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.

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.