Grief Day 1: Phoenix.

I had to have my pal Phoenix put down. I’m still in shock. The house feels empty. I’m the only one here. It’s been Phoenix and me for so long.

Anyone can own a dog, but sometimes a bond beyond explanation is born between person and dog. It’s obvious good fortune, a gift, a blessing. God’s knowing.

Of all the impossible and unforeseeable twists and turns that had to occur—me coming upon a desire for a puppy at the time Phoenix arrived in the world, locating her through my neighbor whose cousin bred Labs, and having her brought home when I told my then-husband to get the other pup—sings of synchronicity.

Destiny delivered a special soul in a Black Lab body to partner with me on my journey.

Love was Phoenix’s mission; I was her assignment.

She loved life, chasing balls, hanging out on the deck, walking in the woods, greeting neighbors, and spreading joy.

One neighbor often hollered, “Here comes Phoenix, happiest dog in the world!”

Phoenix was partial to her own kind when it came to dogs. Labs had an automatic in.

She loved most people but picked her favorites: like Carol, who connected with Phoenix on a trip to the beach in NC and her husband Pete, who Phoenix took to like a long-lost father, and Wayne, who Phoenix walked beside—no leash required.

Phoenix chose me as her favorite person. If dogs got tattoos, Phoenix’s would’ve said, “I’m with her.” Her gentle, undivided loyalty poured forth pure and untainted by the world for 11 beautiful years.

I never celebrated her birthday before, but this year felt like a major milestone.

She seemed to know. She made it a good one, with a long walk three doors down to the neighbor’s coveted healthy, lush, green grass. She made herself at home as if the world belonged to her. I sat down and pretended too, practicing Reiki, prayers, and presence on someone else’s lawn.

It didn’t matter. We were grabbing the good, our final togetherness.

Before we had to let go.

Somehow, Phoenix’s body broke down. Maybe for the simple reason life doesn’t last forever and there are many paths to getting out. We all go out. Ugh! The fact I don’t like.

I don’t like saying goodbye; I’ll never see you again. The worst!

However, if I’m going to keep living, I ought to find a better way to go through grief. These are the things we think of on Grief, Day 1… Maybe we can logic our way around. HAHAHA!

My heart hurts. My baby’s gone. I miss her presence, energy, persistence, her black shadow everywhere. I miss her marble-brown eyes looking into my soul. I miss laughing when she ignores me and walks away to sh*t in the neighbor’s yard at 3 am.

Missing my companion makes me miss my dead boyfriend even more. Isn’t that crazy?

Maybe it’s because Phoenix was “just a dog” in the way that Kevin was “just a boyfriend.”

Selected by God—specifically for me—to know, experience, give, receive, sit in, and cherish divine love. Divine. Sacred. Special. Undeniable. Unforgettable. Irreplaceable.

Soul connection.

Now, Grief walks in. No handcuffs. No threats. No tricks.

She reaches out her hand in invitation: “Come, walk with me a while again. We’ll journey deep but rise like dolphins out of water. We’ll return with radiance polished like diamonds.”

Grief looks different.

“Yep,” she says. “That happens when you’ve been looking at me for a while.” Then, she asks, “Are you ready?”

It feels like I imagine when I was a soul and I said yes, I’m ready for a body, and when I was I was a baby, but before I’d been birthed or touched the earth, I said, yes, I’m ready to join the world.

We don’t know what we’re ready for! Can we prepare for Grief? No, preparation isn’t necessary, but it helps.

It helps to be grounded.

If you’re not grounded, Grief can f*ck you up as bad as your worst bad, bad girlfriend.

Grief can make you love her and let her move in, not just to your home, but your heart.

Grief can take over your emotions the way a spoiled girl takes over closets.

Ah, but Grief carries crazy-cool wisdom woven in her womb. She’ll crack you into something new. She’ll sprinkle enlightenment around you and teach you how to feel the music in your blood. Grief will caress you and honor your secrets. She’ll comfort you in memory and heighten your senses.

She’ll make you think you’re high or crazy, but you won’t care. Once you have the courage to climb in bed with Grief, you may resist the world the way a teenage girl falling for her first boyfriend resists her parents.

Because that’s where the juice of life lives—where the heart and soul dance with unbridled emotions and the mind is merely a witness, all previous lessons dismissed.

While some people run from Grief, knowing she’s a too-large wrestling partner for their likes, the brave lean in. But, the wise don’t get lost or stuck.

I intend to be wise this time. Grief smiles as she takes me for a little spin.

How I Make Peace with the Day my Mother Died.

“Everyone takes time to adjust to death, and being able to express your sadness is a sign of an emotionally balanced person.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard, The Art of the Possible

I prayed for peace. She snuck in at 8:02 am on Sunday, April 28, 2019.

Just as I realize her “random” presence, I remember: this is the day my mother died, in 1995. I think it happened at 10 am but have no idea if I’m right.

Here’s what I know for sure about the day my mother died:

Not long before the final event, my sister and I were leaving the hospital when a nurse stopped us and said: “If that was my mom, I wouldn’t leave now.” Her eyes implored us as much as her words.

We turned around.

We told our stepfather what the nurse said.

My stepfather and my sister stood on one side of my mother’s bed. I sat on a stool on the other side.

My brother awaited my mother on the other other side.

Somebody had to decide. It almost seemed a dream that my stepdad and sister deemed me worthy of, if nothing else, announcing what we’d all concluded.

In that moment, I wanted to be as brave as my mother believed me to be.

I clung to my faith. God, please help me. Is this the right thing?

A sweet ether of peace, like the kind that sweeps your heart when you see a rainbow or falling stars, tingled from my toes up through my body and back down, pouring peace into me like warm water, loosening my knotted brain and soothing my vulnerable heart.

I told the too-many people in white coats we were a go on the goodbye.

“You can turn it off now.” With the words barely spoken, panic hit.

Oh, God! Oh, God! I’m so scared! If I’m doing the right thing, show me again!

Fear settled. The soft tingles and warm wash spread through my body like butter melting on toast.

The machine to defy death was turned off. My mom stopped breathing.

The medical students and staff tried to smoothly step out, so they could go study and save living patients.

One nurse said, “You can stay in here as long as you like.” She said it as kindly as if she was saying, “It’s okay, honey. Your momma’s going to be alright.”

Her words landed absurd. My mom was gone. Just a body lay there.

My sister said she didn’t need to stay either.

As we walked down the hall, I noticed the staff who’d greeted us by name before now rendered speechless.

Except for one nurse who arrived from another floor, where my mom previously stayed.

I don’t remember this nurse’s name, but Nancy seems nice. Nancy said she felt it the moment my mother passed. She wanted to be sure to share my mother’s words, spoken in late night hours when we’d left her side.

Nancy told me my mom said she was proud of me for living life on my own terms and not letting society dictate my decisions, for being true to myself.

Nancy conveyed directly to my sister my mom’s calling her out as an extraordinary mother and woman. At least that’s what I remember.

I floated in a cloud of angel energy and having my mom’s love passed on to me through nurse Nancy. The medicine of her words entered me like the blood platelets injected into my mother’s veins.

The medicine gave me energy to move my feet, ride the elevator, and walk out of the hospital to be blasted with sweet New Mexican sunshine—bolder than death.

We walked the dirt path back to Casa Esperanza (House of Hope), where families of those fighting cancer stay. We’d be checking out.

A young couple walked in front of us, swinging their clasped hands. I thought they might start skipping. I thought about the rocks under my feet.

The lovers stopped and turned into each other for a kiss. Their voices sounded like a love song, although I couldn’t hear the words.

Their happiness hit me like a cold California ocean wave. My brain troubled with conflicting new files.

We sped past the couple, got back to the casa, and packed our bags. We cleaned the space where I learned to love Jay Leno and late nights laughing with my sister while our schedules overlapped on the roller coaster ride of my mom’s cancer.

Her cancer grew from grief that grabbed her five years prior, when her only son (our brother) died on a cool desert night in December on an Arizona highway that stretched to a place my mother would thereafter yearn to be—with her son.

She couldn’t find peace after my brother passed.

Today, 24 years after my mother’s death, she reminds me of what she didn’t know then.

It’s possible to let the peace sneak in.

I welcome it with the rustling of lime-green leaves on trees before me as I read The Granta Book of the Family and an essay called “The Business of Mourning.”

I sip coffee and think of mornings before my high school classes started and I stopped by my mom’s office for coffee.

Her eyes lit up at the sight of me

Peace. I can feel it still today.

What are you here to teach me, Grief?

What are you here to teach me, Grief?

Life is precious and valuable. You are strong and loved.

You can handle anything, but you’re not in control.

Trust. Dive all in—to the love, the joy, and yes, the grief.

Release the fear, pain and guilt.

Let it all flow through you. Transform.

Become new. Become more you. Over and over again. Live a life of metamorphosis.

Release the old tricks and tools that no longer serve. Stop grabbing.

Be good to your body.

Suck the marrow out of life. Take time out when you need it. Be true to you.

Honor your pain, sadness, heartache, and outrage, but don’t become them.

Learn. Forgive. Love. Hope. Pray. Cry. Laugh. Write. Dance. Read. Listen.

Appreciate. Accept. Honor. Share.

Life rolls out in seasons. You hating winter doesn’t make it any less cold.

If you’re still here., it’s for a reason. Find it. Live it. Love it.

Open to new possibilities.

How I Lean into the Goneness.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras

I washed my yoga mat, which I rarely did while my 100-lb Black Lab Phoenix filled my life. Before she died months ago, she determined the rolling out of my mat was meant for her, even if I tried to coax her onto her own yoga mat, gifted due to her nail scratches. She had to be on whichever mat I wanted to use. So, I mostly did yoga around her.

My clean pink yoga mat free of black hair on the kitchen floor invited me into the emptiness, the sucker punch of her goneness.

 I sat with my sadness. I miss you so much, baby!

It used to be when I was sad Phoenix and I went for walks around the neighborhood and into the woods.

I still go sometimes—to get my body moving and commune with the trees.

The neighbors with dogs hardly recognize me without her black body by my side.

She served as my guide dog, guiding me to people. She could smell who needed love.

She traipsed across lawns like an eight-year-old girl, interrupted conversations, leaned in for love, and accepted certain treats from favored folks.

Kids asked to pet her. Does she bite? Will she lick me? She likes me!

She taught kids who feared dogs they didn’t need to be afraid. She helped teenage boys push past their cool and allow affection.

She let a neighbor grieving her own dog hug tight through sobs and suddenly dismiss.

The landlord, who doesn’t even melt for spotted baby deer, bragged to the window guy about Phoenix. “She wasn’t just a dog!” She was a presence.

When she stayed with my friends Carol and Pete and I was on my way to pick her up, they said, “We don’t know any Phoenix; Our dog’s name is Princess!”

That’s what one neighbor called her. She’d disappear behind, or maybe in, his house. Sometimes I feared he coveted her in a way that made me understand that commandment. I insisted he stop calling her Princess. “Her name is Phoenix!”

But yes, there was something regal about her. When neighbors engaged with her, as they often did, their invisible walls dropped. She made people feel safe.

When they exclaimed, “She’s so beautiful!” they meant her entire demeanor, as well as her black satin coat. Her soft caramel eyes whispered caresses. Her untainted, soulful authenticity invited comfort. She knew how to walk the path to love.

Now, I walk alone. I feel invisible and vulnerable without my identity born from “This is Phoenix’s mom!” The easy connections and conversations sever without her.

Then, there’s the lovely older couple… The lady flat out told me early on when I invited her to a gathering, “The only people I like in this neighborhood is Phoenix.”

For years, both husband and wife, asked repeatedly, “Has she gained weight? She looks heavy.” I stifled my instinctive, “Have you?”

Now that she’s gone, I’m privy to a new conversation. Recently, they pulled their van close to me, against the nonexistent weekday suburbia traffic.

“Gosh, we hardly recognized you without Phoenix! We don’t see you walking much. How old was she?”

“Eleven.”

They didn’t seem to have a reference point. They shrugged and looked at each other. “What did she die from?”

“I don’t know. She’d been sick for a while.”

“Was it cancer?”

“Probably.”

This conversation served up the opposite of “two heads are better than one,” as I’ve had the exact conversation with each of them individually.

“Well, we don’t see you walking as much without her.” Do you wonder why?

I can’t be too irritated with this couple, though. When Phoenix and I moved into the neighborhood, they told me where to catch the trail into the woods, like slipping me a secret ticket to childlike freedom found in the forest, our playground where Phoenix could go off leash while I walked, ran, skipped, sung, or wrote.

The trees swaying in spring, autumn colors splashing against the river mirror, the fluffy, winter carpet encouraging us to forge a fresh path, and the swept-clean dirt floor dancing with roots repeatedly returned us to our better natures.

I go alone now, seeking my spirit, missing my Lab partner, and feeling vulnerable without her bark, bold body, and announcement to anyone we might meet among the trees: I’m with her.

She’s not with me now. As a woman, I’m suddenly a little less free. I must stay more aware, the way a wise woman walks in the world today.

I’m acutely aware of my 11-year-old loyalist’s absence, along with her lingering love.

My yoga mat is clean. I practice into this new space where I don’t have to navigate a dog for whom I’d gladly lay out a mat, a bed, or a bowl every day of my life.

She was my pleasure, my treasure, and my protector. A gift of the highest order.

How Memory Soothes.

“The most evident token and an apparent sign of wisdom is a constant and unrestrained rejoicing.” ~ Michel de Monatigne

The Cardinals’ chirps announce their return

to feeders outside sliding glass doors.

Fresh October air kisses my face

with memories I want to

dive into and dismiss:

The October my Labrador Phoenix and

I stayed with my boyfriend Kevin

at his house in the country

with a view of the river and

trees thick like an autumn rainbow.

Mornings sat us at his new, suited-for-two round table

With coffee made for and served to each other.

Kevin crossed his long basketball-star legs and

Pointed out birds I never noticed.

He knew their names and identifying characteristics.

In those moments, we were an old couple together.

I could grow old with this man, my mate.

We were Fire & Ice; Crazy, Sexy, Cool.

We added a thousand memories

After our colorful fall that felt like

I’d finally found a home for my soul.

March of 2016 took my beloved

like a kidnapper in the night,

by complete surprise.

His heart stopped

in the center of our love story,

that began with

two decades

invested in telling tales

About men and women we dated, married and divorced.

About jobs we worked since the one where we met,

Stories told over miles he and I drove separately.

So often we spoke for hours with one of us on the road.

He ran sales appointments and I drove between MN and OH

To see my sister, whose husband was dying of cancer.

How did I forget that Kevin carried me through those conversations

where my heart was breaking for my sister and brother-in-law and nephews?

Kevin encouraged me to stay with my sister after her husband—and then the cat—died.

And besides, the guy I lived with strutted the pilot stereotype he denied.

Kevin said, “Icey, you’ve got to get out of there.”

Always direct with each other: the kind of friendship I value.

Direct and the freedom to disagree. Respect and acceptance

Built a foundation for our deeper-than-either-of-us-had-ever-been intimacy.

We’d each tried to create a sacred, harmonious relationship with others,

But never got it right. Until we did.

Kevin and I knew what we had the way children know to play in water.

The same way Cardinals know when the feeder is full

And my heart knows it’s fall, when crisp air,

Color, fog, birds and memories collide.  

And I smile.

Letter to my Beloved, a Year and a Half after his Death.

Three and a half years after Kevin’s death, I think less, “Damn! I lost that!” I think more, “Wow! I had that!” Crazy, sexy, cool.

Alice in Authorland

“When good men die their goodness does not perish, but lives on though they are gone.” ~ Euripides

Dear Kevin,

Thank you. Thank you for embodying your authentic self and welcoming me to be the Alice Lundy you saw—not just my best self, but the real me: raw, vulnerable, smart, beautiful, jealous, funny, a writer worth reading, sexy, determined, feisty, intuitive, angry, weird, stubborn, free-spirited, and a terrible singer, but a great story-teller.

You saw me. You got me. All of me—the parts I wanted to deny, abandon, or project onto others, and especially the qualities about myself I believe on my best days.

You knew who I was back when the only thing I cared more about than selling books was the truth, and I assumed it was clear and simple.

So, I held truth against you for 20 years and you let me without pitting alternatives against me…

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Sometimes We Have to be Our Own Encouragers.

* Dedicated to my writer friends, especially the memoirists.

You, my dear, are the only one who can save yourself.

Save yourself from the lies.

Free yourself from the distractions and self-created stress.

Lean into what you love. Realign your values.

Ground in. Sit with yourself.

Listen to yourself. Hear your Self.

Look at yourself. See your Self.

Wake up. Wise up.

Come on up out of that fog!

Watch the birds, but work the plan.

Don’t give up, girl. Not now.

Not in the messy middle. This is the home of metamorphosis. In memoir and real life.

In our history—personal and societal, individual and collective.

Past, present, future, it’s all the same.

Inciting incidents. Indecisions, heartbreak and fear.

The f*cking messy middle!

Beginnings taste like taking flight. Yes, it felt like take-off when I started writing my memoir in the Summer of Alice in Santa Fe, NM in 2012, seven years ago!

The middle is like a food coma after consuming a box of donuts and a half dozen cups of coffee. It’s head on the desk, I want to go home! and Where the f*ck am I?!

The messy middle is living in a penthouse on the beach in Cancun while your boyfriend is gone all night doing cocaine.

It’s the juxtaposition that demands decision when all your decision-making capabilities feel maxed, your love story has turned tragic, and you don’t know where or how to get out.

Hello, messy middle!

Hang on, girl. Do your best. Fight like hell for your dream, but don’t make it harder than it must be.

Get on your knees. Get on your mat. Get grounded. Stay seated. At your desk.

Walk in the woods. Drink water.

TV is not your friend. And, even your friends can’t complete this book for you.

Your book is good because you’re a good writer and you have a good story, but you can make it better. Own that.

This is for you, my dear. Make it a badass book.

It’s not about being a bestseller (unless it is), but about putting out your best work for your professional debut on the playing field as an author.

Polish yourself and your baby up. Present yourselves to the world.

Bring your full Self into your new life. Leave your false self, like your first attempts before you changed the verb tense.

You alone must craft your art. Your sister can’t do it for you. Your writer friends can’t impose it upon you. Your parents can’t pray success into you.

But baby, you’ve got a gang of angels at your back applauding, whispering and arranging. They’ve got agents praying for your book and men praying for your love.

Marry yourself to your destiny. Go back in one more time.

Because baby, if it weren’t for the messy middle, the story has no tension, no juice, no life force defying the odds and fighting the obstacles, and going for the glory again, like you did in the beginning.

Babe, you’ve got this.

What the Elders and Sages Whisper in the Woods.

“As you get up in the morning, as you make decisions, as you spend money, make friends, make commitments, you are creating a piece of art called your life.” ~ Mary Catherine Bateson

I made a pact with myself. I promise to fall in love every day.

This morning, I fell in love with a hummingbird, a book, and an author I already loved.

I love her a little more after being seduced by one special passage. She called up my intimate connection to words, how they’ve kissed my lips and danced with my fingertips.

Words! I love words! And baby deer in my yard. Their spots ignite me!

Later, I fall in love with the ecstasy of my naked feet on lush green lawns sewn together by the twin hands of man and Mother Nature.

I listen to the trees tell me secrets of the ages. In the woods, I hear the voices of sages, elders, and wise women who came before, guiding me, helping me, loving me.

In these moments, I fall in love with my choice to take on this human life.

I fall in love with my divine destiny—in all its hardship and agony, desperation and senseless pain.

As a country, we’re like teenagers who keep getting drunk and driving into trees. We’re fighting about whether it’s the car or the alcohol.

It’s the stupidity! It’s the recklessness, the not valuing life.

We must value life again, fall in love with the joy of living, so we may fix what’s broken.

We know in our hearts—most of us—the daily onslaught of personal and collective chaos and sadness that comes with repeated mass murders is no way to live (or die).

We must stop the killing and stop emboldening an environment in which hate is part of the dominant conversation.

Watch enough news, you’ll get depressed and angry, too.

But, how do we turn away from what we know is wrong?

Why did we read Anne Frank and watch Schindler’s List?

Who are we, collectively and individually, as a country? Can we unite?

I alone cannot bring honor back to America again.

However, I can make this commitment: to fall in love with something or someone daily, to keep the love in my heart active so when I go into the world, I don’t stir up hate.

I consciously fall in love with a song on the radio, a new purple pen, or a full moon, bright in the darkness.

I enter the world with the intention to soften the air we all breathe.

One day, I’ll do more, but we must start where we are.

We can keep this commitment: love, consciously.

My resistance against the wretchedness killing our joy isn’t denial, but welcomes us to face the dichotomy of these historical times without shutting down or drowning out truth.

Let’s open the door to love daily. I’ll turn on the light, make some coffee, and let her settle in.

Won’t you join us?

How to Resist without being Resistant.

Alice in Authorland

Go boldly into your resistance.

In the morning, resist the temptation to turn on an electronic box to push your emotional and intellectual buttons—the things that stop you and start you.

Instead, reach for peace, prayer, poetry, and purpose—even before you pee.

Resist unedited thoughts, words, assumptions, beliefs, and reactions.

Resist knowing the answer before hearing the question. Fight the urge to always be right, be on time, and be the smartest person in the room. Even Abe Lincoln and Mark Twain had to learn to temper themselves, to be civil in their discourse.

Resist swallowing news like vitamins. Occasionally, we’ve got to reevaluate the choices, benefits, and costs of what we’re taking in.

Resist the urge to share what you’re unwilling to research. Resist through research.

Resist through writing and speaking. Resist by reading. Read like it’s a habit stronger than alcohol and you’ll never want to quit.

Resist…

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How We Get Stronger.

Sarah Entrup says, “Getting stronger is a big deal. It takes effort. It takes work. You have to get stronger than your impulse to dive into a ditch.”

Sh*t! I had no idea how powerful my urge to swerve into ditches is. Not one ditch, because baby, I can pass up one, two, three, fourteen ditches in a row. Then, bam!

Like I haven’t done an ounce of work, I get a case of the f*ck-its so bad death invites. Why wouldn’t it? That’s where too many of my loved ones live. I want to go—into that ditch.

No, this isn’t a note about suicide. This is about the realization that yes, we’ve done a buttload of work, but when the call to death and darkness has haunted since childhood, in between seasons of success and joy, the demand for strength Sarah speaks of is as mighty as a Mt. Everest climb.

How strong is our impulse to dive verses how strong is it to climb?

I’m a Scorpio. I’ve gone through metamorphosis a multitude of times. Most of us have or we wouldn’t be here.

Today, I take to heart Sarah’s words about the requirement of strength. I let the idea settle in where the darkness hides in my history and subconscious.

We can’t control everything in our lives. But, I’m willing to take responsibility for the ditches I dove into—willingly, shamefully, secretly, fully. Ouch.

I reclaim my power to rise, not in the way I fantasize—Lalala, livin’ in the love and light!

In this moment, I acknowledge my ability to get stronger with daily practice.

We must make a commitment to ourselves. We start by refuting the claim: “I tried so hard and nothing works!”

We’re trying, and many things are working in our lives if we can just shift ever so slightly to see some beauty, some progress, some good amid the ridiculous chaos and bullsh*t. It’s there, but so are we—planted in this brutiful moment in history.

Sometimes falling apart, individually or as a society, is the path to getting stronger.

We’re aligning with truth and acknowledging lies—the ones we told ourselves and the ones we pretended to believe from others. We set our sights anew.

Now, we see the ditches like I learned to see and avoid the bastards and bad boys while the seduction still kisses me with temptation.

I make new choices, better choices. And, I bet you do, too.