Easter

I had it in my mind to write something about business this morning, as I spent last week at an incredible retreat with some really amazing business owners. But instead, my mind is going to this:

Grief is a strange creature. It appears to come and go without any reason, but more likely, it just slips in and out of the shadows, always there and ready to reappear unexpectedly.

I miss my mom every single day.

Some days are particularly painful. The tears just come, then the heaving sobs. Yesterday it happened at the end of an episode of Queer Eye. Yes, Queer Eye. Because watching a little moment of normalcy in someone else’s life, a woman interacting with her mother, I was suddenly reminded that those moments are gone for me.

Other days are more bittersweet. I see something that reminds me of my mom and my heart warms. The tears are choked back, and even though I’m not crying, my heart is breaking just a little bit.

What is it that they say? “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” Rumi knew the world well. Doesn’t make it any easier though.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter. Growing up, we would hop in the car on Easter morning and drive to my grandmother’s house. After she had a stroke and lost use of the left side of her body, Easters were held at my parents’ house. My mother had trained her little miniature dachshunds to hunt for Easter eggs. Lucy, the older of the two, always needed a bit of help, but Amber, a dachshund-something mix that had been rescued from South Carolina, excelled at the game.

I don’t remember where I was last Easter. My mom was in and out of the hospital so much. She was so weak. One dog had passed before she was diagnosed, the other right before my mom returned home from her surgery. We may have been at my brother’s place, so she could be with her grandson. We may have been at home. There’s so much that feels like a blur from that year.

The year before that, she made me, my brother, and my sister-in-law do a scavenger hunt around the yard at her home. Her scavenger hunts were definitely harder when I was a kid, but I loved them, even as an adult. No doubt I’ll be crafting them for my nephew one day.

Each holiday has been hard without her, in its own way. And with each passing day, I learn this:

Grief hits you over and over again. There’s no timeline, no easy clean steps. You’re just there with it, letting it teach you what matters.

Heartbreak

Your heart will break a thousand times in this lifetime. Maybe a hundred thousand.

That may seem like a pessimistic prediction, but let me explain…

Moments of beauty are not only found in love and joy but in loss as well. And when we love fiercely, we feel loss differently: we grieve but we also discover a deep gratitude.

My eldest cat was sick: losing weight and vomiting a bit each day. I had no idea what was wrong until an ultrasound revealed a tumor in his stomach. Lymphoma. He had an emergency surgery to remove the mass, but the vet told me he still only had a month to live without chemo. Chemo itself might only give him a few more months. Scared as I was, I declined the treatment, knowing how stressed weekly treatments would make my cat. I brought him home and took care of him day and night — for 7 months. In those 7 months, I learned about love and acceptance and seeing someone (no animal is “only an animal”). I learned the beauty of little interactions and joy, like watching him lay in the sunlight or touch a slug and jump back. And I felt the devastation of loss as I held him in my arms as he faded. Even then, looking into his eyes was the beauty of the world, of this moment with me. Even with my heart breaking.

I was so grateful for being able to take care of him in the way he needed, grateful for the lessons he taught me in those months and how they summed up what I had been learning from him all along.

My mom had come down when I knew it was time for him. She was with me as I held him.

And then my mom was diagnosed with cancer — bile duct and pancreatic to be exact. The doctors said it was stage 2 and treatment was possible. They prepared her for a surgery that was so complex I didn’t dare read about it for fear of where my mind would go with that information. She was weak for some time then went through chemo, but a year after her diagnosis things were looking up. Thanksgiving came and she was there at the hospital the day her grandson was born; she was the third person to hold his tiny body. But she still said this Thanksgiving and Christmas might be her last. I tried to counteract her negativity with my own brand of hope, trying to instill in her the belief and trust there would be more. But by mid-December, she was in the hospital again and would spend the next 8 months in and out at least once a month. The decisive diagnosis was given in June: the cancer was back and there wasn’t much the doctors could do. They didn’t know how much time she had, but I think my mother had a sense, because when she told me and my brother, she said 2 months.

After other procedures we hoped would help and putting her on hospice the week she got really bad, she bounced back a bit and we had some time together. I spent most of my mornings with her, sitting by her side, getting her food when we could convince her to eat, and organizing her bedside table just so. When the last week came, we knew she was going. It became difficult for her to communicate and we did whatever we could to keep her comfortable. On her last day, I sang to her and sat by her side and reassured her that just because it was time to let go of this body and this life, it didn’t mean we’d be apart. I would be there on the other side of this, and though I’ve never experienced death, I was suddenly sure of this, of how we live on in a new way, and how we live on in those people we love.

My mother taught me so much in my life, from tying my shoes to putting on makeup to being creative. Her strengths taught me, her weaknesses shaped me, and her love changed me. And as absolutely heartbreaking as it was to lose her, the moment she passed was filled with such great beauty, with such deep love…it taught me as well. I was grateful for her, for our friendship, for how she made me, for it all.

That’s what you don’t always expect in heartbreak: the gratitude for it all. You don’t see it immediately, but it’s there. And it changes you.

Defining Legacy

In April, my business celebrates its 6th official birthday.

I started taking on some side development work and projects for friends 7 or 8 months prior to making the big leap away from my non-profit job and into working for myself. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

In the past 6 years, I have grown and learned so much. You have to if you want your business to be successful.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Things go wrong, team members make mistakes, there are misunderstandings and problems that creep up unexpected along the way. But there’s a lot that goes right too.

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about ways to share the knowledge I’ve collected with other business owners. I’d like others to have an advantage I didn’t have, to have a collective of people to support and encourage them, to use what I’ve learned to help others.

I find myself wondering what my legacy is going to be.

I don’t have a neatly packaged answer to the question of legacy yet. Some people leave a company a behind, some people leave children. Others leave works of arts or books or a poem. Mother Teresa taught us compassion, Maya Angelou taught us about courage, Mary Oliver gave us little snippets that reminded us to find the wonder in the world.

What will my legacy be? What will the lessons of my life lead me to share?

It’s beyond business how-to’s for me. It goes deeper. All I have ever done has been in the name of freedom, of figuring out what freedom looks like and feels like. So many of us are not free. So many of us are but cannot see it.

So maybe I start there, with simply finding the common themes that have guided me forward for years…

A Daydream

Someday, I want to own a home with an epic door knocker — the type that is so perfectly unusual it makes you question if you’ll be stepping into another world on the other side of it.

I want door knobs and keyholes that look like intricate puzzles, waiting not only a key but a password or secret knock for it to work properly.

The garden in the back will be heavy with time, for there it slows and speeds up and slows down again, until you lose all sense of what hour it is and what you’re supposed to be doing.

There are no “supposed to”s or “should”s allowed within the house, only dancing and indulging in your senses. The kitchen transforms at different hours of the day from bakery to cafĂ© to gourmet kitchen. Dinners always have candlelight. Afternoon tea involves a stack of books and laughter. Breakfast can be eaten at any hour, particularly if it’s some variety of french toast or pancakes.

And yet, the interior is surprising unassuming and modern in its simplicity. You are more likely to get lost in art or a sunbeam than in the cushions of an old sofa or amongst decorative objects. The rooms feel both a blank canvas and a warm inviting place for solace and entertaining and dreaming.

Someday…

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Credits

Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.