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The Second Wave of Grief

The Second Wave of Grief

First you lose your loved one, then you lose yourself. A personal essay about grief.


My Mom died two and a half years ago. It was sudden. Without warning she went into cardiac arrest in her home early on a Monday morning. Although I remember everything from that day, it took me several hours to actually understand what was happening – that she was dead. That this was permanent.

Once your brain is able to process that you have lost someone extremely close to you, like a parent, the world turns gray. Just like that, in an instant. Everything loses its color and vibrancy. I have had very close family members die, like my grandparents, and I have mourned and missed them. But something different happens when you lose someone who was a part of you, your foundation breaks.

The pieces that made you who you are, are shattered. It is as if a bomb exploded inside of you and your soul, your spirit, your heart, your brain – everything about you is in too many pieces to put back together.

I remember thinking that I would never be able to feel happiness. I could not imagine ever being able to laugh, enjoy, or feel excitement again. And it does stay like that for a while. But slowly emotions begin to return. You find yourself enjoying a TV show, or laughing on a phone call with a friend. You experience the necessary firsts. The first birthdays, holidays, and everything in between without your loved one. You are told the first year is always the hardest, and you believe it.

As more time passes your new routine becomes habit, and you manage better every day. The tears lessen, you can speak about your loved one without as much sadness, and you begin to notice there are parts of you healing. You have made it through your first year.

But a new form of grief arises. One that no one warns you about and it was not mentioned in the bereavement books you read. This time you have to grieve yourself, or rather the person you used to be.

The pieces of you that were shattered have been stitched back together, but not all of them back in the same place as before. You realize you are fundamentally different. You probably look the same, you may even seem the same to friends and family, but on the inside you are a new person.

Your reactions to situations are different. Priorities have been rearranged. There are some things you no longer care about, and new things that cause your emotions to stir. Relationships with people you have known for years may now seem hollow, and you crave a deeper connection than that relationship can provide. You talk to some close friends less than before. An extreme sensitivity to certain topics is awakened in you, but there is also dismissiveness to things you once tolerated. Preferences and interests change. You are essentially relearning life – relearning who you are – all over again.

I was not prepared for this side effect after my Mom’s death, this second wave of grief. I did not know I would have to figure out my emotional responses to everyday situations all over again, and I mourned who I used to be. I mourned the carefree version of myself who never seemed to have a worry. The person who assumed everything would work out. The person who enjoyed adventure more than companionship, and who seemingly had more friendship options because depth of character was not as important as it is now. The person who was not as sensitive to death, illness, suffering, or inequality in the world. The person who infrequently cried. The person who did not know how temporary life actually is.

In many ways this relearning can be positive once you are able to regain your footing. Ultimately our choices become more precious and our priorities become clearer.

When your life has been hit with loss, you understand there is pain that comes with it and you can share what you are feeling with others. Once the established ‘appropriate amount of time’ has passed and people stop asking how you are, that is when you realize you are not the same. Experiences and once common happenings feel different. Your reaction, your feelings, and your emotional responses are new and unknown to you. You cannot trust that the life you had built for yourself will provide you with what you need. You cannot expect your old life to bring you new forms of satisfaction. And you cannot predict how you will feel about anything until you are feeling it. You have to mourn the old you and accept this new version. Accept that at your center of being, at your core, you are changed forever.


Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection. Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn & Instagram

Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook

“Genuine Glow™ products and blog are not intended to cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any disease, and are not intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body. The Genuine Glow blog is based on anecdotal wisdom and the experiences and research reported by others. We are not medical professionals and we have not independently tested these claims. Always consult your physician or mental healthcare provider if you have questions about a medical or psychiatric condition or if you seek medical advice.”

♦ Note: Genuine Glow is a brand meant to complement your lifestyle. Our company and employees views do not necessarily reflect or agree with every article we publish. We do however believe that open communication and honest expression is a beneficial tool that can be used for healing, growth, and connection.

Progress Through Transparency

Progress Through Transparency

Article Background: Although leaning much heavier on an opinion piece, it does share personal experiences from working in both corporate America and the start-up world. And I felt it was timely because of the current state of our world, namely the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the recent L.G.B.T.Q. Supreme Court victory, and the ongoing fight for women’s equality in the world.

As the founder of a start-up, I have seen the unbalanced reality that exists within the start-up and founder community. As a white, straight female under 40, with past Executive experience, one may think my journey has been smooth. It has not. And that can only make me empathize with how much more difficult someone’s path to run a successful company or move upwards in their career would be if they are not white, not straight, or starting out as an older adult.

I have seen how certain companies and founders roads to success are seemingly evenly paved, contain only green lights for go, and the weather is always a sunny 76 degrees. But for others the terrain is rocky, there are stop signs after stop signs with U-turns, red lights, and no one is giving out directions.

Thankfully, all it takes is expecting transparency and being aware of the inner workings of the companies, founders, and executive offices that we support to shift this current state and level the playing field.

This is my Op-Ed.


Millions of Americans have spoken openly about the Black Lives Matter movement, white privilege, and condoning racism. The majority of companies have issued public statements taking a stand against racism and vowing to be part of the solution.

And it does feel like many of us have spent the last weeks listening, learning, and reflecting on ways we can make a difference. Hopefully recognizing our blind spots, seeing the role we can play to be an actionable ally, and figuring out the steps we can take to move our society forward.

Out of all the things that need to happen to level the playing field, transparency is the one word that has continued to resonate in my mind.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word transparent as: characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

Like it or not, we live in a society where money – how we spend it, where we spend it, and what we spend it on matters. Yet the majority of us remain unaware about the inner culture, demographics, belief system, or back office set up within the companies we give our dollars to. It is why we are outraged when we see a picture and discover that the CEO of a well-known brand is a big game hunter. Or why we are disappointed when we see a company supported a political candidate we would not vote for. Or when a small business owner posts something on social media that lets us know they are racist. Transparency has not been something we valued when it came to deciding where we spend our money.

There was a time when remaining quiet on public issues seemed responsible and polite, but we cannot continue to glide by using this outdated way of thinking. It is partly what got us here. Monumentally important issues face us today; issues that will shape our future. It has been proven over and over again that people who speak up and out have the ability to effect change. Which is why expecting transparency from the companies that make up and influence our culture is necessary to course correct the path that we have been on.

Currently there are only 4 black CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, and only 37 women. And most Executive Boards and upper management organizational charts do not look that different, remaining devoid of minority, women and LGBTQ representation. I personally worked for a large billion-dollar corporation for 10 years. While I was aware that no female or person of color was in a C-suite role, I never openly questioned this because I was complacent, and believed I was not in a position to change it. That was before I knew the power that the collective we can hold. Maybe I cannot change it, but we can.

Once I started my own company, I saw first-hand how we grow through diversity. A diverse infrastructure provides new thoughts, ideas, opportunities, and expansion. It fuses different perspectives and life experiences together, which ultimately is better for all of us as it creates more seats at the table, not less. Having it any other way is archaic and demands change.

Yes a company may issue an apology or make a donation, but if noticeable change is not happening inside of their organization, how can we trust that they intend to progress forward? Consumers are the ones in charge. Take our dollars away and the business no longer exists. We need to expect companies to make visible strides and fix this inherent problem. At a minimum we should be made aware of who is behind the companies we support, the ethics system in place, and be given answers when companies fall short of anything less than representing equality.

We cannot continue to shop, watch, listen, or partner with companies that do not support all of us. If they see us as good enough to be their customer, we should be good enough to be in rooms where decisions about us are being made. It is time to insist on equality in the companies we support and expect doors that were previously closed to be open to everyone. We need transparency and authenticity over branding and statements. We need to see values in action behind the scenes. We hold the power to effect positive change by expecting transparency.

Citations regarding CEO numbers:

Yurkevich, Vanessa. “There are just four black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Here’s how they are addressing the death of George Floyd.” CNN Business https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/business/black-ceos-george-floyd/index.html

Ebrahimij, Alisha. “Female Fortune 500 CEOs reach an all-time high, but it’s still a small number.” CNN Business https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/20/us/fortune-500-women-ceos-trnd/index.html


Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection. Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn & Instagram

Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook

“Genuine Glow™ products and blog are not intended to cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any disease, and are not intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body. The Genuine Glow blog is based on anecdotal wisdom and the experiences and research reported by others. We are not medical professionals and we have not independently tested these claims. Always consult your physician or mental healthcare provider if you have questions about a medical or psychiatric condition or if you seek medical advice.”

♦ Note: Genuine Glow is a brand meant to complement your lifestyle. Our company and employees views do not necessarily reflect or agree with every article we publish. We do however believe that open communication and honest expression is a beneficial tool that can be used for healing, growth, and connection.

We Believe

We Believe

Transparency is needed from the brands we support to ensure their values reflect our own. With that being said, I felt it was important to openly state Genuine Glow’s beliefs:

We’re a company rooted in wellness, positivity, and equality. I wrote the About Us section on our website in May 2019 and stated then, “Beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. There are so many different ways to be beautiful.” I’ve often referenced wanting to build a community and brand that is synonymous with well-being, and how Genuine Glow is meant to complement your lifestyle. And I think that’s key – your lifestyle.

In the last 2 years, I’ve come to recognize that I don’t need to chase someone else’s idea of a successful company, or someone else’s idea of pretty packaging, or someone else’s idea of branding – I needed to get comfortable with my own ideas and promote those. This realization has shifted how I view things drastically and I’ve worked to build Genuine Glow and our community around this authentic message. And that message is – who you are is good enough already.

We’re not a brand that tells anyone what they should look like, or how they should look, act, or be. Simply, we want to help people achieve healthy skin and share stories that can connect us, so you can decide how you want to look, who you want to love, and what you want your life to look like – in a confident and balanced way. Beauty and wellness is so visual, so personal – and should therefore represent everyone.

I hope that speaking out and openly stating these beliefs and values not only shows Genuine Glow’s commitment, but it also allows for accountability and transparency.

It’s important to pull back the curtains and show how we’re aligned with progression and the greater good. I feel strongly that consumers should know who is behind a brand and a company. You should know the people behind the products, behind the tag line, behind the posts and the branding. You should know whom you’re supporting and feel confident in the founder and team.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal,” so it felt important to put this out into the world, into a blog post, and say that everyone is welcome here.

                           


Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection. Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn & Instagram

Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook

“Genuine Glow™ products and blog are not intended to cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any disease, and are not intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body. The Genuine Glow blog is based on anecdotal wisdom and the experiences and research reported by others. We are not medical professionals and we have not independently tested these claims. Always consult your physician or mental healthcare provider if you have questions about a medical or psychiatric condition or if you seek medical advice.”

One Year Ago

One Year Ago

It’s been said, a lot can happen in a year. And while true, are we usually deliberate about our intentions over the course of a year?

Nicki Carrea writes about what she learned after a trip to India one year ago.


Last year at this time I was returning from a 2-week trip to India. I was supposed to visit with a friend, and 3 weeks before we were to leave, her schedule changed and she told me that she would no longer be traveling overseas. I made the decision to continue with the plans and travel by myself. 

It was the first time I ever traveled internationally alone, but I had always wanted to visit India and knew first-hand the benefits that come from seeing a new culture and having brand new experiences. I was at a crossroads. Although we are always making choices and decisions that impact our future, I had a lot on my mind. For one, I had moved to New York City 3 years ago. I was renting an apartment in Williamsburg, but the lack of space and convenience was starting to get to me. The golden glow of the city lights were fading and being replaced by dimly lit and overcrowded subway rides. The buzz and energy was still there, but harder for me to access over the crowded streets, sirens, and car horns. My view of lower Manhattan was amazing, but it didn’t make doing laundry in a shared building laundry room any easier. I knew for months I had a decision to make – stay or leave?

I also had to make some work decisions. I had launched my own business 4 years prior, and the satisfaction I thought it would bring me wasn’t there. I needed to figure out why and somehow change or pivot my work load so I could enjoy what I was doing, and get back to the original purpose that led me to create Genuine Glow. 

My trip started in Mumbai, and I barely had time to think. Between the time difference, adapting to the way of life, being alone in a completely foreign place, the intensity, the number of people on the streets, the number of people who asked for a picture with me, transportation challenges, a quasi-kidnapping, etc… I never got around to thinking about much more than what was happening in front of me. My evenings were spent eating traditional Indian food, drinking brown liquor, processing the craziness of the day, and course correcting my next day plans based on what I learned being out and about that day.

After a week I headed to Jaipur. After some incidents in Mumbai left me a little shaken, I knew I had to do things differently in Jaipur. I hired a driver and scheduled 2 tours to see the city. I would not be making the same mistakes. India was beautiful and full of culture and history and wonderful people, but I needed to make adjustments so I could experience all of that safely. 

It was in Jaipur that I finally felt my head begin to clear, which allowed me to take note of what I was feeling. I could think without distraction and prioritize. I made sure I had an hour each afternoon to process the day and reflect, tuning into my feelings instead of what was happening around me. It was interesting for me to see first-hand how quickly I could adjust and make changes when it came to travel, but how difficult I made the process to change when it came to my real life. And how easy it was for me to access new thoughts, ideas, and feelings when I gave myself permission to do so. 

For at least a year I had felt dissatisfaction with work, yet I was committed to the track I was on because it’s how I believed you grow and operate a business (based on seeing/reading how other people did it). And for at least a year I browsed real estate and thought about buying a home, but yet I hadn’t moved or taken any tangible steps to change my surroundings. 

My experiences in Mumbai and Jaipur were as different as day and night, and I personally facilitated that within a couple of days. Spending a week in Mumbai taught me I could trust myself and it also showed me I was someone who took action. Every day I woke up early, got ready, ate breakfast and was out by 9:00am. I had no one to hold me accountable. I could have spent my days at the spa, or in my room, or at the pool, but instead I got out and experienced. And when it got hard I didn’t quit, I learned and made adjustments. Why wasn’t I doing this in my own life?

So after an amazing 1st day exploring Jaipur, I sat outside in the Rambagh Palace courtyard and the thought came to me – – I needed to let go of what I thought I wanted my life to look like, what I thought my life should look like, and start building a life better suited for me. A life built on what actually brought me satisfaction, not what I thought or believed would make me happy. 

Now I see it like making a scorecard of sorts. Listing all the things we do during a day, week, month, year – and ranking each activity, person, responsibility and so on. And instead of just dismissing or tossing the low ranking ones to the side, we could first check to see if we could make adjustments to improve those things and our relationship to them. If not, then yes…maybe they had to go. But I’ve found we can actually adjust most things to better fit into our lives. 

I put aside all the images I created of what I thought my life should look like and asked myself one thing – to remember the times I felt fulfilled. I could think of so many instances where I felt safe and settled and happy. The list was across the board. Anywhere from the feeling of walking through the front door of my previous condo, laughs and conversation with old friends, an email from a satisfied customer thanking me for my help, an amazing movie or concert, certain business interactions, the comfort of family, conveying a message clearly, an early morning jog, and so on… These feelings were so easy to access and I started to think about how I could pivot my current daily responsibilities and circumstances to feel them more often. 

Once I allowed myself to feel satisfaction, my priority became getting back to that feeling. I had clear intentions, so when I returned to the US I knew how to follow through. For starters, I realized I wasn’t as much as a city girl as I thought I was. When I moved to New York I envisioned going to Soul Cycle in the morning, hopping around the city from meeting to meeting, having a martini after work and then dinner at the coolest new restaurant. But New York taught me that I was much more of a homebody than I realized. And after a long day I liked comfy clothes, watching Bravo, and dinner and wine at home. 

I also realized what I was missing in my job was authentic human connection. I had become so focused on taking meetings with investors, getting products out to influencers, social media marketing, and attending industry events that I completely ignored what I’m best at and where I’m happiest – and that’s creating partnerships and relationships with people. 

In a few short days, without any outside interruption I was able to get to the heart of what I was trying to figure out for months. I set into motion a plan right then and there. First, I made sure Genuine Glow was a specialized beauty brand. I originally listened to outsiders tell me I needed a full product line when I really wanted to concentrate on our hero product – exfoliation. So I changed that. I wrote all the content myself to make sure it was my message, and it was truthful. I started Genuine Glow to make people feel good about themselves, so I made sure any traditional beauty wording that could cause insecurity or make anyone feel bad about themselves was removed. I had always wanted to let the efficacy of our ingredients speak for itself, and talk to our customers like they were our friends. I didn’t want to tell people they needed to look different to be happy, but I had bought into that philosophy after seeing other brands do it, so I corrected that. I changed the packaging and the website. I tightened up all our back office operations so my focus could be on our partnerships and customers. 

I also moved. Although tough to swallow at first, I left New York City and renovated a place right outside of the city. It’s on the Hudson River and 3 miles from Manhattan, but on the nights and weekends it feels like another world, and it gives me everything I need right now. 

I try to challenge my beliefs a lot. In a sense we are all living in our own bubble, so even though I try to get out of my own whenever possible; I know I’m still influenced by who and what’s around me. That’s one of the reasons travel is such an important part of my life. I always learn and grow whenever I’m able to look at things for the first time or when I’m put in new situations. 

We don’t all have to go to India to have an awakening, but it taught me that if we’re able to remove distractions, opinions, and preconceived ideas, that the right answer – the right answer for us at least – is closer than we think. We already know it; we just have to remove the clutter to uncover it.  


Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection. Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn & Instagram

Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook

“Genuine Glow™ products and blog are not intended to cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any disease, and are not intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body. The Genuine Glow blog is based on anecdotal wisdom and the experiences and research reported by others. We are not medical professionals and we have not independently tested these claims. Always consult your physician or mental healthcare provider if you have questions about a medical or psychiatric condition or if you seek medical advice.”

The Significance of Abstract

The Significance of Abstract

There is significance to our abstract design. When Genuine Glow’s redesign started last year, I conveyed 3 key requirements. First that there needed to be an abstract design, second that it had a happy aesthetic, and third that we use bold, gender-neutral colors.

Brio Face Polish

Abstract has always had special meaning to me, so it made sense that it would find its way into my own beauty packaging and website.

Abstract art is defined as: art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colors, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect.

My love of abstract comes from the fact that it allows the perceiver to perceive freely. It exists independently and can be seen differently by every individual that views it, and differently each time the same eyes look upon it.

It’s free flowing, open minded and doesn’t exactly fit into any box or category. It is new, bright, bold and imaginative. It removes the confinement of limitations and allows for free thinking and feeling. And it represents Genuine’s Glow ethos – where inner wellbeing meets outer beauty – perfectly. There isn’t one right way to be beautiful, and there isn’t only one right path to wellness. It can include all shapes and colors, without conforming to tradition, while still being a beautiful work of art.

Trusting Your Path

Trusting Your Path

How a dog lover came to adopt 2 cats and the life lesson learned from it.


I’ve had dogs my whole life. I’ve also had an array of smaller pets from childhood – an aquarium full of fish, hamsters, hermit crabs, a bird; but never a cat. In fact I’ve had very few experiences with cats. At 6 years old a friend’s cat bit my earlobe during a slumber party when I was asleep. I cried profusely and went home. I met Cinnamon when I was 16 and on vacation in Nova Scotia with my Mom. Cinnamon was an old cat that was used to tourists and loved to be pet like a dog. I met a cat whose name I can’t remember when I was 21 who did nothing put hiss and swipe his paw at me when I tried to pet it. And Milo was a cat I watched for my friend when she was on her honeymoon. He never took to me and bit me when I got too friendly on our last day together.

Having a cat was never something that appealed to me.

Gracie

For 14 years I was the proud dog Mom of Gracie. A black 63-lb mutt with brindled paws and a zest for life. She was always in a good mood, always wanted to be included in whatever was going on, and never met anyone she didn’t like. She was patient with kids, nice to people at the front door – I could go on and on about Gracie. Because of Gracie’s friendly disposition, it made having a cat as a pet even more bewildering to me. They seemed like odd little creatures that weren’t always happy to see you, and you couldn’t take them for a walk. Plus I’ve met a few cat lovers over the years that were definite oddballs.

My sweet Gracie passed away in December, and I was devastated. Like all pet parents, I knew the day would come when Gracie wouldn’t be around all the time, and it was bone cancer metastasizing that made that a reality for me.

Less than a month after Gracie’s passing I headed south from New York City to spend a few months in Columbia, South Carolina…where I had lived for a number of years, and where I found Gracie at the local animal shelter. I was renovating my New York apartment and had to move out for 3 months during the renovation. I chose to spend those months in South Carolina. Columbia would be a nice change. A return to a life I previously had. A slower pace, people I knew, and a chance to establish professional and personal initiatives that I would then focus on when I returned to New York.

I have had my own business for 5 years, and I had lived in New York for 3 of those years. In that time I’ve had several versions of priorities, business plans, personal goals, and hobbies. This time though the stakes seemed higher. I had figured out what mattered to me. I knew what I wanted to spend my days doing, what I wanted my business to look like, and my life. I had planned for these 3 months in South Carolina, to help me determine HOW that was to happen. 

There was a rebrand I was in the midst of, new team members, a revamped business plan, etc… I had every detail week-by-week figured out, and I knew the results I wanted to achieve. I had been working with a business counselor for over a year and together we established next steps and goals.

Yet somehow with all these big decisions and significant life changes, it was a whimsical thought I had one Sunday morning that opened my eyes to how life can guide you.

My backyard in Columbia

It was January and one of those incredibly warm and sunny winter days in the South. I had been in Columbia for about 3 weeks when I was admiring my temporary backyard. A thought popped into my head, “I would love to have another dog.” This surprised me because I was still grieving my Gracie, and I also wanted to experience adult life for the first time without having the responsibility that comes with caring for a dog. Instead of overthinking this, I just let the image of a dog running happily in the backyard take over my mind, and I said when it’s the right time, I’ll know, and left it at that.

My family has a history of rescuing dogs. Sometimes through a shelter, sometimes hearing about an animal in need, sometimes finding an animal abandoned. I knew that my next animal would just “show up” as they always had before, with little effort required from me.

A few hours later I was sitting in my living room and I saw something move outside my window. My eyes immediately landed on a black cat sitting comfortably on my stone porch wall. I stared at it for a minute, grabbed my cell phone camera (as one does nowadays), and headed over to the loveseat right in front of the window. To my surprise it saw me, jumped off the ledge and walked over to me. It made deep eye contact and meowed. I didn’t know what to do. Is it okay to pet a cat you come across outside? Invite it in? And who should walk away first, the cat or me? After an awkward few minutes I decided to get it water. Cats drink water, right? “Yes Nicki, everyone drinks water,” I said to myself. I grabbed a bowl, put water in it, opened the front door, said here kitty kitty, put the bowl of water down, and the black cat looked at me completely freaked out and ran away.

But although that interaction was brief and unremarkable, for the rest of the day I wondered, “was that a sign?” Only earlier that day I thought about having another pet and then a cat appeared! Just to be sure I wasn’t ignoring communication from the universe, I drove to PetSmart the next day and bought some bowls and cat food. That afternoon I set them outside in my backyard.

I placed the food down, called for the cat – “come here black cat,” waited a few minutes, but there was no sign of it. So I left the food out and went inside. I kept a lookout to see if the cat would come, but after another 5 minutes and no sign of the cat, I walked away, leaving the food there. Less than 10 minutes later I came back and saw the food bowl was empty! Something ate it – was it the black cat? I couldn’t be sure.

The next day at the same time of day I put the food and water bowls down, looked around for a few minutes – no cat – and then again left the food out and walked away. Less than 5 minutes later the food was gone again with no signs of who was eating it. The following day I repeated, but this time I waited inside at the door instead of outside, and a small gray cat appeared, saw me and quickly ran away. I went outside and tried to reassure it that all was okay, but the closer I got, the more it backed away from me. I finally went inside and the gray cat returned shortly to eat the food.

This was obviously not the cat I was expecting, but still I thought…if there’s a hungry animal, I will feed it. This went on for a couple of weeks.

Shandon the cat

Throughout those weeks that gray cat would notice me watching it, and grow more comfortable with me. I would go outside in the backyard, and it would now appear on my fence to watch me read, sweep the leaves, or talk on the phone. I grew accustomed to its daily visit. But if I tried to approach it, the cat would still run away. But I couldn’t shake the thought that maybe this wasn’t a coincidence. This cat seemed to be warming up and have an interest in me. You see my Columbia neighborhood has a lot of community cats, and I’ve since learned many of my neighbors leave food out for them. And while I was happy to feed whichever cats now came across my yard, it was this one gray cat I felt a connection to, and I started to wonder if this outdoor cat would want to come inside and live with me?

By now this cat had a name. A friend suggested I name it to help establish a bond. If indeed this cat wanted to live with me, it would have to feel part of the family and have a name. The little gray cat became Shandon, after the neighborhood I was living in. I had guessed it was a girl, but wasn’t certain, so the name Shandon seemed perfect – meaningful and gender neutral.

After I accidentally left Shandon’s food out and attracted some raccoons, I knew I had to move the food to higher ground – my front porch. To my surprise, Shandon easily followed and she was now coming around twice a day. She was more comfortable in my presence. I bought her an outdoor cat house, some toys, and I put a fleece blanket on a chair so she could snuggle up and not be cold at night. She would still not let me get too close, but she seemed to respond to her name. Because Shandon was now a part of my life, I started reading a lot about outdoor cats and cats in general. I learned how you pick cats up, how they like to play, their sounds, body language, etc… I wanted to be prepared if Shandon decided to live with me.

To continue moving our cat/human relationship forward, I slowly started to move the food inside. Shandon followed the food and eventually became comfortable eating inside (with the door open). She would even (on occasion) explore the house and stay a while to play with her toys and new cat hut. I had fallen in love with her! She was so cute, so smart, so seemingly mine. It seemed like this was a universal set-up! An outdoor cat who could live a better life with me, and a new pet for me to love and care for.

Shandon, inside playing

One evening about 10:00pm I was just getting home and she appeared behind me, almost looking to come in. It was a really cold evening and she had never done anything like that before. I kept the door open so she could follow me, and she came inside. However this time I shut the door behind me. I made the executive decision that this was the moment she became an indoor cat. For the first hour she was fine. She ate, played and walked around. Then I had to go to bed and she hid under the couch. I tried to make things as comfortable as possible for her, but the next day, she was in the same spot. I put her food out and she didn’t come. I called her name and she didn’t move. I thought, “shit…I’ve killed the cat.” Thankfully she was not dead, but more likely in shock. When I moved the couch so she was forced to move, she ran to the other end of the house and hid behind the washing machine. Hours later she was still there. Another failed attempt was made to get her out, and she ran back under another couch. About 14 hours had passed since she came inside and she was not thriving. My friend came over and helped me to lift the couch so it didn’t make a loud sound and scare her, and this time Shandon finally ran outside.

For a few days, she didn’t return. Eventually she did, and things went somewhat back to normal. However it was clear she wanted me to put distance between us. She no longer stayed to play or walk around the house. At this point it seemed unlikely she would choose to be an indoor cat, so I contacted the Humane Society about the Trap, Neuter, Release program. I decided that I would set her up as best I could for success in life as an outdoor cat.

I also felt sad when I realized Shandon would not be my new pet. She was an amazing distraction after losing Gracie and I loved caring for an animal again. It felt like Shandon entering my life had a purpose, and when I realized her role in my life was actually temporary – it hurt, because I felt a loss all over again.

There’s a question people ask. Is it better to love or to be loved? And I think this is an easy answer – loving someone or something is so much more rewarding – it’s better to love. Shandon didn’t need to return my sentiment; I still loved and benefitted from having her around.

The days started to get warmer in South Carolina and Shandon came around less and less. With the sunshine and comfortable temperatures, Shandon could roam more and didn’t need the fleece blanket to keep her warm at night. I started to think I would like to foster an animal when I got back to New York. I told myself I could feel that Shandon feeling again whenever I wanted as a pet foster parent.

At home in Columbia

But my return to New York was delayed. Covid-19 sprung up, the city went on “pause” and I made the decision to stay in South Carolina longer. But isolation in the beginning was hard. I think for the majority of us, we went through our own grieving and acceptance period, and we felt every emotion imaginable during the first few weeks of social distancing.

I now had a lot of time to measure the progress I made while in Columbia and I felt the burden of not accomplishing everything I wanted to do. Life also somewhat felt like a dead end. How on earth am I supposed to stick to my business plan when New York is shut down? When stores are closed? When sales are down? It seemed like there wasn’t any right direction to turn.

After a couple weeks of self-pity and worry, I knew I needed to make a change. My daily 3-mile walks were no longer enough of a distraction, so I decided to look into fostering an animal while in Columbia. I sent an application to the City of Columbia Animal Shelter (where I got Gracie) and they accepted me into the foster program.

While looking through the Shelter’s past fosters, I noticed a lot of difficult cases. Abandoned animals, hurt animals, cruelty cases, sick puppies, and I questioned whether I had it in me to take care of a sick animal so soon after dealing with Gracie’s cancer. After a day of overthinking, I decided that since fostering was temporary, I would volunteer for whichever animals came available and needed help. That I would raise my hand for all new foster animals and whatever was supposed to happen, would happen.

The next day at 11:00am, a message was posted. 5 abandoned kittens found on a construction site, 3 weeks old, no teeth, need to be bottle fed – experienced fosters with kitten bottle-feeding experience preferred. Honoring the deal I had made with myself only the day before, I spoke up and informed the foster coordinator that although I did not have experience, I was available if need be. For some reason she said okay and asked me to arrive at the shelter at 3:00pm to take home 2 of those kittens.

Remi and Olivia – 3 weeks old

I was nervous and excited, but when I got to the shelter I had no idea what I was in for. I was shocked by the size of the kittens they were giving me, approximately the size of hamsters. They looked weird, were practically blind and couldn’t walk very well. I envisioned snuggling with my fosters, but instead I had to feed them every 4 hours, keep a constant source of heat in their carrier, and help stimulate them to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but they were my responsibility and I did what I committed to.

Over the next 2 weeks I watched them physically grow, learn to walk, gain depth perception, and develop into baby cats. At their 2-week check-up we agreed I would keep them longer. They needed to be older and 3lbs before they could be spayed and put up for adoption. They currently were only 1 pound.

Now named Remi and Olivia, I weaned them off of a bottle and watched as their personalities developed. They were sweet, happy, playful cats that liked to snuggle. Thanks to Shandon I had a plethora of supplies (now much harder to get because of Covid-19). Toys, a bed, a hut, bowls, and of course my knowledge of cats was fresh thanks to all of my recent reading.

For someone who never had a cat, the kittens and I became a fast foster family. I loved having them around, and I could tell they felt attached to me. Although they blended into my life perfectly, I had no plan for adopting cats this year – maybe ever.

My plan was business growth, expansion, and a martini at Gramercy Tavern after working from The Wing when I wasn’t at Pilates. I had a modern, newly renovated NY apartment waiting for me to move in, and becoming a cat lady was not on the agenda.

But I couldn’t deny what had happened over the last 7 weeks. Remi and Olivia brought the perfect mix of fun, a caring concern for their wellbeing, and love. They took my mind off of anxious thoughts and put a smile on my face.

But even more than that, they showed me what life could bring to us if we stopped trying to control all the outcomes. Somehow each step along the way brought me closer to these kittens entering my life. 3 months earlier I never would have anticipated becoming a cat Mom, but I was now prepped, supplied, educated, and had time for kittens. If a path could unfold that brought me to this exact moment, couldn’t that happen with everything and not just with cats?

Remi

Olivia

I decided to put my agenda to the side and truthfully ask myself if I could part with these foster kittens, and the answer was no. There was no logical reason, besides that I didn’t plan on adopting cats, to not keep them. When I let my overactive brain rest, my heart answered honestly. I could clearly see how each step along the way prepared me to get to this point.

Although some could say nothing profound has come from these cats, that simply isn’t true. No I didn’t win the lottery, I haven’t met the love of my life since having them, and I’m not featured in a magazine editorial about Founders changing the world yet – but what I have experienced is a natural progression that developed without me planning for it.

As a type A personality, I have a tendency to construct and organize every part of my day and to map out a meticulous plan for how I think things should work. But without me doing anything, the groundwork was laid and natural steps developed. Movement occurred without me taking any special action. I was simply responding to what was happening around me.

I was able to experience first-hand that when things don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. And when things don’t progress in a way I want them to, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another way. And when things occur that I didn’t expect, that doesn’t mean those things are wrong.    

Because somehow through all my strategies and objectives, it was a series of events that I had not planned, that helped me learn an invaluable lesson on a topic I’ve struggled with for years – trust. It taught me to trust that something bigger than my own plan is in control. And whatever it may be deserves to be trusted. That unwavering focus on only one end goal can cause us to miss out on other opportunities.

And now as I prepare to head back to New York, I do so with this new found trust that if my plan doesn’t work out perfectly, I know there are other paths that can unfold. I simply need to relax and focus on what is working out, rather than what isn’t. Every path we’re on can be made into the right path, if we remain open to revisions.

♦ End Note: I have adopted the cats and we are now back in the northeast. They have adjusted perfectly to urban life. Shandon stopped coming around my last few weeks in Columbia, and I never saw that black cat again.


Nicki Carrea believes that true beauty is synonymous with well-being. In 2015 she established Genuine Glow, an inside-outside wellness and skin care brand, and is a published beauty and wellness writer and speaker. Drawing on her life experiences she conceptualized and launched the Genuine Glow blog, which spotlights authentic voices, and creates a platform for shared experiences and human connection.

Nicki is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and currently resides in New York City. You can connect with Nicki here: LinkedIn & Instagram

Genuine Glow is a wellness and skin care brand that creates nutrient-rich exfoliators and specializes in inside-outside health and beauty. Established in 2015, Genuine Glow has been nominated for 3 CEW Awards (Best New Indie Beauty Brand, Best New Indie Skin Care Brand, and Best Exfoliator/Scrub) and chosen as a Top 50 Breakthrough Beauty Brand. You can connect with the brand here: Website, Instagram, Facebook

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