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.

How I Negotiate with Grief. #bloglikecrazy

“A thousand times she has let go of grief, and it has returned to her a thousand more.” ~ Amy Weiss, Crescendo

I negotiate with grief. In the beginning, it was a heavy weight I committed to carry.

At six months, I thought she’d be lighter, or I’d be stronger. I vowed to keep walking.

First came the end of the calendar year in which my beloved died in March. Grief grounded me.

Surely, at the one year anniversary of his passing, I’d turn the page to something blank and hopeful.

But, grief had already written a pink slip on every day.

Now, it’s two years since the month I spent at his place when we delighted in magic moments and spinning memories I didn’t know I’d rely on to comfort me.

Presently, grief is lighter, like the sunlight on the fall leaves in his front yard, like the crisp morning air when I left his bed and pulled on his KISS robe as I let my dog out.

Grief is bright, like the moon the night we made love on his deck overlooking the river in the country, where I never wanted to live but now miss.

Grief is musical, like the blues he introduced me to and his deep, manly voice.

With time, grief’s become sweet, like the laughter we wrapped in intimacy and his chest holding my head as he stroked my hair.

Grief lingers. She doesn’t leave, although she’s done a little shape-shifting.

I know there will still be heavy days I can hardly stand under her weight.

But, today, I’m strong. I’ve negotiated well.

And grief, she’s beautiful, like his smile when he looked at me.

 

Why Everyone Needs a Good Cry. #bloglikecrazy

Sometimes crying is the gift we give ourselves.

My sister hates to sweat. Sure, she can have a good cry, but the idea of hot yoga to induce a sweat sounds sick to my sister.

Although she likes yoga and loves the warm sunshine, she draws the line at sweat the way some people draw the line at tears.

We can be sad, but “Don’t cry” is the American mantra—unless you’re on “reality” TV, of course.

Listen, after the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or the 872 frustrations taken with smiles on our faces, crying is the sweat of our emotional workout.

Tears are valuable. Created from our emotional body, tears are nonexistent until we allow our feelings to ignite them.

It requires depth to cry—happy tears as well as sad. Not only that, but tears have health benefits.

According to Psychology Today, biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey of the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis determined emotional tears hold stress hormones which exit the body through crying.

Stress hormones? Why would we want to hold those in? Let ‘em flow!

A good workout is required to break a sweat. One must go to the gym, hit the trail, or pick up the weights to build muscles and endurance.

What if our emotional muscles, as individuals and as a society, have turned flabby?

What if because we’re so afraid to cry, we’ve forgotten the overwhelming rush of happy tears? Or the emotional release, even high, after a good cry?

What if doing our emotional workouts on a regular basis is the key to a fulfilling life? A full feeling life. Isn’t that what we’re after—the feeling?

To feel it all—the ache of death, the natural high of children, the joy of food and family, the anger at government and outrage over poor treatment of people by those who lack compassion, the bliss of a soft, wet kiss—is to be alive.

This is a call to cry. Don’t tell me you’re over that thing that cut your heart, just because you paste a smile on your face and refuse to cry.

Trust me, if daddy touched you wrong or abandoned or damned you—you need to cry.
If your mother, brother, sister, or beloved died, you need to cry.

If your kid is on heroin, your daughters are teenagers, or your ex is bat-shit crazy, you need to cry. And that’s just the happenings in our own homes.

What about the state of our nation? Don’t we have enough reasons to cry?

Stifled tears are toxins.

Often, the one resisting the tears, denying the pain, or pushing people away doesn’t realize she’s doing it. It’s the technique she learned to keep her safe—the one she acquired as a daughter who had to play the mother.

Personally, I didn’t know I was retreating to safety by hiding my vulnerability. That’s the way my mom taught me.

Don’t ever let them see you cry. For years, I tried not to.

I was tough—like a man—because that suits society.

Now, in my 50s, life has tenderized me. It taught me to cry.

Maybe the gigantic universe heard my mom’s words, “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

I wailed over the death of my beloved. I cried every day. I owned my grief and let it flow through me. I cried until I could laugh.

The physical loss of the man and our plans on earth deserved every tear. My grief was genuine. I let it move through me and serve as my path to laughter and awe, wonder and delight.

In my grief, I opened up to a wider array of emotions. I forced myself to seek, find and embrace beauty. I gazed at deer, little red and yellow birds, and blue dragonflies. I started a love affair with the sky.

I bonded closer to my dog, sister, family and some friends. Others fell out.

You know, the ones who couldn’t hold the weight of my tears without the need to rescue, one-up, or dispense the attitude of platitudes. Yeah, I had to let them go.

Because truth be told, I want to hang out with the criers of this world, those dripping from the fullness of emotion. Not every damn day drama queens, but when it’s called for.

Let’s have the courage to own our emotions.

I find these criers to be grievers, yogis, musicians, singers, teachers, health advocates, spiritual practitioners, and courageous managers.

Maybe the emotionally evolved can be found anywhere, even in the mirror.

How Grief Becomes Us. #bloglikecrazy

If you haven’t soared in ecstasy, contorted for intimacy, or caved in with grief, what have you been doing?

Grief used to grab me—by the throat, the shoulders, or even take me out at the knees.

Now, she whispers like the wind, sings like a song, and smells like his cigars.

Grief lingers. I think it would be a lie if I told her I want her to go. We’ve become such companions.

She’s the one I never thought I’d like. She’s certainly not my friend. And, how dare she claim a place in my family?

But, she’s a part of me now. She’s hard and she’s beautiful.

Grief’s wretched and royal, a tease and the truth.

She’s my testimony.

How I Walk Forward with the Chaos of Grief.

I didn’t just lose my boyfriend. I lost the man and relationship I spent five decades looking for, the one that fit me—in all of its imperfection. I lost my sense that I belong in that special club for two.

I never really believed in “the one,” but of all the men I’ve known and loved none of them knew me and loved me the way Kevin did. He said the same thing about me. The cool thing was both giving and receiving unconditional love, living in a no-bullshit zone.

Now, a year and a half after his death, I’m back to the bullshit. The people who think they know me may, but I don’t feel truly known or able to reveal myself fully because what I am now carries such sadness.

I spout off about grieving taking as long as it takes, but I’m pissed off that it’s taking so much of me.

I’m no longer in despair every moment. I set goals. I go forth. I attend events. I laugh and mean it. But, the backdrop of it all is the desire to go back to being with my beloved.

The truth is the extraordinary events without his presence on earth rarely stir me as much as the seemingly ordinary events like watching TV, talking on the phone, or sharing coffee did when he was alive.

Kevin was my man. He once said he wanted me to look at him like, “I know he’s an idiot, but he’s my idiot.” I did—when it came to my less-than-favorite of his tendencies, as he did mine.

I didn’t have to convince myself to overcome my feelings or force feed myself into affection, conversation or presence.

That’s always been an issue with me—being told what I should feel—often by myself and certainly by other men.

Kevin respected my feelings, even the irrational ones. I wasn’t put off by his bullshit, not after we went from friends to our all-in relationship.

God, please forgive me for wishing another one of those fools I loved would’ve been the one who died instead.

I guess all I can do now is love myself the way Kevin loved me—with appreciation for my femininity and humanity.

What would Kevin say of this grief? He’d hold me through it, as I did for him with the grief he carried over his mother’s death.

She died in 2012 and in 2014 it was still eating him inside, although few knew the extent of his pain, although many must’ve imagined, knowing how close Kevin and his mom were.

Now he’s with her. It’s lovely. And, it sucks.

It sucks that Kevin is not here for his father as he committed to be. Around Thanksgiving in 2015, Kevin was in Tampa with his father when the doctors considered cutting off “Coach’s” big toe due to diabetes. Kevin was relieved when his father bounced back and basically told his sons to get out of his house and hit the road.

Kevin made it clear to me when the time came, he’d be there—in Tampa—for his dad, even move there, whatever was required. I respected that.

Of course, Kevin couldn’t imagine he’d be dead when the time came. Or that his dad and twin would truly be scared when Irma hit Florida recently.

Or that at age 86 Coach would conclude doctors cutting off his foot was the right move. So, now that’s happened.

I can’t imagine having a foot cut off, but I suspect Coach would say losing his son was harder.

I didn’t just lose my boyfriend. I lost knowing the people he loved were better off because he was there for them—physically present without being asked, speaking directly, kidding and seriously making life easier to manage.

I feel helpless—for a foot that’s been cut off and a twin brother who’s shouldering the burden Kevin would’ve willingly carried.

I miss him more than ever. I miss him for the others who miss him more than ever.

This is the journey. This is the chaos of emotion one doesn’t master, but learns to live with like a missing limb.

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

“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, as you could’ve easily done.

Thank you for carrying our 25-year friendship and calling consistently, despite me taking it for granted and leaving you hanging, sometimes for weeks. My obliviousness, along with all the times I tried to set you up with other gals, matched your persistence.

You doled out invitations, starting way back in 1989 with the first party you took me to out in the country at your friend Ed’s, when I was escaping my ill-fitting life with my first husband and you were partying like a rock star.

You dismissing hard drugs before we became a couple opened the door for us, and divulging the details about your troubles swung it wide.

I’m amazed at how you evolved as a man in the years we walked separate paths. You came back into my life carrying a brand of manly emotional courage I’d never known.

You braved our love by going deeper than you’d ever gone. Early on, I couldn’t imagine it wasn’t your M.O. or a kind of show, but you showed me!

Your colorful personality, passion and resolve earned you your nickname: Fire!

Your creative questions and present listening, as you navigated knowing me on a soul level, left an imprint of intimacy actualized.

I cherish the memories of our challenging conversations on subjects like race, death, politics, religion, and education.

Many assume I’m sad about all the things we didn’t get to say or do. Not true. We said and did it all.

We sucked the marrow out of life. In our less than two years as a couple, we did a decade. As your friend Garry said, “Of course. I saw it. God opened up time so Kevin could have that experience before he left this life.”

True, and I would’ve loved to keep riding with you until the end of my days.

Thank you for planning for us, making way and expanding our everything.

You taught me to wrestle with our differences without dismissing me or letting me run away.

Thank you for always encouraging me to run back into your arms, like the time I jumped in my car and took off down the road, in a furry bound for nowhere, so mad I was unaware my parking brake was on.

You said you were sorry and, “Come back home,” as if it was ours.

Thank you for knowing and acting on your ability to apologize as a man and not letting me belittle or bullshit you, which I once had a tendency to do.

Kevin, thank you for sparing me the one truth I would’ve sworn I could handle—your friendship with your ex. You were right, even though you were so f*cking wrong for lying to me.

Thank you for coming back to me after you died.

You came through your brother Glenn’s body and hugged me—as only you could do—when I went to your house and crumbled on the bathroom floor.

You told me the perfect things to pack at 4 am, after I overslept and stood in a fog from trying half an antidepressant the night before, leaving me unpacked and unprepared for the flight to your memorial service in Tampa. Because of you, I had exactly what I needed, no more and no less, even with the unexpected detour and change in weather.

Then, two pennies (one dated 2014, the year we got together) appeared on a table in the airport, on the hotel room bed, in my car and other places.

Back home, as I walked into church alone to my bones, you sang “There Must Be 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and made me laugh.

The day I looked up out of my sunroof to dry my tears before yoga class, you sent your heart in a cloud, as you’ve done dozens of times since, because as you say, you can no longer send flowers.

And the smell of your cigars (the only ones I ever liked) while I’m on my mat? Nice.

One night under a full moon, you led me through the woods on a path and told me it would continue to unfold if I just keep walking. I’m trying.

You repeatedly say, “I’m here, Icey, I’m here.” I accept; you really have just walked into another room.

Thank you for filling me with your love and divine lessons—most of which you never intentionally taught or articulated.

One of my favorites is: never argue for your limitations. I’m working on it.

You mirrored to me the things I needed to see in a way I didn’t resist, which is rare for a rebel like me. I’m forever grateful.

Thank you for everything you left me: the tangible gifts of a killer (your word) wardrobe, the Tanzanite bracelet, my Kindle Fire, little black jam speaker, piles of legendary love letters I’ll forever treasure, and especially memories of our time together bursting with crazy, sexy, cool, even in the mundane—morning coffee, car rides, and the sound of your voice.

Thank you for kicking cancer’s ass before you and I became Fire & Ice and sharing your conviction that your mother brought me into your life so you could have the kind of relationship she desired for you.

Kevin, it was my honor to give you that gift. Your arms were my home.

You said it was destiny, not fantasy. You delivered real.

If you had to leave me, thank you for preparing me with an overflowing bank of love and your belief in me as a woman and a writer.

Although we both wish you didn’t have to go, I (almost) appreciate how you slipped out in your sleep. That’s the only way the angels could snatch you!

You know I thought I could endure standing by your side if cancer ever tried again or watch you wither with old age, but that’s not how it went down.

We had no warning and maybe that’s best because we had no fear.

I hate that you died in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a page, in the center of my favorite chapter of what I thought would be a long book.

You said our love would “just keep getting better” and I believed in your certainty. We didn’t see it coming, did we?

In one of your voicemails (yes, I still listen), you told me you couldn’t imagine your life without me in it. Ditto, but here I am.

Oh, how I absolutely despise your death! Yet, I (try to) believe it to be a part of our divine destiny, as you make it known to me.

Thank you, baby. For staying with me still. Death can’t divide Fire & Ice!

I LOVE YOU.

From the one stuck on this side,

Your Icey