my mother was institutionalized for her illness. Things went downhill from there and my brother, sister and I all reached points where we believed that death was a better alternative than the life we were living. My brother, sister and I survived, but my mother succumbed to bipolar disease and took her life when I was 17.

By the early 1990’s, I was married to an amazing man, had three wonderful children and a successful dental practice with my husband. I had the feeling that my difficult times were over and there would be smooth sailing ahead.


I was wrong!


My husband was involved in a fatal car accident leaving two boys dead and my husband and son injured. A few months later, I took my daughters, my niece and my office manager’s daughter (I will call her Kara) to California to look at colleges. Near the end of our trip, on a beautifully calm day, Kara dove into a sandbar on the beach in Santa Barbara and broke her neck. I had to call my office manager and tell her that on this trip where she had entrusted me with the safety of her daughter, I had failed and her precious child was now paralyzed for life. It was the hardest and saddest thing I had ever done. Our office manager blamed me for her daughter’s paralysis and so did I. I was overcome with grief and guilt and shame. My shame and guilt affected our entire dental team

The next few years were difficult, but my family and my office team were recovering and I thought, once again, that the difficult days were over.


I was wrong!


In the mid-2000’s, our hygienist, (I’ll call her Deb), lost her beautiful hockey playing, high school senior son (I’ll call him Bill) to suicide shortly after a breakup with his girlfriend, and she lost another child at birth. Our patient care coordinator developed cancer. One of our assistants worked on Monday but died of a heart infection on Wednesday. My brother Mike had a heart attack died. My husband, Jim, was diagnosed with liver cancer. We sold half of our practice. Then Jim was saved by a liver transplant and we rejoiced thinking that finally life would settle down.

I was wrong!


On January 31, 2009 our world was completely shattered when our son, Eric, took his life 45 minutes after his girlfriend broke up with him. He was a kind, caring, compassionate and brilliant engineering student. He was elected to student government, played piano in the jazz band, participated in theater and made the Dean’s List his first semester. Eric was on top of the world when he came home for Christmas. Two weeks later he was gone. Eric (19) and Bill (17) were the victims of suicidal depression, the loss of an important relationship and a brain not fully developed in the areas of impulse control and crisis management. They were part of our nation’s silent epidemic of suicidal depression.

When Bill died, I remember wondering after a year or so, when Deb would be back to normal. I learned after Eric’s death that the answer is never. We are never the same or normal after a catastrophic loss. We are changed. We don’t get over it, we get through it. We can never move on, we move forward.


How do we manage catastrophic events and still run a dental office that relies on patients trusting you to be focused on their needs?


The unfortunate truth is that calamity and catastrophe are an unavoidable part of life. Those affected by loss are left in shock and grief, left wondering how they can cope with the world.  In dentistry, our professional lives are very public and expressions of grief do not work easily into a relationship where drilling is involved. Our job requires a laser focus on tiny teeth trapped inside a mouth with moving parts. Our patients expect their dentists to smile and focus on the task at hand with no distractions.  In the dental office, grief for any loss is frequently expressed in secret.

Suppressing emotional pain is not a healthy option. Repressed grief can cause depression, sleeplessness, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as cardiovascular disease. My husband Jim experienced many of grief’s side effects. I recognized that I had depression and am treated for it. I lost my ability to practice dentistry because of nerve damage in my drilling fingers a year after Eric died. This is normally a catastrophic event, I realized, however, that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me.


I was right! Eric’s death put everything into perspective.


In my 40 years as a daughter, mother, grandmother, clinician, teacher, leader and national spokesperson, I have experienced my share of sorrow, pain and conflict. I am still standing, however, and standing strong. I have learned from the best; doctors with the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehab program, mentors in my professional life, grieving parents in my church life and genocide survivors in Rwanda and Armenia. My goal is to draw from the accumulated wisdom of these amazing people to help dental professionals across the country prepare and cope with the inevitable calamities and catastrophes that are lurking just around the corner.


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How do we manage catastrophic events and still run a dental office that relies on patients trusting you to be focused on their needs?


The unfortunate truth is that calamity and catastrophe are an unavoidable part of life. Those affected by loss are left in shock and grief, left wondering how they can cope with the world.  In dentistry, our professional lives are very public and expressions of grief do not work easily into a relationship where drilling is involved. Our job requires a laser focus on tiny teeth trapped inside a mouth with moving parts. Our patients expect their dentists to smile and focus on the task at hand with no distractions.  In the dental office, grief for any loss is frequently expressed in secret.

Suppressing emotional pain is not a healthy option. Repressed grief can cause depression, sleeplessness, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as cardiovascular disease. My husband Jim experienced many of grief’s side effects. I recognized that I had depression and am treated for it. I lost my ability to practice dentistry because of nerve damage in my drilling fingers a year after Eric died. This is normally a catastrophic event, I realized, however, that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me.


I was right! Eric’s death put everything into perspective.


In my 40 years as a daughter, mother, grandmother, clinician, teacher, leader and national spokesperson, I have experienced my share of sorrow, pain and conflict. I am still standing, however, and standing strong. I have learned from the best; doctors with the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehab program, mentors in my professional life, grieving parents in my church life and genocide survivors in Rwanda and Armenia. My goal is to draw from the accumulated wisdom of these amazing people to help dental professionals across the country prepare and cope with the inevitable calamities and catastrophes that are lurking just around the corner.


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My hope is to give my audiences the skills necessary to prepare them for a healing path to joy and peace no matter what life brings.


-Kim


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My hope is to give my audiences the skills necessary to prepare them for a healing path to joy and peace no matter what life brings.


-Kim