Fuck the Box! Listen to your gut.

Gut instinct.Man standing in front of giant waterfall with rainbow across it, breathing it all in.

Gut instinct. So often we ignore it and do what others tell us we should be doing, molding ourselves into a box we just don’t fit inside. I say fuck the box. Get out there, listen to your gut, and breathe it all in.

So many business experts preach that, in order to be successful in running a business, you have to specialize in one area. I call bullshit!

When I was hip deep in running a photography business, every business class I took (with extremely successful photographers turned business coaches) repeated the same mantra “you must specialize to be successful”. I wasn’t nearly as successful as they were, but I wanted to be, so I ignored my gut instinct and followed their advice.

There were some glaring issues with their teachings (that I won’t even get into here because, seriously, there are too many to even touch on), but at the time I ignored my intuitive doubts in my hungry pursuit to be great.

I just wanted to be like them, so I followed their models and narrowed my focus from a wide range of photography to Wedding, Family, and Boudoir and, eventually, to just Boudoir. I trusted that if I specialized like they advised, I would find extreme success. After too many years of struggling (and still ignoring my gut instinct) to make the specialization work and being ridiculously bored and stagnant because of such a narrow focus, I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was forced to give myself a harsh reality check and completely revamp my career goals, but it was during this much-needed revamp that I had a huge epiphany.

Why should a person, like me (who has developed such a wide variety of skills in my 42 years and has such a huge amount of creative energy), have to narrow down anything in order to be successful? Why should I limit myself to only one kind of photography or, even better, to ONLY photography, just because others say that is the only way I will find success?

I finally just said fuck it to that line of thinking. It certainly wasn’t working for me and it was stifling, so I decided to toss it out and start from scratch. I took stock of all my skills and choose the ones I was both best at and enjoyed the most and allowed a business to naturally develop around them.

The way I saw it, if I wanted to be a photographer and a writer and an editor and many other things (because I was good at all of them), that’s exactly what I was going to be.

I’m just not made to fit into any kind of box.

It’s now April and I am currently still shooting (weddings, families, boudoir, commercial…whatever I fancy), writing (blogs and articles for other businesses and myself), editing (two novels), AND marketing social media for some local businesses in the Health & Wellness industry.

And guess what? I’m killing it! I’m not even remotely specialized now. In fact, I’m all over the fucking map and I have never felt so strong and confident in my work or so motivated and challenged.

  • My brain is happy with the constant stimulation;
  • I am still shooting hilarious and interesting people;
  • I am constantly increasing my knowledge of all things social media marketing (and understanding how much easier it is to market someone else’s business than my own);
  • I have learned how to build effective, kick ass websites;
  • I can read Google Analytics and Facebook/IG insights like a boss (and apply them to my marketing campaigns and Ads);
  • I am learning how to adjust my editing from the proper English of my youth to the modern English we are now immersed in (and, trust me, this is a tough but satisfying experience for me); and
  • I am earning money doing a bunch of different jobs, all of which I thoroughly enjoy.

Basically, I’m following my gut and heart and pursuing ALL of the things I love the most and I’m finally able to let my creative lungs fully expand.

So my message to all of you peeps out there–who are feeling stuffed into a box that just doesn’t quite fit–is to listen to your gut, not the so-called experts, to be able to take a fully freeing, creative breath again.

Fuck the box. Get out there and breathe it all in.

Oh, weddings! How I’ve missed you!

Wed_fave_2017 (363 of 21)A few months ago, when I sat down with the intention to choose my favorite wedding photos from the last 10 years and blog about them, I had no idea it would turn into such an emotional roller coaster. I found myself laughing hysterically, blubbering about the best sappy moments, giggling at remembered speeches, snorting at dance floor shenanigans, and energized by my work. It was the first time I’ve truly realized what an impact my own photos (and those of my regular second shooters) can have, even on me. Every time I opened a new wedding, it was as though I were right there again, re-living the moments and feeling all the feels.

I have seen a lot in ten years of shooting weddings, some of it hilarious, some of it unbelievable, some of it heart-wrenching.

There was that time a couple bridesmaids got into a fist fight over who the bride loved more; the groom who dropped the rings over the side of a boat and then one of his groomsman took off all his clothes and dove to retrieve them…in November; the mother of the bride who got so hammered she fell backward on the dance floor and flattened the band’s equipment in spectacular fashion; the officiant who farted, really loudly, in the middle of the ceremony in a church, leaving everyone too uncomfortable to laugh…until I snorted and everyone let their guard down and had a good, hearty chuckle.

Hilarious.

That one wedding where a bridesmaid actually pulled her cell phone out of her cleavage and started taking selfies in the middle of the ceremony until I snatched her phone out of her hand and shook a no-no-no finger at her, bringing huge guffaws from the guests.

Unbelievable.

There was also the wedding where I walked into a dressing room and found the groom making out with the bride’s sister (awkward); the father of the bride who died of a heart attack only one day before the wedding but my couple chose to get married anyway (and the bride’s brother walked her down the aisle and danced with her in place of their dad); the groom’s youngest brother who passed away a couple weeks before the wedding (in a workplace accident) and was given a place of honour (with his picture) at the head table where he would have sat, had he lived.

Heart-wrenching.

All of the stress (good and bad), the smiles, tears, belly laughs, awkward and intimate moments, and the days I would leave after working a 14-16 hour day, exhausted, but with a giant spring in my steps because we had absolutely killed every shot that day. It all came flooding back to me as I browsed through my weddings.

I honestly thought I was finished with my wedding shooting career, but feeling the impact my work has on me and realizing it’s much more intense for my clients, I suddenly found myself soul-searching for answers.

Isn’t this the epitome of why I loved being a wedding photographer?

Isn’t it amazing that I have the ability to bring people back in time to relive their moments as though they have just happened?

Were the long days of shooting, the endless hours of editing, the wedding-day stresses and troubleshooting, as well as the time put in to maintain client relationships, all worth it?

Uhm…YES!

Yes, they were all worth it.

So what happened? What made me decide to throw in the proverbial wedding towel?

Hmmm…

I’ve already written about the difficulties I went through after dying and coming back. I was an insatiable sponge that absorbed all the energy around me, positive or negative, and couldn’t wring myself out, no matter what I tried. Some days I felt as though I were actually reading people’s thoughts, not just picking up their energy, and it was horrible. I didn’t want to know what was going on in anyone’s head. Keeping up with my own thoughts and feelings was more than enough.

Add into the mix that I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer in love with my own husband and was starting to feel like a fraud while capturing the kind of love I was no longer in. Eventually, after working such long, relentless hours (by choice, mind you), fighting off all that energy and ignoring all the signs that my marriage was pretty much over, I lost my creative self somewhere under my own depleted and confused energy.

So I quit. I walked away from something that I was really damn good at and had always enjoyed and convinced myself it was for the best.

And it was, for a time, but not anymore.

I’ve taken the pressure off myself to continue with full-time photography and switched my career focus to something completely different, so I no longer have to shoot 15 or 20+ weddings a year to make ends meet. Now, I can bring the fun and enjoyment back into my work! I can shoot when I want, for my own enjoyment and creative release and to capture all those magical moments that live on forever in a snapshot.

I’m amazed that this has come back into my periphery and that I have allowed it to so easily seep back in and inspire me, but I’m embracing and rolling with it.

And, before I leave you with a link to a slideshow of some of my fave shots from ten years of weddings, I want to send a shout out to the dozen or so clients who sent me messages letting me know how much they still love their photos and asking me to reconsider my decision to get out of the wedding biz. Your messages tugged on my heart strings, brought tears to my eyes, and made me laugh my face off (big, snorting, belly laughter). You guys are the reason I love this gig and your love and kind words were a turning point for changing my thoughts about this and bringing me around. You guys are fairly rad hoomans!

[SIDE NOTE: A couple years ago, I had a huge mishap with two hard drives and lost 20+ weddings from the beginning of my wedding career, so I’m missing a lot of great moments. That was a good lesson to learn about triply backing up wedding archives after I’ve shipped them off to clients]

The photos in the slideshow are not, by any means, my “best” shots, and they won’t mean something to everyone, but they mean something to me and will always make me smile my face off when I look at them. If you would like to see more wedding shots, you can visit www.jojohnson.ca/wedding

Slideshow can be found at http://www.jojohnson.ca/blog/weddings/ (sorry, it wouldn’t move from one wordpress blog to another so I had to use a link. 🙂

Joy Should Never Have Guilt Attached To It.

NOTE: Originally posted in January 2017

ritchie-valens-43343I’ve been mostly MIA on my blog for nearly two years, but up until a week ago, I really didn’t know how to explain my absence to anyone. I wasn’t ready…until now.

Let me backtrack a bit:

On June 3, 2010, our beloved newborn, Cora Jane, died after picking up nosocomial pneumonia in the hospital and my life was turned upside down and sideways. The road of grief was long and winding and lasted years for both my husband and me. It fundamentally changed both of us but we eventually found solace on different paths – me in roller derby, he in motorcycle adventures. We lost each other somewhere in the meleeand I never quite found my way back.

On March 14, 2014, nearly four years after losing Cora, the stress of grief and life got to me and became really sick. I died a little bit and had one hell of a wickedly, wickedly, wickedly, awesome Near Death Experience (NDE) where I hung out with my dearly departed mom for an entire day and we chatted about the meaning of life and soul contracts. I learned more about myself in that brief blip in time than I had learned in nearly 40 years.

During that experience, mama told me something that I inherently knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: I was not in love with my husband any longer and our relationship was no longer viable. When she said it, I knew it as truth.

However, when I awoke in the hospital and my husband welcomed me back with a floodgate of tears and love, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept my mom’s revelation.

I was full to the brim with love and peace. My experience had opened up my soul so completely that I couldn’t fathom not loving my husband (and everyone else in my life), so I put those thoughts to the very back of my mind and got to work on loving everything. I spent the following six or seven months living life in a bubble of pure bliss, loving everyone and everything and understanding everything about the world. I was in a state of euphoria and it was the most magical feeling, aside from being dead, that I have ever known.

Then, one day in October 2014, it all crashed down around me when I opened the front door and was blasted by a shock wave of negativity that left me sitting on the floor, panting and panicked. It was the first time in my life I had what would later be described to me as a major anxiety attack, and so began the boomerang of the NDE survivor spectrum, extreme empathy. I began sucking up all the energy around me, especially the negativity.

For months, negativity plagued me. I would feel it everywhere I went and it would just keep building up inside. Anger would “jump ship” from someone else to me as I passed them on the street. Frustration would creep up on me if someone in the vicinity was frustrated about something. Despair, antagonism, fear, worry, stress, anxiety…you name it, I absorbed it. I was a Sham Wow for any kind of crappy feeling or emotion and just kept pulling it all in with no means of wringing it out until I was nearly bursting. It was debilitating. I started staying in the house for long periods of time (sometimes up to two weeks), shutting out the world and completely at a loss as to how to stop it.

I stopped working. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I basically stopped living. I was stressed out and afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two each night and I was so moody that I would erupt like a volcano over nothing on a regular basis.

I actually thought I might be going crazy and I thought I needed meds to bring me back to sanity.

Through all of it, my husband was really understanding and took care of me —working all day and then stopping for groceries, cleaning the house, making excuses for our friends and family for my constantly skipping functions —and the entire time, I felt resentful of him. I resented him for being so nice and kind to me. I resented him for loving me so much. I resented him for being so nice when I was being such a stone cold bitch and didn’t really appreciate any effort he was putting into our relationship. Nothing he did was good enough or, well…enough, period. I couldn’t understand why he was such a huge source of my anger when he was doing everything he could to make me happy. The guilt of it was all-consuming.

I was more despondent than I have ever been in my entire life, even after Cora died, and everything became a downward spiral. I started losing friends because I couldn’t keep up relationships. I lost business because I couldn’t find the energy to shoot anymore. I alienated my husband and kept him at arm’s length at all times. I just shut down.

At the time, I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me and I didn’t know how to clear the energy out of me or block it from getting in, so I just retreated into myself and grew more miserable every day. I was stuck in a dead end and I felt like I was constantly beating my head against a wall.

One night while my husband was on a motorcycle trip to Mexico, I was laying in bed asking my soul guides for help and my mom’s voice came through loud and clear. “Jo, remember what I said? It’s time to stop pretending and get moving.”

And just like that, something clicked. During my NDE, my mom had also told me that those moments in life when we feel like we are at a dead end and are beating our head against a wall are moments when our soul guides are trying to steer our feet onto a new path and we are resisting. She said that when this happens and we continue to resist, life gets harder and harder until our vibration gets so low, nothing but pain and misery get in. Sometimes we find our way back—if we realize what we’re doing and trust our guides to help us out of it—and sometimes we don’t. Laying there, in that moment, I realized that everything I was feeling and experiencing was coming from my own resistance to the truth —I was no longer in love with my husband. I loved him, yes, but only as a friend. I had been forcing my heart, in vain, to find its way back to something that no longer existed. I had denied the truth in my heart and it had finally caught up with me and kicked my ass. My own resistance had backed me into a corner and forced me to face up to my fears or stay lost forever.

And just like that, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. When he called me the following day, even though I knew I was going to hurt him so much, I told him that I was leaving him.

Not only was it an awful feeling, but it was also, remarkably, a great feeling too. The moment I got the words out, I felt the weight of all of that negativity shift and begin to dissipate and I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to save my own sanity. The entire situation sucked moldy ass crackers, but for the first time in a few years, being honest with myself, and him, felt so liberating.

And, suddenly, the world came back to life for me. My vibrations started to rise and I started surfacing from the mire.

Fast forward 20 months to where I’ve gone through some hugely significant changes, all good for me.

I have moved to another city and slowly begun to establish myself here. I have learned how to control the way I take in or block other people’s energy and I no longer get bogged down with it. I also pay close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up within me and I honor and acknowledge all of them.

But up until last week, I wasn’t ready to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around for so long.

I couldn’t shake the guilt of not being able to love my ex the way he wanted me to and of disrupting both of our lives to follow my heart. I knew we were both better off because it is so unfair to pretend you feel something for someone that you don’t, but it was still eating me up inside.

Last week, Greg (my new guy) and I had a conversation about how I seem to keep my life with him on the down low. He also said he thought it was because I was trying really hard to be sensitive to my ex’s feelings. Even though I didn’t actually realize that I was doing that, as soon as he said it, I knew it for truth and I acknowledged and sat with it for a couple days.

I, indeed, stopped blogging about most things in my life because they have involved Greg and I was being sensitive to my ex’s feelings and didn’t want him to think I was throwing my happy moments in his face. It had been 20 months since we officially separated and I was still trying to censor my life to avoid hurting his feelings. I was, in essence, subconsciously suppressing myself because I was unsure if my ex was happy and I didn’t want to hurt him more by admitting to my own happiness.

My ex is a good man and I want him to be happy too, but his happiness isn’t my or anyone else’s responsibility. His happiness depends solely on his outlook. I have been burdening myself with too much guilt for following my heart, something that has brought me great joy and anything that causes a person joy should never have guilt attached to it.

So 
I have only just chosen to forgive myself and embrace my new life and all that it is.

I feel like I am home, in all ways, since I moved to the Okanagan. Back in a small town, living with the guy I fell in love with the moment I laid eyes on him when I was 17 (true story), and happily struggling through the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

Chugging forward with an open heart full of gratitude and newly lightened shoulders, I can’t wait to see what amazing things this year will bring for me, my life, and my relationship with my new guy.

I wish you all dragonflies and let the blogging begin again!

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Letting Go of Toxic People

I lost my shit yesterday, on one of my long-time friends, over something that was absolutely none of my business and, when I finally came up for air, I realized that I felt a huge sense of relief and no remorse.

It took me all night to process why I didn’t feel awful for saying some really awful shit to someone I love. I tossed and turned all night while I mulled it over. It’s not like me to say hateful things without extreme regret and a profuse apology. It’s not like me to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings and then walk away feeling relieved.

I mean, what kind of friend does that?

This morning, I do feel fairly shitty that I couldn’t just keep my big mouth shut and give her the sympathy and support she was seeking, but I also still feel a huge sense of relief. It was not the right time to say what I said, but when is the right time to ever tell someone any awful truth about themselves?

Firstly, I turned quite toxic for awhile after my kid died and I lost quite a few friends because of it. When some of those friends told me I was toxic, I hated hearing it and I resented them for saying it, but I listened to them. Once the initial anger dissipated, I knew that they were speaking the truth and, as much as it hurt, I knew I had to do something about it.  When I’d had enough of feeling shitty, I took their words and used them to make all the changes I needed to climb back up out of the abyss of pain and anger I was wallowing in. Understandably, I hated being told that I was toxic because nobody ever wants to hear that about ourselves, but the stuff that hurts us the most is the undesirable truth and that is the part we need to take in, meditate on, and process. That is the part we need to focus on fixing, for our own well-being.

But some people, no matter what we say or how we say it (nicely or not), just don’t want to hear any of it and they don’t want to learn and grow from it. This is my friend.

She is an energy vampire and a martyr. For the past five or so years, she has been sucking the life out of me on a regular basis without even realizing it. I find myself avoiding visits with her when she invites me to visit or she comes to BC. When my phone beeps with her text tone, I immediately dread reading the text because I know that, 9 times out of 10, she is going to be complaining, whining, seeking sympathy (which she thinks of as support, but just isn’t so), or in general, telling me how difficult her life is and how extremely unhappy she is with it. And, no matter how much positivity and light I try to throw at her, no matter how much I try to be loving and supportive or suggest helpful ways for her to improve her life situation, she balks. She argues with me that she can’t get out of the situation she’s in. She makes excuses for everything to justify feeling shitty. She comes up with every reason under the sun why she just can’t fix her unhappiness and it’s never about her. It’s always because someone or something else is preventing her from finding the happiness she longs for.

I figured out last year that she is physically addicted to drama, although she swears she isn’t. Drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins (pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds that ease anxiety and stress). She thrives on drama because the endorphins it creates make her feel good, but when the drama passes, she starts to feel shitty again so she either creates or finds more drama to pick herself back up. It’s an exhaustive, body and soul-depleting cycle, but she has NO idea she is behaving like this and she won’t listen to me or others who have tried to help her.

And so yesterday, when she texted me with a simple, “Broken heart today”, I immediately knew I’d had enough and didn’t really care why she was broken hearted. I was simply exhausted with her perpetual cycle of negativity addiction and I couldn’t stop myself from telling her what I felt about all of it. In hindsight, I should have just left her text alone, but I always wonder if she is, in fact, in dire straits and if I can do anything to help. Obviously, I’m a bit obtuse sometimes and have been helping to keep the cycle going.

And so, I lost my shit and told her that I couldn’t deal with her anymore. It was definitely the wrong time and place, as she was genuinely distressed, but I couldn’t bring myself to have sympathy for that situation either. I was just done with all of it.

A sleepless night later and I have asked myself some really soul-searching questions. What is it that makes us hang on to the toxic people in our lives so long, and through so much shit, before we are so depleted that we have to bail to save our own sanity and souls? Why is it I couldn’t find a way to get through to her a long time ago and maybe stop her train of self-pity and soul-destruction in its tracks? What will it take to get her to realize she is constantly creating stress, drama, sadness, and despair for herself and that she’s draining the people around her?

And my conclusion: I have no idea.

Maybe she will never be happy. Maybe she will always be addicted to drama. Maybe this is her path to walk and there is nothing I, nor anyone else can say or do to help her take a different path.

What I do know is that I allow her to bring out the absolute worst in me and I’ve been allowing it for years (as many of my friends and family can attest to). I can be in a fantastic mood and we will have a conversation and it will end with me feeling like a bag of old, unhappy shit. She brings out my tell-it-like-it-is, self-righteous, Judgey McJudgerson side (something I put a lot of effort into ignoring), and makes me feel helpless and hopeless and fed up with everything nearly every time I talk to her. Sometimes I just cry for 20 minutes in frustration that she can’t see how much she wants to remain unhappy. For whatever reason (probably because I love her kids so much), I just can’t seem to let go of her and keep perpetuating the effect she has on me. Who knows, maybe I’ve become addicted to her drama. Whatver the reason, I cannot allow myself to go down that rabbit hole anymore, regardless of how much I actually love her and her family.

I read a quote yesterday that made me finally come to my senses: “At some point, we have to realize that some people can still stay in our hearts, even when they can no longer remain in our lives.”

This is where I am at. I love her and wish her happiness, but I can no longer participate in her toxic cycle and I have to accept that and be okay with it for love of my own sanity.

Lastly, being such an asshole yesterday was a good reason to go within and do a little housecleaning in my “Don’t be a judgmental douchebag” closet and remember that anger and self-righteous bullshit are never the answer – even when we feel totally justified in our beliefs. Although I won’t say that it won’t happen again, it has definitely brought some of my own undesirable behaviors into the forefront of my mind and I will, once again, be a lot more aware of how I’m treating others.

And, like everything challenging that life sends our way, all we can do is choose to learn from it and grow.

Cora’s Would Be 7th Birthday.

NOTE: Repost of a post I wrote on Cora’s 3rd Birthday and then again last year. I just couldn’t write about her this year – something about it hurt a little too much.

Life, like childbirth, can be simultaneously painfully messy and beautifully rewarding.

We walk the paths we are meant to walk, even when they cause astronomical amounts of pain, because those paths lead to growth and new awareness. All we have to do is trust the journey and it will always take us where we are meant to be.

Losing our newborn (only one day after she was born) was definitely not how I imagined I would begin my latest journey of colossal transformation. It’s also not something I would wish on anyone, but the rub of it is I also know how good it can be for people to go through something so devastating. I am always grateful for every lesson I have learned from the experience of losing Cora, finding my way through the epic journey of grief, the mind-blowing number of people she touched and continues to touch, and the incredible people I’ve come into contact with as a result of her death. I’m grateful for the growth of my soul, especially the connection I’ve developed with my dearly departeds (who are always with me) and my soul guides (who are always whispering in my ear).

I honestly wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could, because it shaped me and opened me up to the bigger picture. I always say that her death awakened my soul and it’s absolutely true.

This is a repost from Cora’s 3rd birthday, but it’s still 100% relevant.

I remember everything about you. Your big hands and adorable “Johnson” feet. Your beautiful, huge, squishy lips. I remember how your fingers felt wrapped around my finger and how you felt in my arms. I remember the feel of your soft skin and your silky hair – so much of it and so curly, like your dad’s. I remember the beautiful sound of your tiny, soft cries when you first graced us with your presence and how your little face screwed up in anger when the NICU team was assessing you.

I remember how hot your head and feet were when I would cup them in my hands and sing to you, trying to get your vitals to stabilize. And I remember the one and only time that you opened your eyes and looked up at me while you squeezed my finger. You seemed so strong that I thought nothing would ever take you from us.

I also remember how your eyes became blank and empty a few hours before you left us and how your daddy had to look away until the nurse closed your eyes because he couldn’t bear the thought of you already being gone. I remember looking down at your beautiful, but extremely swollen face as you were dying in my arms and I remember thinking that no person should have to lose two babies in one lifetime. I remember knowing, instinctively, that this time was different and that it was going to change me completely and that my life would never be close to the same again.

I remember absolutely everything about you and our brief time together – all of the pain, beauty, joy, heartbreak, and grief. I remember it all so vividly, but what I remember the most is love. A love so full that it radiated through me – all-encompassing.

If I forget everything else about our experience with you – your hands, your feet, those lips, the feel of your soft skin and cheek against my lips; the pain and all the other emotions of bearing and then losing a miracle child – I’m going to cling to the love forever. That love was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Happy 6th Birthday, baby girl. My gift to you is to love all that I am while I continue to carry all that you are inside my heart.

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Rescuing Animals is Heartbreaking Work.

NOTE: Repost from 2016

Buddhist’s say that the path to all suffering is paved with attachments. The more you attach yourself to something, the more likely you are to suffer if you lose it. So, to avoid suffering, you simply avoid attachments.

What, the fuck, ever.

I love animals more than I’ll ever love people.

I’m abrasive, outspoken, stubborn and opinionated. I see through other people’s bullshit in 2.6 seconds and I call them on it when I see it. It doesn’t make me the most popular gal on the block and it doesn’t win me a lot of friends. My circle of bosom friends is small and tight—limited to those who totally get me and love me for me anyway, as well as call me out on my bullshit when it’s needed.

As a result, my relationships with animals have always been more intimate and intricate than most I have with people. I speak animal. I understand their body language, learn to interpret their sounds and have a mad respect for the fact that they are animals, not people, and will never judge me.

A week ago, when my new guy, Greg, and I were faced with rescuing two abandoned ducklings or leaving them to die in the elements. It was a no-brainer for both of us. We captured them (well, they ran into Greg’s hands), warmed them up, got some food into them and never looked back. I anticipated that I would be giving them round-the-clock care for a few months until I could find a place to send them where they would be cared for by humans who already had ducks. Or, if no place could be found, we would build them an enclosure and I would keep them, free to come and go, but always having a safe place to return, until they died at a happy old age. There was never a moment that I wasn’t committed to the well-being of those tiny, fuzzy, adorable babies.

The weakest one would barely eat and died within a day of being rescued. She was just too weak to eat enough and even body warmth and the heating pad and heat lamp couldn’t keep her warm enough. I was sad, but the other little one was thriving, so I thought that at least I could still focus on raising her sister and giving her everything she needed.

We named her Radish and we kept moving forward, without hesitation. Her care was constant. I had surgery two days after her sister died and Radish’s care still took precedence. We worked her routines into our own, working together to make sure she was always cared for and content.

Raising Radish was a non-stop gig and, although I joked with people about how they could borrow her so I could have a break from her constant peeping, I loved every second-Every. Single. Second- of it, even when she was crapping down my shirt…a few times a day.

Last night, after she’d been doing really well in it during the day, I decided that she was ready to sleep in her cage, under the heat lamp, instead of in her little night box with the heating pad underneath it.

I was wrong.

Despite doing well each time we checked on her, around 3 a.m. I found her cold and wigging out, in shock, after wandering away from her heat lamp, probably in search of a drink of water or us. We tried to warm her up and bring her back, but instead watched her slowly die. For 15 minutes Greg held onto her, while we talked to her and petted her. I even asked my soul guides to help her and willed her to pull through with everything I had. Eventually, though, her pupils became pinpoints before completely dilating as she went limp in Greg’s hands and we lost her…and I lost it.

I made the call; It was totally the wrong one and she paid the price for my ignorance—something I’m sure I’ll eventually come to terms with.

Right now, all I feel is overwhelming sadness that she didn’t make it. Even though, statistically, only 2 out of 10 wild ducklings make it past the first two weeks of life, it’s still killing me that we couldn’t save either Radish or her wee sister.

Funny how attached a person can become to an animal in only a week. I am crushed. Devastated. She was my constant shadow for the past week and she had such a funny little personality—from the way she attacked her food and burrowed her bill into my neck, to the way she jumped at every dandelion in the yard and tried to eat it, no matter how large it was. Just a duck? Not a chance. She was already a member of my animal family and I loved her as much as I love my cats and dog.

It’s been a hell of a rough day. My eyes are puffy from crying every few minutes. My chest feels heavy with her absence. My ears miss the sound of her little peeps and the clickity click of her claws on the floor as she followed me around. Perhaps the fact that it’s three days away from the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death has me a tad more emotional than usual. Perhaps it’s the way that Radish looked to me for all her worldly needs, something I never had the opportunity to provide for Cora. Whatever the reason, it sucks and it hurts.

However, as with anything in this life, there are lessons here that have been slowly revealing themselves all day.

One: Humans, no matter how virtuous our intentions, are seldom a suitable substitute for nature. There’s a reason the circle of life exists and often that circle will complete itself, regardless of how much we try to interfere. We tried and we failed, but I learned A LOT about how hard it is to rescue a wild animal, how much time and energy it takes, and how hard it is to avoid forming an attachment while doing it. I have a hugely newfound respect for those superheroes out there who rescue animals on a regular basis. I can’t even fathom how they continually handle the loss of the creatures they try so hard to care for and rehabilitate.

Two: My heart is strong enough to always find its way back to being whole. After my first baby, Kieran, died (when I was only 23 and 6.5 months along), I thought my heart would stay in pieces forever, but time stitched it back together. When my mom died suddenly only six months later and it was ripped apart again, I was surprised to find it didn’t stay that way. Those losses were followed by other losses and more heartbreak until, finally, the biggest heart-shattering event ever when we lost our beautiful baby girl after only 30 brief hours with her. After that happened, I thought I was done. I thought that my heart could only be shredded so many times before it would refuse to pull itself back together and just give out completely. Yet somehow, time healed it again. And now, here I am, feeling the now familiar weight of grief pressing down on my shoulders and my heart splitting apart once more, but this time, a new awareness is shining through all the heartache. Each time something has broken my heart and it has repaired itself, it has grown a little stronger, until I’ve reached the point that my heart has an infinite capacity to be broken and repaired.  

It sucks, and it hurts like hell, but I have to say that all of the pooping, peeping, snuggles, laughs, stress, worrying, and sleepless nights we put into that tiny duckling only to have it end in tragedy…well, it was all worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

RIP Radish.

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