My book is available now (Woman Enough)! In honour of that, I’m continuing to feature some women who I believe are some of the bravest and who deserve to have their stories shared. I want to celebrate women. Nothing more, nothing less. Here they are in their own words. I am humbled and grateful to have a small snapshot into their worlds.
I know Jenny from high school in Minnesota. We reconnected a couple of years ago and she has since been exposed to my long-winded messages that are probably considered full of major overshares. But that’s because of how she makes me feel. Her heart always open, honest, and accepting, she puts me at ease. She is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. Happy Mother’s Day, Jenny. Your children are incredibly blessed to have you as a Mom. -Lissa
Name: Jenny Brandl
Please share whatever you would like us to know about yourself:
I am 38-years-old. I am from Minnesota. I have lived in Alaska for 10 years. I am a wife and stay-at-home mom. I feel really blessed to be a stay-at-home mom. My family is my world. I have been married to my wonderful husband Nick for 17 years. I have 4 amazing children. Will is 17-years-old. He is a junior in high school. Ben is 16-years-old. He is a freshman in high school. Ellie is 10-years-old. She is in fourth grade. Maddy was 11. She passed away 2 years ago. When my daughter died I didn’t know how I was going to survive. I felt so emotionally drained and broken. I found that the more I turned to God the better I felt. I am Catholic and my faith is very important to me. I love to hike with my family and friends. We have some really great hiking trails here in Alaska. I enjoy volunteering at my children’s schools and in my community. I am a board member for the nonprofit group Maddy’s Run Alaska. We help families that have children going through extenuating medical circumstances. This is a cause that is very dear to my heart because it is something my family has been through and I know first hand how difficult it can be. I think it is really nice for the families to know that they are not alone and that they have the support of the community to help them get through it.
Looking back on your life thus far, what has been your biggest accomplishment?
I think my biggest accomplishment has been surviving the last few years. It was rough. There were times that I didn’t know how I was going to keep going especially after Maddy died. I knew I had to for my husband and other children. I also didn’t want to disappoint Maddy. I just kept pushing myself. I have found that over time things are definitely getting better. That doesn’t mean that everything is like it was. Unfortunately things will never be the same but I can see my life going in a positive direction. I finally feel like I’m really living my life again.
What makes you happy?
There are so many things that make me happy. Some of the things that make me happy are my faith in God, my family, seeing my children smile, hearing my children laugh, my friends, volunteering, cooking, baking, hiking, and being outdoors.
What’s something/a time you look back on & wish you would’ve done it differently, if any?
I can’t say I would do anything differently. All of my mistakes and hardships have made me who I am today.
Has there been any significant moment in your life that has altered your path/your being/your calling?
On November 14, 2014 my life was changed forever. That was the day I found out my 9-year-old daughter Maddy had ovarian cancer. Our whole family was devastated. Maddy’s cancer was very rare and aggressive. I watched my daughter go through 4 surgeries and 6 different types of chemotherapy. Unfortunately on January 26, 2016 we found out that her cancer had metastasized to her hip bone. That was when the doctor informed us that it was terminal. The doctors figured she may have up to 2 years to live. Maddy took that news way better than I could have ever imagined. We sat and cried for a couple of hours then out of nowhere she dried her eyes and said I don’t want to waste time being sad. She decided she was going to live every moment to the fullest. She started to make a bucket list. On February 7, 2016 we were dealt another terrible blow. Maddy had been feeling really ill and had a horrible stomach ache. I took her to the emergency room where we found out she had a new tumor in her bowels. We were informed that she may only have days or weeks left to live. We made the decision to spend as much time with Maddy as possible. We then had family fly in from Minnesota to spend time with her. Having everyone come visit made her so happy. We worked really hard to do as many of the things on her bucket list as we could. On April 7, 2016 Maddy lost her battle with cancer. She battled cancer with so much courage, faith, strength and joy. I often times find myself thinking if Maddy could do everything she did then I can do anything. She has made me a much stronger person.
What makes you sad & how do you deal with that sorrow?
Not having my daughter Maddy here breaks my heart. To help with that sorrow I like to do things that make me happy or that remind me of happy memories I shared with her. I was also fortunate enough to have an amazing friend who talked me into going to the gym with her. We would meet up a couple times a week. It didn’t take long to realize that the exercise and conversations really helped with my mood. I find that surrounding myself with positive people is very helpful. There is nothing that can bring you down faster than someone who is always negative. I try not to dwell on my sadness too much because that can cause you to miss out on some really great things in life. The saddest thing is to see how much not having Maddy around has changed our family. It is really hard to see my husband and children missing her so much. We have always been a very close family. We rely on each other a lot. Our family has found that talking about how we’re feeling is very helpful. I also find a lot of comfort in prayer.
What is one of your mom’s traits that you admire(d)?
My mom has a really strong work ethic. She is the hardest worker I know. She always pushes herself to be the best at any job she does.
When you think of your grandmother(s), what comes to mind?
My Grandma Della loves music. When I was 10-years-old she taught me to play the keyboard. I remember staying with her and playing music all weekend. My Grandma Loretta loved to bake. She always made peanut butter cookies. I think I got my love of baking from her.
What time in your life do you feel was the most challenging?
The time that was the most challenging for me was definitely when Maddy was battling cancer. It was really hard to juggle being a wife, mom, daughter, sister, and friend. I was very fortunate to have my wonderful husband to help. We would each take turns staying in the hospital with Maddy or staying home with our other children. It was very hard to make sure they all felt like they were equally important to us. We still did most things as a family but there were times when Maddy was feeling sick or tired and she just couldn’t keep up with the other children. When that would happen one of us would hang out with Maddy and one of us would try to do something with the other children. We wanted to make sure all of our children’s wants and needs were being met. As Maddy’s life was coming to an end it became increasingly difficult to do that but we were fortunate enough to have some really amazing friends and family to help pick up our slack. We also didn’t want everything in our home to be about her approaching death. The other children still hung out with friends and did all of the things their peers were doing. Sometimes the other children needed a break from everything we had going on at home. We tried to keep things as “normal” as possible. We did the best we could and in the end that’s really all you can do.
Last but not least, how do you see yourself, & how do you want others to see you?
I am loving, kind, compassionate, loyal, honest, silly, and a bit clumsy. I am also shy and have some anxiety. It takes me a while to warm up to new people and situations. Sometimes that can give people the wrong impression of me. I really just want people to see me for who I am.
Please post any links below to your work or causes you’re passionate about.