Letter to a Dog Aunt.

Dear Aunt Jayne,

Thank you for letting me and my mom move in with you back in 2013. I was disappointed that little kitty departed before I got here. You were so sad when we arrived. (Not about the kitty, of course.)

I liked coming up and tucking you in at night. As the months went on, I enjoyed hearing the high pitch of happiness in your voice.

I never told you, but you when you called me Wiggle Butt, I loved it! You’re the only one I let call me that.

Please know how much I love you and appreciated sharing your home and part of my life with you. You made my life experience richer, fuller, more enjoyable, and safe.

You loved me without hesitation and respected my needs. You didn’t get mad at me. I know I was a good dog, so I didn’t give much reason, but I’m also very sensitive and you understood that.

Living with you and my mom, right here where we could walk to the woods and hang on the deck and chase squirrels and go on walkabout… what a life!

Aunt Jayne, remember when I first moved in (next door) and my mom used to throw the ball with that magic wand and I fetched it until I got distracted? Man, I could run fast when I was young!

Thank you for respecting my body as I grew sicker and weaker. Thank you for comforting my mom in all the ways only you can. That’s all I ever wanted to give her—more love. You help with that.

You made me feel safe and always welcome. Trust me, my mom notices if people don’t practically salute me. That’s how I feel about her, too. I love her sooo much!

That’s why it was hard to leave. I kept fighting, but I’m glad I got to walk out with dignity. You were there for that big awful hard thing. You were there when I ate my first and last hot dogs.

Why didn’t you introduce me to hot dogs earlier?!

I forgive you. I hope Tom’s there when I get wherever I’m going. I know it’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m sorry I had to leave, but thanks for making my journey easier.

Love and Black Velvet Hugs,

Your Wiggle Butt

Love Letter to a Black Lab.

“Phoenix: a person or thing [dog] regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.” ~  Siri

My Darling Phoenix,

Years ago, I stayed up all night with you and said goodbye
the first time you had Lyme when we lived with Lee.
You were so sick it echoed throughout his house
when you vomited on those ocean-slate floors.

But you got up, got well, and we forgot
how sick you were when we moved to Ohio
and how hard we worked to make you well.

We walked in the woods five days a week,
shared a bed, a deck, and a life.
You nurtured my sister through grief—
And a couple years later, did the same for me.

You listened to me scream in the car
as we drove across the country,
And witnessed me dancing
in the kitchen with a dead man.

My road trip buddy,
you protected me
by loving strangers.

When I left you to travel,
the neighbor boy diagnosed:
Master Separation Anxiety.

I’ve never been your master,
but I’m definitely your mom.

We’re as in sync as sisters.

Two years ago, when we took the trip out west,
(hotels and elevators, oh my!)
I fretted about how to treat your new case of Lyme.
You responded to those meds like a headache to Excedrin.

More walks in the woods.
More friends falling for you.
More snuggling and road trips.

What adventures we’ve shared!

But, now I’m up with you all night
while you fight for your life and my love.

I say it again: I love you, Baby.

You’re the best dog in the world.

I want you to get well.

I lean down and
Kiss your black velvet head
A dozen times.

I hold your swollen paws
And tell you: If it’s time for you to go, it’s okay.
Say hello to Kevin and Cassie and
All my loved ones on the other side.

You’re such a good girl, Phoenix.
You’ve been my true companion.
I couldn’t have asked for any better.

I love you.
I’m sorry you had to hurt.
Thank you for being mine—
The best dog in the world.

Thank you for showing me how to rise from the ashes repeatedly.

One more time, girl?



On Forgiving Death.

“Unforgiveness is fueled by rumination—we keep rehashing sad experiences.” ~ Gustavo Razzetti

I’ve proactively sought to forgive my parents, husbands, bosses, and boyfriends who were on my path to teach me lessons.

I even forgave my rapist. Not because he changed, or we engaged in conversation, but because the experience cut into me and buried itself so deep I had to release it or be poisoned for life.

Scarred maybe. Destroyed never. Even if it means forgiveness.

When I read Razzitti’s words, “Unforgiveness is fueled by rumination—we keep rehashing sad experiences,” I realize I haven’t forgiven Death.

Death, I’m furious at you for taking my brother, mother, and brother-in-law. Those losses knocked me out. Still, I rose to grow more aware and compassionate.

Then, you took my beloved. How dare you steal the man who fit me in my 50s after I’d tried so many others?

After befriending me for 25 years and calling me Ice, Kevin melted me. He became my Fire. We dove into crazy, sexy, cool love, as delicious as morning coffee and as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans.

He vowed to give me the authenticity I craved, danced congruent, and swiped away my walls with his magic-eraser heart.

His arms were my home. He got me, and I got him. No one was pretending. We lived in a no-bullshit zone.

You snuck in and stole him in the night, Death. You blew like an explosion on our boat of bliss.

WTF?! Why didn’t you take one of those other dudes? Why did you take my Fire?

I’m so f*cking mad and there’s nobody to be mad at besides the pharmaceutical giant who rendered him a statistical cost of doing business. Who’s to prove what caused his heart attack?

It doesn’t matter. You took him from me, Death! You snatched him while he slept, happily packed to come see me.

F*ck you, Death! I’m angry at your cruelty. Why did you take him from me?

Can I decide to forgive you? I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

I see you come to everyone. Maybe it was his time.

Maybe in the spiritual world we made this agreement with you. I’d like to renegotiate.

Can I renegotiate how I feel about you, Death? Or are you my forever enemy? You’re clearly the taker, but do you have a benevolent side?

It’s easy to see when I sit at the service of a 90-year-old Quaker woman who proactively chose to leave life’s party and left a lingering breeze of easy love in her wake. She got to choose.

It’s harder to forgive you, Death when you take a 22-year-old just on the verge of building her solid foundation. How do you do this to parents, Death?

Life and Death. How can I accept you, forgive you for the role you’ve been assigned, and not ruminate on all it’s cost me?

I forgive you, Death. That’s me practicing. I forgive you for putting out the Fire. Nope, I’m not there yet.

Was it a gang of angels who snatched my beloved or did you, Death invite my Fire to a party he couldn’t refuse?

He tells me the music there is better than any rock concert he attended here, even though he lived the rock and roll lifestyle for decades.

Did you hold the door, Death, while Kevin’s mother stood in the doorway inviting him to the other side?

Kevin tells me he can do so much more to help me now. I believe as much as I miss his physicality.

I attempt to forgive you, Death so I may welcome conversations and opportunities with Kevin on the other side.

It’s been three years. I must forgive you, Death.

May I use these experiences with you to be of benefit and stand beside others when their loved ones are greeted by you.

My intention is to forgive so I may live without anger in my heart and serve with love.

But, I see you coming around the corner again, inviting my soul-companion pet, my Lab partner Phoenix, my dog who is, as Kevin would say, “my dawg,” to go to another party I’m not invited to, one on the other side, where my loved ones dance to music I cannot hear.

I’m left to repress my anger and disdain for you, Death. Forgiveness hasn’t become me, yet.

Maybe it isn’t just the rehashing of sad experiences, but the repetition of them. Can you give me a break here, Death?

Please, can you let me rest so I may rise in forgiveness?

How to Practice Love.

If you’re without a sweetheart, embrace your lovely life in all its messiness, the way a lover embraces her mate with messy hair in the morning.

Practice yoga—kundalini preferably, and meditation. Practice silence and prayer and listening to the sounds of birds outside the morning window.

Practice healthy eating, clean eating—organic, water, and raw.

Gather your wits, but never lose your wonder.

Be brave, be bold, but never lose the sight of the beauty.

You will be tested. At times, you will surely break. Often, that’s where the beauty lies: in the wreckage.

Trust your body and care for it as well as you do your dog.

Receive as well as you give, so you may be nourished by humility and gratitude pumping through your heart and soothing your chaotic mind.

Suck in the joy.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Choose love.

If you have that special someone, celebrate.

If you’re without a sweetheart, embrace your lovely life in all its messiness, the way a lover embraces her mate with messy hair in the morning.

Find your dazzling eyes in the mirror. Take a good, long gaze. Lean into the divine.

See your glowing 7th chakra above your head, impossibly connected to beyond the stars, as well as your very heart, and culminating in your throat. Speak love.

Let the radiance you’ve shown others reflect home and back out the way a diamond’s brilliance bounces under grocery store lights.

Bask in nature’s glow. Dance to her rhythm. Sway with love the way 40-foot green trees sway with the wind under the veil of the thin blue sky.

Sip water and get drunk on wonder.

Today is a day of love.

How to Welcome a New Paradigm.

“There are so many good things on their way to you, you can’t even imagine.” ~ Joan Brady, God on a Harley

My tiredness bears the weight of gravity
even as I grasp for the gold.
Oh, neutrality, take hold of me!
This body needs to shapeshift and rebirth herself.
Yesterday’s programs stack as heavy as dozens of
music albums without a turntable.
Let me offload rather than retaining
for future fantasy value.
I’ll take my womanhood like
an hourglass spilling grace through my body.
Let me not pretend I know the songs my heart wishes to sing.
Yesterday’s playground serves no more.
Thinking is sickness as much as medicine.
My spirit bubbles with plans yet unknown.
I welcome the gravitational pull toward my soul’s delight.
Only she carries the map. It can’t be found in a book.
It’s being birthed within me.
I am the container of the creative.
Fulfillment crashes like an ocean wave.
Neutrality teaches me to surf or
Just sit in the sand and smile.

How the Strongest Woman I Know Helped Me.

Crying doesn’t reveal weakness. It exposes vulnerability and humanity. Strong is the individual who cries… and continues.

To the Strongest Woman I Know:

I’ve been watching you since the day I entered this world.

I don’t remember a time when you said, “You’re not welcome,” not in your words, actions, or attitude. Not once.

When you were in high school, you invited me, your little sister, on your dates. You let me ride in the back of a blue Jeep CJ-5 while you rode in front with a boy named Paul who you liked better than them all.

You took me to high school football games and for some reason your friends fawned over me the way no one in my life (besides you) did.

I think mom and dad’s divorce hit you harder than me. Because you were five years older, you witnessed what was once a solid marriage, whereas when I arrived, it seemed the last straw fell upon their fantasies of forever. Like I entered a crack in time and stretched my legs into it. I never experienced our parents’ relationship as anything more than challenge.

I came to believe everything was or would be broken—especially marriages.

Not you! It takes strength to embark on marriage. You, my strong sister, trusted in the sanctity and opportunity being married offers. You didn’t let it deter you when our parents scoffed at you for running off for love at age 19.

Heck, I’m in awe of anyone who even coexists with another person for 33 years, as you and your husband Tommy did. More than that, you sincerely liked each other and were friends up until the day he died.

Not just friendly, not simply companions, but communicators, in good times and bad, agreements and arguments, raising two boys and facing cancer. You never backed down or lost your voice.

Nor did you give into the dark, controlling, win-at-all-costs power that our mother tended to evoke.

Oh sure, you tried that on for size a couple times, but you’ve always chosen to rise above—not just others, but your smaller self. You’ve elected to be full, authentic, and powerful from a place of love, dignity, and respect.

Your progress in life grew from your character and hard work, starting way back, flipping burgers and earning your way up from minimum wage.

If you and I embody the turtle and the hare, you’ve shuffled as quiet, steady, and tenacious as the turtle.

If the American dream is a staircase, you’ve placed your foot on every step and earned every opportunity you’ve given yourself to.

Many adults return to school decades later to earn degrees, as I did. But you diligently plugged away part time for decades, so consistently attending school it was like background noise.

But, wah-la! In 2013, you crossed the stage and simultaneously collected your BS and MBA, proving persistence pays. You started the process long before Tommy received his death diagnosis with the big C and continued while carrying your grief.

Psychologists say sometimes witnessing abuse can be just as psychologically challenging as being abused. I wonder if the same is true of cancer.

From the sidelines, you handled it like a champion, holding the hand of your friend and companion, the father of your children, the pillar of strength, as he shrunk into life’s finish line.

Working for a dysfunctional company, you focused on your gratitude for the great medical insurance that seemed to be the only reason for putting up with their crap.

You took Tommy to doctors, asked the important questions, and fought for medication and answers—not blindly, but realistically and optimistically, not an easy balance.

You asked the tough questions of your husband. You blogged about his battle. You worked full time, moved, navigated insurance and the medical establishment, as well as the emotions of a dying man, along with those around him who would do anything for him to live, especially your sons.

Most people tiptoe around the dying. Why wouldn’t they? You spoke truth and maintained your authenticity of feelings—love, anger, tears, sadness, and the seduction of hope.

You never resigned. Your husband and friend, the father and friend of your sons, your number one, died anyway—despite your strength.

If one’s never been broken, it’s easy to stay whole. When your heart shatters like glass and glues itself together time and time again for over a year, and upon death’s undeniability incinerates to ash, and then you become whole? This is strength.

Me? I was the hare—racing forward, certain I’d won the race, throwing money around like confetti, buying designer suits, dining in fine restaurants, and flying first class. I made my way through two marriages and landed flat on my ass, broke and broken.

How is it that you never judged me? Like the turtle still moving forward, you offered me a ride on your back, like “Hey, I’m headed that way anyhow.”

You opened your home to me as an adult and never attempted to induce guilt. Kindness and generosity at that level awaken humility and gratitude. Thank you.

If it was only me you treat with such respect and dignity, I’d bask in being the lottery winner. Instead, it’s everyone in your orbit—at work, as well as with friends and family.

You don’t offer syrupy sweetness, but business acumen and a way of carrying yourself which invites others to raise their standards and want to act in kind. Just the other day, a friend of ours said, “I’d do anything for Jayne.” I feel the same.

We also appreciate that you’re not afraid to speak your mind in the face of any challenge, including sexual harassment or outright lies (your kryptonite).

Although I’m your sister, not a coworker or employee, I know what an outstanding manager you are. Yes, from the daily stories you share about how you deal with people and situations, but also how those who work with, for, and above you speak to and about you when I’m with them.

Through diligence, resilience, continuing education, long hours, and adherence to high standards, you’ve earned (rather than lucking into, as some do) the respect you command and the salary you’re paid.

While many may be blind to the special challenges a female manager in a male-dominated industry faces, you’re fully aware without denial, pretty-pink paint, or over-the-top complaint. Part of your mission is to raise women up and mentor them where you can, honoring the gifts and talents inherent in women and acquired by them.

If you showed up awesome simply with your sister and at your place of business, you’d be winning, but like I said, I’ve been watching you.

When the love of your life died, you fell into an emotional sink hole, as anyone would. Still, you looked up and saw the light in the darkest chapter of your life.

You climbed and created a new life when you desperately longed for your old one.

You practiced serial dating in your search for a new mate. When you found out one of the men you were especially fond of was a player, you ended the game as smooth as closing a book.

You knew what you wanted and refused to settle, regardless of how you longed for the company of a man. It seems silly to say you soldiered on, but ask any widow; It’s a battle and you were brave.

You chose a man with whom you’re happy and didn’t let others’ opinions deter you.

That could be your motto: I will not be deterred. Not in work, integrity, or love.

There’s no greater love than that of a mother’s for her children. Yet, there are plenty of parents who blame their kids or turn their backs on them if, as parents, they don’t receive love in the form they believe they deserve.

When your husband and the father of your sons went to the other side, your solid family unit shattered. You loved patiently from the sidelines you seemed to be relegated to, as one son lived far away and the other found what felt like family for him elsewhere.

Your yearning for his presence and your place as priority in his life never wavered. Yet, you didn’t once play the guilt card, emotionally manipulate, or do anything other than make your love and open door undeniable.

In addition to how fiercely you love your sons, you consider your daughter-in-law as your own, giving her a safe place to share special joys like your future granddaughter.

Jayne, you’ve set the example of what it means to be a family—not just meals, laughter, games, and holidays, but connectedness, conversation, and unflinching loyalty.

The last few weekends, you’ve driven 16-20 hours to see a family member who’s battling his own brand of demons. You get just three hours with him and never question whether it’s worth it. You never complain about the drive, even when we went through the most treacherous storm of our lives—with one headlight!

Your strength is more than forging forward. It’s laughing, learning, being present, and allowing others the space to be themselves and travel their own journeys.

During and after Tommy’s cancer battle, people (when they weren’t busy dumping their sad stories in your lap) repeatedly told you how strong you are. You hated hearing that. You said, “Like I have a choice.”

You did, and you do. We all make choices, in our words, attitude, and actions.

A friend of ours told me when she has a dilemma—either at work or in her personal life—she thinks, “What would Jayne do?” I laughed when she admitted she often thinks this after she’s done the other thing in the moment.

Not all of us can be as strong as you are, sister. Sure, maybe in many ways, it’s because you had to be.

However, I never forget that when our mom was dying and needed the oxygen mask but fought to take it off, I left the room, while you stayed and said, “No, mom. You have to keep this on.”

Mom would be beaming if she could look into your eyes today. At one time, I called her the strongest woman I knew, a warrior.

Now, you’ve taken the title. Jayne, you’ve done hard things, but you haven’t become hard, bitter, or resigned.

You’ve taken the strength mom instilled in you and expanded it into hugs, I love yous, and laughter that lights me up, even when darkness feels like my destiny.

Not only are you the strongest woman I know, but because of you, I’m more determined than ever to be my strongest self.