Today** as I write this, it is my dear friend Brandi’s birthday, or it would be her birthday.
It’s been hard to get the tense right since she passed away last year. It “would be” her birthday is my way of saying, “it should be her birthday, but cancer took her life last year.” Coping with loss has become a daily part of life, but today, it’s insistent; I’m thinking about her and what my life is like almost one year since she passed away.
If she were still with us, she’d have turned 29 years old today. She’d be coming up on her one year wedding anniversary. Most likely, she and I would have attempted to plan some kind of overblown mutual birthday party event that would have required that I fly to Atlanta (we were always looking for an excuse for me to come visit her in Atlanta). I’d have sent her a cute birthday card with tips on the latest SF startups that could improve her life, a copy of our annual horoscope with highlights on the relationship areas (we’re both Aquarius), and a lamentation about how I’m so sad I couldn’t be there in person for her actual birthday because blah blah I work for a startup and blah blah I work a bajillion hours a week. I would have called her at 9am California time, noon Atlanta time, in the hopes of catching her between work and friend commitments, running, gala planning, and all the other activities with which she filled her life to the brim. She’d have visited SF with her husband Troy this past year, and she would have met all of the people in my life to whom I blather on and on about her.
One of the most salient absences in my life after Brandi’s passing are forwarded sale alert emails. She used to keep a mental alert to look for Brooks running shoes every time they popped up in Gilt or Rue-la-la, since she knew they were my favorite brand of shoes. Months, even years, would go by, and suddenly she’d forward me a sale link, still remembering my preference and keeping tabs on Brooks sales. She’d make sure I bought a new dress for every big occasion, instead of wearing the same black JCPenney peplum dress to every event, as I do now. She’d give me a Kate Spade bangle for Christmas to make sure I wore some jewelry every day, something any other Southern woman wouldn’t leave the house without. She knew I didn’t spend much time in front of a mirror, and a bangle is easy enough that she knew even I would take the 5 seconds to put it on.
If she were still with us, she’d coach me on how to craft presentations to the C-suite and tell me how to “unload the gun” in a high stakes conversation. She’d tell me, “If you insist on wearing a backpack instead of a purse, at least wear one that is fashionable.” She’d continue to be a beacon of wisdom in my life, everything from fashion to coupon codes, leadership and business, and personal health. She’d continue to be a best friend, trusted confidant, and ally with unwavering loyalty.
But she isn’t still with us, and I’m still coping with loss – and with the verb tenses that go with it.
Earlier today, Facebook showed me a photo from 3 years ago – on our Breckenridge Brandi Birthday Bash three years ago. Funny enough, I was skiing in Park City when I saw the Facebook blast from the past – the first time I’ve been skiing since that Breckenridge trip for Brandi’s birthday three years ago. I navigated around Facebook, and I stopped to admire my profile picture – a photo of me and Brandi from May 2012, taken over a year before we found out about Brandi’s cancer.
After Brandi passed away last year, many of our close friends changed our Facebook photos to our favorite photo with her. I love this particular photo because we both look so beautiful, so young, and so healthy. It was just a few months after my divorce, and I felt free and unburdened at the time – so did she. She had just started dating her now-husband, and we were both on top of the world. Me, for finding a new sense of self in my newfound solitude, and her for finding a new sense of wholeness in her new relationship. After a few months, when I started trying to date again, I used that photo on my online dating profile with the user name “Magnet-eyes” since the blue of her dress brought out the brightness of my blue eyes, and also because I’m a huge engineering nerd – do you get it, “magnetize”? Brandi hated online dating, saying, “Look, it’s like a K-mart purse. I might like a purse someone is carrying, but if they told me it was from K-mart, I’d never be able to look at it the same again.”
It’s almost one year since her passing, and my life is very different. Other friends, in various bits and pieces, fill the voids left by her absence. I have so many insanely successful friends who coach me through the C-suite conversations, and others who forward me Sports Basement and Lucy coupon codes for my fitness fashion. Others are guideposts of wisdom and force of centering that Brandi often was. Nothing can entirely fill the void, at least in the way Brandi did it – but life does move forward, and people emerge to help us find wholeness.
I am so deeply thankful for that.
**this post was written on January 30th but posted on Feb 1st.