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.

Good vs. Perfect

Hello, my name is Brandi and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I was a good student growing up — the type that gets A’s on tests and papers and goes above and beyond on projects. In 9th grade, we were tasked in history to write a section of a chapter on one of the topics we were studying. While most of the kids in my class, gathered their papers in those plastic covers that made everything seem more formal and professional, I spent time building a mock textbook from foam board, created a cover, and glued my chapter in it. I could feel the glares.

I probably got a little too drunk on 100s on tests with extra bonus points, papers marked with A+ and the praise from teachers. As long as I kept being perfect — or at least near perfect — I would be fine.

But perfection is not the reality of life.

It dragged me down for years, the pressure to do everything exactly right, to please people, to adjust and change and shape myself to make other people happy. I wanted approval, I wanted praise, I wanted to know I was good and kind and beautiful and worth something.

In the past 4 years, I’ve given up the perfectionist and discovered a deep sense of connection and self-compassion. Because in business, nothing goes perfectly. You learn from every stumble and mishap and project. You grow. And suddenly, you realize that it’s not about getting it perfect, but letting it change you. It’s about the expansion and the deeper discovery of truths that shift you closer to you.

You realize that it’s about good rather than perfect.

In his podcast, Rob Bell elaborates on the difference between good and perfect so eloquently. In Genesis, God made the world good, not perfect. There is no growth in perfection, but there is growth and story and love in good. It is dynamic and changing, rather than stagnant and fixed.

I choose to embrace growth and evolution and story. I choose to embrace my beautiful and imperfect self. I choose to embrace and love others in their beauty and imperfection. It is good and it is miraculous.

Missing

This is going to be raw. I don’t know how else do talk about this.

Five days after I returned from my time in Atlanta and Tennessee, I had to say goodbye to my sweet cat, Marty.

He was such a fighter and so stubborn at times. After the vet discovered the lymphoma, they gave him a month to live. Marty gave me 8 months.

I’ve had trouble writing lately, because I want to write about him. But when I do, I cry hard. I miss him so badly and it still hurts.

His loss has made me think about those other lights I’ve lost. So today, here’s what I’m missing:

mornings on the porch, sipping tea, watching Marty explore the yard

the way he dipped his paw into milk to drink it

Marty’s stare in the middle of the afternoon, when he was ready for food

how he licked my little cat Cami clean when my mom brought her home

the way Marty curled up between my legs at night so we could sleep

the wrestling fights he and Hugo would get into

the moments where all he wanted to do was be next to me and sleep

how I kissed his belly hundreds of times after the surgery, wishing for a miracle

watching the transformation as Marty went from a scared cat from the pound to a trusting loyal friend

I wake up some mornings and still can’t believe I arrived here, that he’s gone. He was the glue in my little family of human plus three cats.

I’ve been thinking of all he taught me — to take time, to slow down, to love unconditionally and fiercely.

My heart is broken, but I am so incredibly grateful for all the time we did have.

Capturing A Moment

December was a difficult month for me: I moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone, in hopes it would be a better fit for me; my then-boyfriend and I broke up; and my cat Marty had emergency surgery when it became clear there was a growth in his stomach, causing him a lot of pain. It was this last piece of news that hit me the hardest — I was just really learning how to love this cat, adopted from a shelter by an ex-boyfriend, then stolen by me when it was clear he wasn’t being treated well. At the beginning he had been stand-offish and always pretty independent. But he had changed in the months before the surgery. I had changed too.

The surgery went well, but the prognosis wasn’t good. The vet gave him a month.

It’s been four.

I know I don’t have forever, but I do have this time.

And I wanted it captured, with me in it. I’ve typically been the one snapping photos, but really wanted some of me with my cats. My friend Carrie came by and took a few photos for me.

brandi_cats2

brandi_cats3
Brandi_MartyHugo

brandi_cats4

Brandi_cats1
brandi_cats5

There are days that harder and days that are great. I don’t always know which it will be. My work sometimes falls a bit behind, because I need to be present more with my cats than with emails or my blog. But I am where I need to be, and that matters most to me — and to them, I suspect.

Disable Google Analytics

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.